The New Breed of Handlers Preening China’s Prize


HUBEI, Central China — With her bushy beard, expressive eyes, and wavy coat, Feifei enters the ring and walks a lap. Set up outside a shopping mall in downtown Wuhan, the show makes some shoppers stop in their tracks to snap photos of Feifei. “What’s going on here?” one asks. “It’s a dog beauty pageant,” a middle-aged woman responds, carrying a toy poodle in her arms.

Feifei’s handler leads her to the judges’ table, where the dog strikes a pose as a judge, flown in from Latvia, checks Feifei’s teeth and makes sure her bones are properly proportioned. Spread out in the mall area, other dog handlers — themselves looking their best in sharp suits and dresses — are busy with last-minute preparations. A corgi visibly enjoys getting its butt brushed, and a Doberman pinscher is sprayed with water to cool down.

IMG_7735
Schnauzer Feifei waits for more grooming at Wang Xu’s new training kennel before a dog show in Wuhan, Hubei province, May 24, 2018. Fan Yiying

These 200-or-so purebred pups are the pampered pioneers of China’s growing love for dogs. As the number of pets — now estimated at around 100 million — is ever on the rise, more and more people are willing to pay a small fortune to own a standout dog. Shows like the one in Wuhan attract owners eager to have champion dogs, and kennels who want to show off their breeding prowess. Audiences are slowly catching on

Feifei is a 2-year-old miniature schnauzer whose coat shades from gray to white. “She must feel like a supermodel on the stage,” says Wang Xu, Feifei’s handler and owner. At China’s dog shows, dogs compete at the breed level in the morning. After that round, each Best of Breed winner advances on to the group stage, wherein the dogs are separated into sporting, hound, and other categories. The winners of that round then compete for Best in Show. Feifei has won the top award four times.

Dog shows have a long history in the West. The first English dog show took place in Newcastle in 1859, and every year, thousands of dogs fill New York City’s Madison Square Garden for the annual, multi-day Westminster Dog Show. In China, however, the events are a new phenomenon. The Wuhan show is one of about 80 shows organized around the country by China Kennel Union (CKU) — a nonprofit established in 2006 that’s the only recognized Chinese member of the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI), the World Canine Organization. Whereas the Westminster Dog Show is nationally televised and has a large, paying live audience, CKU’s shows are free, and likely wouldn’t attract any viewers were they not organized in downtown shopping areas, says Wang. But the number of shows is growing.

Much like the shows, being a dog handler is a relatively new occupation in China. Fewer than 100 handlers are full-timers like Wang. “Presenting dogs in a show is just a part-time job or a hobby for most dog handlers in China,” the 33-year-old says. In Wenlin, the village in suburban Wuhan where Wang lives and trains his and his clients’ canines, people think he walks dogs for a living. “They don’t understand that dogs can be showed or should be groomed,” Wang says with a shrug.

To prepare the dogs for top performances, handlers give them daily exercise, obedience training, and continuous grooming. It can be physically demanding work, and requires passion and patience. “The dogs I train come in all sorts of different personalities and tempers, so dog handlers need to be able to communicate with dogs on a spiritual level,” says Lu Bing, who became a dog handler in 2015 after learning from Wang.

But dog handlers are well-compensated, mostly from the fees they charge owners for taking care of their pets, which can be more than 10,000 yuan ($1,450) a month. Depending on how many dogs they manage, the best handlers in the industry can earn over a million yuan a year. Wang has six dogs of his own, all schnauzers, and handles up to 14 dogs from clients — a self-imposed limit to make sure they all get enough care and attention.

Growing up in the Hubei countryside, Wang’s family had mutts, though back then he had no concept of dog breeds. In 2012, Wang was getting tired of working as an engineer in a state-owned company. He decided to learn from his sister, who is a schnauzer breeder, and later to become a handler. “I feel happier and less stressed when I am with dogs than humans,” he says, adding that, purebred or not, “emotionally speaking, I love them all.” In 2015, he became the first A-level dog handler in Hubei province — the top level as certified by CKU.

