Monday, April 30, 2007

the pro-piracy case

A cover of a Chinese pirate copy of The Piano, hinting at a flirty, contemporary plot strand I must have missed in the original.

Danwei covers an interesting story; the US TV show 'Prison Break' is only available on pirated DVDs in China but it's been such a hit a Chinese company has paid Fox US $1.2 million for the rights to make an online Chinese language film version. (Xinhua's note on this here .).

The thing to remember here is that 'Prison Break' isn't going any where near mainstream Chinese media in its original form. A little-guy-against-the-big-corrupt-system story does not sit well with the Chinese censors (as discussed in the Danwei report) and this new Chinese version has to reinterpret the story into a corporate setting to make it acceptable. This sort of censorship is a big barrier to foreign cultural imports, even if the material is innocuous the clearance process can be painstakingly slow, and god help anything with more 'difficult' themes. This means even mainstream shows like Prison Break only have a future in pirated channels (off and online) for the foreseeable future. In these circumstances piracy in China, or at least 'cultural' piracy of films, TV, music and literature provide a valuable channel for ideas and creativity that otherwise wouldn't be allowed. Plus, as this illustrates, it needn't mean that money can't come back to the producers, just that it will take a more inventive and flexible approach to revenue. This cultural piracy can also create demand for mechadise and equities that are out on the market legally; how many of the Chinese mainlanders visiting Hong Kong's Disneyland were inspired to go after years of watching pirated Disney discs?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Not China, but Chinas

Taxi, Inner Mongolia, with dual Chinese/Mongolian language signage

Playing on local loyalties is a highly successful tactic for local Chinese brands, but are they the only ones who can do this? These's so much strategic and creative opportunity in moving away from the big, uniform notion of China with its often East-coast defined values. Why not embrace the multiplicity of this market and do something more complicated but far more interesting that engages with the differences in values and lifestyles across the country? There's been a lot of mutterings in the planning/creative world about the problems of the 'Big Idea' and how 'small' or 'rich ideas' are now more relevant. Perhaps it's time for more international brands to view China not as a Big Idea but as a Rich Idea?

Monday, April 16, 2007

like mother, like daughter?

Fashion brand Comptoir des Cotonniers has run a 'mothers and daughters' theme ad campaign for ten years:

Casting real shoppers from their stores, the campaign illustrates how small the generation gap is in these days of 'kidults', extended adolescence and parents-as-peers. In China the situation is markedly different. The generations are separated by enormous differences in values, experiences and priorities. Below are a couple of photos from a Chinese artist's study of teenagers and their parents, although extreme they aren't unrepresentative:

You certainly don't get the impression these parent/child teams would be fighting over who gets to wear the ironically distressed boho blouse.

And it's not just about the key generations not being able to relate. The generation gap is also defined on far more incremental levels in China with 30 year olds despairing of 25 year olds, 24 year olds thinking 19 year olds have a completely different mindset, 19 year olds who just don't get 16 year olds etc - it's a case of often big gaps between small age differences, versus the west's small differences despite big gaps in years. These micro-cohorts are an symptom of the speed of change in the country since the '80s.

And when your older cousin doesn't understand you what hope is there for Mum and Dad?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

compare and contrast

Williamsburg, NY

ChaoYang, Beijing

One bought as an economic compromise, one as a hipster statement...?


Nearly four months ago I was tagged by Rob Campbell, scourge of the mundane. I am now beholden to reveal 5 things about myself that you, gentle reader didn't know about me. I've been so tardy I'm now doing this as penance really, to publicially acknowledge I fail in two key blogging areas; prompt posting and community spirit. Sorry Rob, I'm a crap blogger, but with all apologies, this is the reply that has been sitting in my drafts section since last year:

My fascination with Asia started with trips to London's China Town, and in particular the Chinese Opera masks sold there as souvenirs. I think I was the only 7 year old in my town with a decent collection of major Chinese Opera characters' masks. Sadly this didn't win me the social aclaim I might have hoped for.

I ran a club night in San Francisco, years and years ago. I've just found one of our old flyers.

I can't ride a bike or drive a car. I'm fairly good at walking and hailing cabs though.

I have a bit of a fixation with the Japanese miniature food sets. They are sold in toy and department stores and I always buy a couple when I'm in Japan. This is a picture of a tonkasu meal, just the size of a box of matches. I am fascinated by this. Endlessly.

And finally, I've recently left my job to start my own company up. I will be droning on about this more.

I'm now sure you would have preferred this to have remained in the drafts folders, but there you go...

Monday, April 09, 2007

Sounds familiar? Change as loss

"As the manufacturing districts vanished, shrines full of exotic mechandise were erected at their heart: the shopping centres ... were consolations offered for our obliterated function and ruined our sense of purpose. At the same time, the streets where we lived were no longer full of neighbours, relatives, workmates, friends but thugs, vandals, ... The people we had called Auntie or Uncle were transformed, little by little, into strangers... The lesson that people cannot be trusted, but that money and what it will buy will never fail you, tends to prise apart the most precious and tender of human bondings and associations, undermines ancient consolations of kindred and friendship. Is it by accident that we discover our aloneness in the healing presence of the inexhaustible plenitude of a buy-in culture?"

This is an except from Jeremy Seabrook's essay 'An English Exile'. He's talking about his home town Northampton and its transformation in the 1970s when the local factories were shut down and the old housing demolished and replaced by new high-density housing blocks. Although this is about a very different time and place it still feels close to the experience of many in China today as state-run factories close and old communities are moved on to make space for the new urban reality. As a China blogger puts it, "We filled our lives, but we lost our souls" (chinese version here) and this is also a theme for Haolun Shu's 'Nostalgia' ( as mentioned before)

Picture: Shanghai

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Competition overload

KFC and McDonalds in Guangdong are under fire for paying part-time employees below minimum wage rates (about 50 US cents an hour, minimum wage being 1 US dollar an hour and no, a dollar doesn't go that far in urban China). As commentators point out here, this is hardly unusual in China;

"the deepest reason [for low pay] is china has much population.if you complain that the pay is very low,the boss will tell you that you can go to other places ,there are a lot of people waiting want to do the job. today finding a job is not very easy,you do not have many chioces,you have to face the reality"

From rural migrants to university graduates, it's the sheer volume of job-hunters which is causing the most problems. With all the opportunities China is now offering there still aren't enough to go round. This is not lost on the government. There's a lot of talk about building a 'harmonious society' and it's not a quaint turn of phrase, its a genuine realisation that the government are facing a huge social crisis if disparity in opportunity, competition for jobs and lack of security continue to grow.