I read a really interesting post today by James Fallows, the Atlantic’s China correspondent. Entitled, “Workshop of the World, Fine Arts Division”, it details Fallows’ visit to a fine arts “village” outside Shenzhen. But instead of being an artists’ colony like you would see in Europe, the US — or even Beijing, it’s a series of factories were they mass produce almost every type of art — from European Old Masters to the latest in hip Chinese art — you can imagine by hand!
It just makes me go WOW! It’s like Andy Warhol’s Factory team that used to mass produce his silk-screen series of paintings, but on a much larger scale. And I pretty much guarantee that most of this art is being bought by new middle class Chinese who are looking for something to decorate their living rooms (Fallows’ post didn’t say). Part of the reason, I say this is because I’ve tried to mail Chinese art to my parents in the past and ran into a lot of problems getting it cleared through customs — so much so that I didn’t send the piece and will try to bring it with us when Winnie and I come home in June.
The other reason is that as the Chinese middle class grows and gets wealthier, they are willing to spend money on very non-essential items. That doesn’t just mean buying a second TV or a flashy car (and it’s debatable if those items can be considered essential or not). It means doing things like taking vacations aboard and buying art. Just like most Chinese are going aboard for the first time in large chartered tour groups, matching baseball caps, flags and all, their first experience buying art is buying prints like those Fallows’ describes in his post.
How long that will last though is anyone’s guess. Those Chinese with more money are already buying a lot of contemporary Chinese art at high prices at Hong Kong auctions and even though foreigners are getting in on the trend right now, I think it’s Chinese people that are going to keep the industry growing long-term.
I am sure this will spread to other industries as well as Chinese people have more money to spend and as quality demands go up. Evidence for this comes from another blog post I read this morning. It’s by Andrea Learned of the Marketing Profs website and she was talking about Western men’s buying habits becoming more like women’s, but I think this quote can apply to the Chinese consumer as well:
“it seems society may have reached a point where men are considered no less masculine if they pay good money for a nice sweater, a facial or a safer car. We live in a world of abundance, and EVERYONE now expects/demands much more relevance and higher standards of service from brands. And, brands have to listen, because they are now scrambling to keep, let alone grow, their markets.The way I see it, men are discovering what women have long known and acted upon as consumers. Any brand that saw this coming, and spent time to learn more and become relevant to women, now has a serious advantage. Kudos to those that did.”
Replace the men in the above paragraph with “Chinese” and I think you get the point. Brands that offer quality and added value to the growing Chinese middle class — and effectively demonstrate that to consumers through their marketing campaigns — are going to be rewarded later once that market grows to become an even significant force than it is today.