IMG_7844

Wang Xu’s dog handling team at their new training kennel in Wuhan, Hubei province, May 25, 2018. Fan Yiying 

 

For every breed there are particular techniques to achieve the best look. For schnauzers like Feifei, it’s all about the back hair, which is tangled and thick in its natural state. About three months before she is to compete, Wang will pull out most of the hairs on her back — which he says is slightly painful but bearable for the dog — so new hairs will grow and form a neat, needle-like coat come showtime.

Dogs are judged on their posture, appearance, expression, and pace. Whenever Wang gets a new dog, he’ll first conduct a series of inspections — such as the dog’s bone structure, waist circumference, and ear and eye spacing — to check whether the dog meets its breed’s standards, which are determined through the FCI. The dog’s character is also crucial. “If a dog is too stubborn and refuses to change after a period of training, it can’t compete,” says Wang.

Wang competes in about 30 shows a year, and has so far won over 200 Best in Show awards. There’s no prize money. Instead, he’s been rewarded with trophies, dog food, promotional items in every shape and form, and even the latest iPhone. “It’s not about the money,” he tells Sixth Tone. “I just want to present the dogs’ best sides and enjoy the show.”

But winning can be profitable. Wang Lin — not related to or a client of Wang Xu — is the manager of a kennel in Wuhan that’s registered with CKU. The kennel has over 200 dogs of about 10 breeds for sale. A few years back, they hired professional dog handlers to compete in shows. “After earning a couple of Best in Show honors, it’s definitely boosted our visibility and raised the dogs’ prices,” she says. Business has improved so much that the kennel didn’t have the time to partake in any shows this year.

Some clients are enthusiasts with deep pockets. “Owning a champion dog is a way for the wealthy to show off,” says 24-year-old Lu, Wang Xu’s former protégé. “Once their precious dog has a breakout performance onstage, they can brag to others: See, even my dog is awesome!”

Tan Liang, a thin and soft-spoken 50-something who works in finance, has wanted to show his dogs since he bought a purebred German shepherd back in the late 1980s for over 2,000 yuan — then a whole year’s income. Since then, he’s grown his pack. “I know I bought good dogs, and I want other people to admire them and have professionals judge them,” he says. “It’s all about gaining face, you know.”

 

IMG_7754

Lu Bing, right, and Wang Xu with border collie Yuanyuan outside their new training kennel in Wuhan, Hubei province, May 24, 2018. Fan Yiying

 

Tan bought a black-and-white border collie he named Yuanyuan — meaning destiny in Chinese — at a certified CKU kennel for 10,000 yuan in 2017, and has entrusted her to Wang Xu. “I can imagine that handling my own dogs would be one of the most enjoyable things in the world,” Tan tells Sixth Tone. “But presenting a dog to show its best qualities is an art, and I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to do such a good job.” Last year, Wang Xu handled another of Tan’s dogs to Best in Show awards at all the competitions in which he participated. “This is rare in the history of Chinese dog shows,” Tan says with pride.

On the day of the Wuhan competition, Wang Xu gets up at 5 a.m. He bathes the dogs, and then packs his equipment — from grooming tables and cooling mats to brushes and blow dryers. Then he puts his four show dogs — Feifei, a French bulldog named Cool, and border collies Weiwei and Yuanyuan — into his van and hits the road.

Arriving at the venue an hour before it begins, Wang Xu has no time to waste. He finds an empty spot, and one by one gives the dogs their last go-over. “I’m trimming her legs into the shape of a baseball bat,” Wang Xu says while working on Feifei. “They’re slightly thinner on the top and slightly thicker on the bottom.”

After a little while, Tan spots his border collie, Yuanyuan, entering the ring. He is thrilled and nervous, and eventually takes a step back so as not to distract her. “It’s her first show,” he whispers. “I don’t want her to see me and get too excited.” He takes his camera to capture every moment.

In the end, Feifei is judged Best in Group but falls short of the top award. Yuanyuan wins Best of Winner, a prize which is four levels lower than Best in Show. But Tan is happy. After the show he goes backstage, and strokes Yuanyuan. He hasn’t seen his furry friend for weeks. “You did great today,” he says softly. “Let’s keep it up.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

Advertisements

The Tiger Art Village That Won’t Change its Stripes


HENAN, Central China — The sweltering July heat, the passing trucks, and the loitering pigs cannot distract the dozen painting students from the task at hand. The villagers, young and old, are sitting around a table in their teacher’s studio, putting the finishing touches on their tigers’ whiskers and fur with the utmost concentration.

