WHAT CHINESE WANT: Culture, Communism and China's Modern Consumer

30 May, 2012


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By Tom Doctoroff

“A primer on Chinese consumers [with] each paragraph delivering a takeaway pearl of wisdom. A no-nonsense book by an enlightened capitalist.” -- Kirkus Reviews

“"This in-depth, lively précis of modern-day China is an invaluable guide to anyone hoping to do business in the fast-growing Eastern market.” – Publishers Weekly

As China races toward becoming the world’s largest economy and a formidable superpower, we need to better understand the ways their people are changing and the ways they’re staying Chinese. WHAT CHINESE WANT: Culture, Communism and China's Modern Consumer (May 22; Palgrave Macmillan) sets the record straight about the worldview, consumer desires, and values of a people who are rapidly modernizing but not becoming more like us.

Having been at the intersection of Chinese commerce and culture for twenty years, Tom Doctoroff, Greater China CEO for J. Walter Thompson, brings a nuanced, birdseye perspective to interpreting China’s consumer and business behavior in the context of their distinct and enduring worldview.

Here, he explains why China continues to resist Western ideals even as it modernizes, and instead remains driven by a profound sense of nationalism, a complex morality, a deep connection to history, and an embrace of the family over the individual.

Standing out while fitting in, ambitious optimism, and above all stability are the key traits that define today’s Chinese worldview and the secrets to positioning a brand for the Chinese market. For these reasons, appealing to individualism will not work. For example, the penetration of diamond engagement rings has risen from 8 percent to 80 percent during the fifteen years since DeBeers entered the market and repositioned their “Diamonds are Forever” slogan to mean reliable commitment instead of romantic love. Pizza Hut lets ambitious parents acknowledge their child’s academic performance with “triumph feasts.” Conspicuously branded Luis Vuitton bags are everywhere but there’s no appetite for luxury goods for the home like bedding or appliances that can’t be seen and acknowledged by society.

“Divorce rates have gone from almost nonexistent to over 40 percent in first-tier Chinese cities. Premarital sex, condemned during the 1980s, is now a wedding prerequisite. But the family is as central as ever. Chinese youth are as intoxicated by Glee’s pop cool and Big Bang’s geek chic as their American counterparts. But the Chinese will never abandon the cultural and cosmological truths that have unified China since the Bronze Age. In fact, they’ll leverage them to adapt to their changing world,” writes Doctoroff.

A unifying Confucian conflict is at the heart of the tension between the Chinese motivation to project status and advancement and to protect themselves with conformism in a country plagued by corruption. It explains why the surging Chinese middle class still prefer BMWs to Porsches, cash dealings to electronic transfers, and strong top-down management to creative collaboration.

Debunking the myth that China’s rising ambitions mean that it wants to “beat the United States,” Doctoroff explains that it instead just wants to stand beside it proudly.

Doctoroff’s insights will be invaluable to any western citizen curious about an increasingly influential people, executives doing business in the world’s second largest economy, and marketers hoping to penetrate the world’s most elusive but potentially hugely profitable market.

From tiger moms to DVD pirates, from their embrace of Christmas and American Idol to their incremental approach to currency appreciation, WHAT CHINESE WANT unravels the mysteries and myths of modern China.


About the Author
Tom Doctoroff
is the Northeast Asia Area Director a nd Greater China CEO for J. Walter Thompson, the author of Billions, and a leading authority on marketing in China and Chinese consumer culture, with fourteen years of experience in mainland China. He has appeared on CNBC, NBC, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio and is frequently featured in publications ranging from the Financial Times and Businessweek to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is also a columnist for the China Economic Review and the Chinese magazine Global Entrepreneur. Doctoroff is the recipient of the Magnolia Government Award, the highest honor given by the Shanghai municipal government to expatriates, and was selected to be an official torchbearer for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. He has been marketing to China for twenty years and living there for fourteen. He lives in Shanghai and will tour to New York City May 28-June 2.

About the Book
WHAT CHINESE WANT: Culture, Communism and China's Modern Consumer
By Tom Doctoroff
Published by Palgrave Macmillan
Publication date: May 22, 2012
Price: $27.00; Page count: 272pp
ISBN: 978-0230340305

Ten western myths about China that are shattered by Tom Doctoroff in WHAT CHINESE WANT

1. Populist anger means the Party’s power is weakening.
2. American-style individualism is taking root.
3. Contemporary Chinese have no beliefs.
4. The Internet will revolutionize China.
5. The China market is, like Europe, “many countries.”
6. The Chinese consumer is inscrutable.
7. The Chinese growth model is in critical danger.
8. China Inc. will eat America’s lunch.
9. China will become the twenty-first-century superpower.
10. China is militarily aggressive.

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