The village of Wanggongzhuang’s love for the big cat is announced to every visitor by a giant boulder situated next to the corn fields and the road into town. Engraved into it, giant red characters spell out “Formidable Tiger Village.”

The hamlet has several ties to the animal. Most people here, even those that are not directly related, are surnamed Wang — a character that means “king.” Tigers are considered the king of all animals, and — with some imagination — the stripes on their foreheads resemble the character wang (王). In Mandarin, “tiger” sounds similar to “good fortune,” and so the animal represents a king’s bravery and power.

In one Henan village, more than half of the residents are involved in creating and selling tiger-themed paintings. By Liu Jingwen and Han Xinyu/Sixth Tone

But the strongest connection is painting. Most people in Wanggongzhuang make their livings from tiger art: Among its 1,366 villagers, over 600 paint tigers, and at least another 200 are engaged in related businesses.

Wang Jianmin, 52, is considered the industry’s pioneer, the artist who first realized that tiger paintings could mean big business. His spacious, stark-white art studio is covered wall-to-wall by paintings, from tiger portraits with almost photorealistic detail, to giant mountain-and-river landscapes with hundreds of animals skulking around the scenes. Wang has his own distinct style for the animals’ fur — flowing and elegant, but with thick layers of paint.

Painting techniques, Wang says, are passed down and improved upon from generation to generation. When he was little, he learned the craft from his father and grandfather, who would paint tigers because the animal is part of the Chinese zodiac. “But they had never seen a real tiger,” he says. “The tigers they painted were not as vivid as mine, because I’ve had the chance to see real tigers in the zoo.”

Different compositions carry different meanings. Tigers painted going uphill imply continuous progress, such as getting rich; tigers painted moving downhill are believed to help ward off evil spirits and ensure the safety of the people living in the house; tiger portraits represent leadership, which make them popular among soldiers, entrepreneurs, and government officials.

Wang has kind eyes and a mild dispostition, which is reflected in his style of painting. He doesn’t see the tiger as a fierce animal. Instead, in his art, tigers are confident, carefree, somewhat gentle, and presented in calm, natural settings — surrounded by reeds and a lotus pond, for example. “We are peasant painters who combine tigers with rural elements,” says Wang.

In his early twenties, Wang and three other villagers, who were somewhat accomplished painters, were no longer satisfied with selling their work in the nearby town. They expanded their horizons to urban painting markets, where they realized there was an untapped market for their wares. “We noticed that most of the paintings in the markets were portraits and landscapes, and that we were the only ones selling tiger paintings,” he recalls. Few artists seemed interested in painting tigers, which demands a high level of technical ability and patience due to the intricate fur and other fine details.

Some 20 years ago, Wang first hit it big when a 6-foot (1.8-meter) tiger painting — China’s art world uses imperial measurements — sold for a price of 100 yuan ($15 today) at one of the urban markets. Since the village’s farmers made less than 30 yuan per month at the time, the sale created quite a stir. Suddenly, relatives and neighbors came looking for him and his three companions — now respectfully called the village’s “Four Great Tiger Kings” — to learn their craft.

Hundreds of villagers are now painters, though the majority of work is still created by the four “kings” and their 20 or so best students. The others merely copy their work to meet market demand. Last year, the village collectively sold around 90,000 tiger paintings, with a revenue of nearly 100 million yuan, according to local government figures. Prices range from a few hundred yuan to nearly 1 million yuan apiece. Most paintings are 6 feet long, but some can be huge, with hundreds of tigers in one frame. Forty percent of the works are exported to Japan, Bangladesh, South Korea, and other countries where tigers are also worshiped.

The village is a collection of neatly arranged two-floor houses and art studios. Walking around, it’s common to see a husband and wife, or a parent and child, painting together at home. Though many villages around China stand nearly empty as people have moved to cities in search for better-paid work, villagers in Wanggongzhuang have stayed home to paint. Many locals now own multiple properties and drive luxury cars.

Wang Jianfeng, 35, started painting at age 13. In 2000, after years of practicing with Wang Jianmin, he finally sold a tiger painting for 80 yuan. Nowadays, his paintings sell for 10,000 yuan on average. His atelier is filled with piles of artwork that are destined for buyers all over the country.

IMG_9673

Wang Jianfeng counts the delivery forms in Wanggongzhuang Village, Minquan County, Henan province, July 11, 2018.

Compared with painters of his teacher’s generation, Wang Jianfeng says painters his age prefer different styles. Instead of tigers that look relatively gentle and are painted in soft, muted tones, Wang Jianfeng enjoys using bright colors to paint tigers who have their teeth bared and claws brandished.

Wang Jianfeng is also one of the first villagers to use livestreaming to sell his works. His wife broadcasts him painting and manages the accounts, which have a combined follower count of nearly half a million. According to local government figures, about one-third of all paintings are now sold through the internet. In a good month, Wang Jianfeng can make over 1 million yuan in online sales.

According to Wang Jianjin, who became the village’s first agent around the time when Wang Jianmin made his landmark 100-yuan sale, the growth of online sales hasn’t affected offline business. “The works sold online are mostly mid-to-low-end paintings,” he explains. Buyers of more expensive pieces usually prefer to see them with their own eyes. The village’s 70 or so agents travel around the country promoting and selling the local artwork, and — just as importantly — staying on top of the latest trends to make sure Wanggongzhuang doesn’t fall behind in the market.

People who discovered that they lack artistic dispositions have found ways to join in the windfall. Wang Ximei tells Sixth Tone she dreamed of a lucrative painting career, but failed to master the brush. She then changed plans, and went to Beijing to learn how to frame and mount paintings. In 2004, she opened the village’s first mounting shop and saw orders rise steadily ever since. “I have to work over 12 hours a day to meet demand,” she says, not taking her hands off a mounting machine.

IMG_9708

Wang Ximei works on the mounting machine in Wanggongzhuang Village, Minquan County, Henan province, July 11, 2018.

Though the tiger art trade has given Wang Ximei a relatively comfortable life, she doesn’t want her 2-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter to get involved in it. “I stepped into this industry because I had no other options to make money,” she says. “But they now have access to study at university, and will have many more opportunities in the future.”

Because everyone caught up in this feline art world has no time to tend to their fields, villagers who still farm have been able to rent large plots of fallow land, and thereby increase their incomes, too. However, differences remain. “The income gap between painters and farmers like me is incalculable,” exclaims 60-year-old Wang Peifeng, who grows corn and peanuts. When pressed for a figure, he says that artists earn about ten times as much as farmers do.

To help the farmers with their incomes, in July, the local government started renovating farm houses so that they can receive lodgers — improving the look of the village in the process. Some land will be set aside for urban tourists to pick their own fruits and vegetables. “We hope it can attract more visitors to our village who aren’t here for professional reasons,” Wang Peifeng says.

The government is also working to promote the village by encouraging art classes — something it’s been doing since 2006. But just improving skills won’t take the village to the next level, says An Desheng, the government official in charge of promoting the village’s cultural industry. “Most villagers paint tigers just to make a living,” he tells Sixth Tone. “We need more villagers who truly love painting tigers.”

Luckily, a new generation seems poised to take tiger painting to new, unexplored places. Wang Jingheng, 23, is one of a few villagers who have attended an art academy. “Our elder generation didn’t master the basics of painting,” Wang says, sitting in his father’s studio. “If all of us young villagers just stay home and learn from our fathers, we will have a limited outlook, and it will be hard to keep pace with the market.”

It doesn’t concern Wang Jingheng that his paintings are not yet priced as high as his father’s. He’s convinced creativity and innovation will bring him success. “Tigers with flying wings in bold colors are probably shocking to the senior village painters, but for us, it’s where the future stands.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

The Shanghai Sex Shop Selling More Than Just Toys


SHANGHAI — With thousands of sex shops sprinkled throughout the city, another store opening its doors isn’t usually cause for queues. But on Pepper Love Store’s first day, word spread quickly via social media. Soon, a line snaked through the former French Concession, putting a smile on the face of Mao Yongyi, one of the shop’s six owners. “We probably became the hottest sex shop in China,” he says.

Situated in a prewar residential building, Pepper Love Store somewhat resembles a house with every room richly decorated. At the top of a staircase lined with sensual photos, one doorway leads to a bathroom boasting an artful display of dildos, vibrators, and cock rings in all shapes and sizes above the tub.

 

微信图片_20180515112203

Pepper Love Store, March 28, Shanghai. Fan Yiying 

 

For customers who don’t know how to choose among the many products, Mao and his colleagues are on hand to give advice. They don’t want to be the kind of sex shop where the staff “gives you a look as if you’re doing something dirty,” Mao says. “We aim to help couples have a better sex life.”

The third floor is full of sexy lingerie and BDSM products, from whips to nipple clamps. Though sadomasochism is a subculture within a subculture, says Mao, around 20 percent of customers purchase SM-related toys. “We also give them tips on protecting each other,” Mao says.

The shop is set up to ensure privacy. Visitors must make a reservation, as only six pairs are allowed in every hour; all time slots have been booked in the two months since it opened. “Many people ask me, ‘Are your customers really willing to speak to you about their sex lives?’” Mao says. “As long as you’re in a professional environment and speak to them professionally, people are certainly willing to talk.”

Compared with the puritanical days of the 1980s, when selling or producing sex-related products was against the law, Chinese society has become a lot more open-minded: Sales of sex toys are increasing, people frankly discuss anything from their one-night stands to BSDM experiences on specialized social media apps, and e-commerce platforms offer half-hour delivery services for condoms. According to Guangzhou-based research firm iiMedia Research Group, China’s online market for sex toys was worth nearly 18.9 billion yuan ($3 billion) in 2017 and will exceed 60 billion yuan by 2020.

But according to Pepper Love Store designer Zhuang Xiaokai, society still has a ways to go. Upon entering the shop, customers are greeted with crimson walls and an abundance of flowers. “I use a lot of flowers to imply sex,” says Zhuang. She hopes the creatively decorated store will inspire people to spice up their sex lives and can convey to Chinese women — who Zhuang says are sexually repressed by traditional views of chastity — that pleasure is good.

 

微信图片_20180515112155

Pepper Love Store, March 28, Shanghai. Fan Yiying 

 

Sixth Tone visited Pepper Love Store and spoke with Mao Yongyi and Zhuang Xiaokai, both in their late 30s, about the shop, their views on sex, and how Chinese men are failing their female partners. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Sixth Tone: Yongyi, you previously ran another sex shop and now have about a decade of experience in the industry. Based on your observations, what, generally, do people get wrong about sex?

Mao Yongyi: In my opinion, sex is a way for couples to build trust and enhance understanding with each other. However, sex is often neglected or treated as a job by many Chinese couples. They don’t communicate or discuss it. Many men don’t know how to please their partners; on the other hand, it’s not uncommon for Chinese women to not know how to enjoy sex. Having sex with their boyfriends or husbands is viewed as an obligation. As long as the men are finished or happy, women think it’s good enough.

Sixth Tone: Many customers now prefer to buy adult toys online for privacy reasons. Why did you decide to open a brick-and-mortar shop?

Mao Yongyi: There are hundreds of thousands of adult toys in the world — how could you know which one suits you best without consulting professional shop assistants and playing around with it? When you shop online, you can’t see its size, you can’t feel its texture, and you don’t know whether it’s hard enough for you or the vibrational frequency is right for you. Most customers who have just started to explore sex toys don’t really know how to select the products that fit their needs, or how to use and play with them in multiple ways. Our job is to understand their needs and help them find the most suitable products.

Sixth Tone: Who are your main customers?

Mao Yongyi: Ninety-five percent of our customers are women who have a relatively high salary and good taste. They come by with either their partners or female friends. Most of our female customers can’t find satisfaction during sex because most Chinese men don’t know how to make love. Chinese men learn how to have sex from porn and intend to apply this to their partners. The majority of them have the inexplicable arrogance of thinking they are the best man in the world that their woman could possibly have. They don’t know much about the female body, nor are they willing to please their partners.

Sixth Tone: What are some of the most frequently asked questions from your female customers?

Mao Yongyi: I think Chinese women, especially urban millennials, are more and more open about exploring their bodies and spicing up their sex lives. But they also have common concerns: People often say they’re not sure whether they’ve ever had an orgasm, or they don’t know what to do when their boyfriends do a certain thing they don’t like or think is uncomfortable [in bed].

Sixth Tone: How have views on sex among the younger generation changed in the past decade?

Mao Yongyi: I think people are becoming more open about it, but the younger generation is receiving more mixed messages and misleading information about sex on the internet, and no one has taught them what’s wrong and what’s right. They don’t know how to protect themselves or be responsible to others. For instance, the definition of sexual assault is unclear to most of them. We’ve met a lot of customers who have a difficult time in their sex lives due to sexual assault they experienced in childhood.

As a mother, I feel that sex ed is sorely missing from the education system.

Sixth Tone: When straight couples visit the shop together, how do the men and women react differently?

Mao Yongyi: I wish I could see more supportive men, but unfortunately, I’ve only met a few in the shop. Men are more than happy to come here with their better half. But what annoys me is that they act as if they are very experienced and know all the products well. They then pick up anything they feel is exciting and ask their girlfriend to try it. Every time I witness that, I ask the guy: “Have you ever thought about what your girlfriend would like? Do you know her needs? Do you know what suits her body best?”

Occasionally, we meet girls who know exactly what they want. I remember a girl asking her boyfriend to buy a cock ring so they could try it together. He mocked her and told her to put it down, which really embarrassed her. I then suggested that the guy buy the product because he’s really lucky that his girlfriend knows her own body well and is willing to experience something new with him. He did so, reluctantly.

Sixth Tone: Xiaokai, what’s your favorite part of the shop?

Zhuang Xiaokai: One of my favorites is the window display that looks like a flower-shaped tunnel, symbolizing how people reach their climax. I also like the three deer [engaged in a threesome] that people see as soon as they open the door. [Visiting couples] could be either opposite sex or same sex, which shows our stance on sexual minorities. I’m surprised and happy to see that many customers we’ve served have no problem sharing their sexual orientation. I hope these artistic elements can attract visitors to our shop and eventually help build a healthy and positive attitude toward sex.

Sixth Tone: Pepper Love Store is your first foray into the industry. Why did you decide to join the world of sex shops?

Zhuang Xiaokai: As a mother, I feel that sex ed is sorely missing from the education system. It’s really a problem when most parents still don’t know what to do when their children ask where they come from. I think it’s high time for Chinese people to face up to sex.


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

 

Plus-Size Models Challenge China’s Narrow Beauty Standards


GUANGDONG, South China — As soon as the sky clears one rainy summer day in Guangzhou, plus-size modeling hopeful Wang Jialin hurries out for a test photo shoot. Passersby stare as she poses on the busy street.

“I’m used to it,” the 20-year-old mumbles. At 165 centimeters tall and weighing 94 kilograms, she stands out in Chinese crowds. The long black floral dress she wears is size 5XL, while most stores only carry small, medium, and large.

Wang had never considered becoming a model until her mother, who works in the clothing export industry, came across a plus-size modeling agent and suggested that her daughter give it a try.

“Chinese people think of beauty as slenderness,” Wang tells Sixth Tone. At school, she was bullied for her size. She doesn’t remember anyone ever telling her she was pretty until she met modeling agent Huang Fei.

Fat-shaming is rife in China, whether in everyday interactions or popular media. While many countries have beauty standards that favor the slim, the pressure to be thin is particularly intense in China, where it is common for family members, acquaintances, and even strangers to comment on one’s weight.

Chinese people think of beauty as slenderness.

Last year, the viral “A4 waist” challenge saw swarms of Chinese girls post photos on microblog platform Weibo to prove that their waistlines were narrower than a vertical sheet of A4 paper. Shortly after, another Weibo beauty challenge launched in which female users posted photos showing off legs skinny enough to be covered by their smartphones.

Yet the nation is gaining weight as nutrition and living standards improve and lifestyles change. In a 2015 report, China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission stated that more than 30 percent of the adult population is overweight — defined as having a body mass index of 24 to 27.9 — up from 22.8 percent in 2002.

Clothing sizes in China are not standardized across the fashion industry, but “plus size” typically begins at the equivalent of a U.S. size 10 or U.K. size 14. “It used to be that the middle-aged were the main customers for plus-size clothes, but now they have been replaced by young women who can afford trendy clothing and love dressing up,” Huang tells Sixth Tone.

Plus-size model He Jiahui poses at a lingerie shoot for her own Taobao shop in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth TonePlus-size model He Jiahui poses at a lingerie shoot for her own Taobao shop in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

 

In China, plus-size modeling is a relatively new business that only surfaced around 2010. Now, the city of Guangzhou has become the center of the plus-size modeling industry due to the southern coastal region’s flourishing garment export sector and its status as a hub for online women’s fashion retailers. Plus-size models can make over 10,000 yuan ($1,470) per month, twice the average monthly salary in the city, according to state news agency Xinhua.

Huang is one of the plus-size modeling industry’s pioneering agents. She sees plus-size modeling not only as a business opportunity with real growth potential, but also as a way to change popular perceptions around fatness, beauty, and health. Since she started her agency in 2012, she has signed more than 20 female Chinese plus-size models, all weighing between 70 and 100 kilograms, but she says she sees demand for many more. Her clients are primarily retailers on Taobao, China’s biggest e-commerce website, who want to showcase their fashion on a range of body types.

“We have a great shortage of models, but it’s so hard to find qualified ones,” Huang says. Every day, she receives photos from more than 100 eager young girls with dreams of glamour and stardom, but few make the cut. “I can select maybe one good candidate every couple of days,” she says.

Strict beauty standards apply, even in the plus-size modeling world. Huang looks for pretty girls who are at least 1.65 meters tall; are under 25 years old; and have a relatively slender waist, a long neck, and — most importantly — a small, photogenic face. “These requirements rule out most big girls who want to be models,” she says.

Plus-size modeling agent Huang Fei (left) takes sample photos of model hopeful Wang Jialin in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth TonePlus-size modeling agent Huang Fei (left) takes sample photos of model hopeful Wang Jialin in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Huang herself is plus size, weighing 80 kilograms. The 34-year-old Guangzhou native studied sculpture at university, which she says gave her confidence in her aesthetic judgment.

“I can tell immediately that you’ll be a popular model,” she tells Wang. But though she encourages Wang to take pride in her appearance, she also asks Wang to lose 15 kilograms in two months so she will have a more defined hourglass figure.

Huang used to model herself, in addition to running her own clothing shops and restaurants. She got her start in 2010 when a friend asked her to pose for his plus-size online boutique. Back then, she says, the nascent industry was so desperate that she was chosen despite her height. She quickly saw an opportunity to build a business by recruiting girls who were taller, prettier, and younger than herself.

I have this sense of crisis; I feel like I need to constantly improve so I’m not eliminated by this industry.

Her business partner in the neighboring city of Dongguan, 32-year-old Cai Wenwen, had a similar experience. Cai began modeling part time in 2011, thrilled that she could make 300 yuan a day when her salary as a secretary was only 2,000 yuan a month. “I enjoyed applying makeup, posing, and being pretty in front of the camera,” she recalls. “I was proud to be a model because it satisfied my vanity.”

As Cai grew older and the industry matured, she decided to step aside and become an agent. She’s also in charge of a live-streaming channel for a plus-size Taobao shop. “Customers trust us if they see girls their size trying on the clothes in front of the camera and answering all kinds of questions live,” Cai says. One store for which she used to model herself boosted its sales from a few pieces a month to several hundred a day after Cai replaced a slimmer model.

Wang says that as brick-and-mortar shops don’t carry her size, she relies on Taobao, which boasts hundreds of retailers that sell plus-size clothes. But she only buys from those that use plus-size models, which she says make up a small minority.

Another model, 22-year-old Wang Lanxi, says she is anxious about the future of her career. “Youth is prized in modeling,” she tells Sixth Tone. “I have this sense of crisis; I feel like I need to constantly improve so I’m not eliminated by this industry.”

Plus-size modeling agent Huang Fei (right) measures model He Jiahui during a live stream for a Taobao store in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone Plus-size modeling agent Huang Fei (right) measures model He Jiahui during a live stream for a Taobao store in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, June 20, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Every week, Wang Lanxi presents a two-hour live stream for a Taobao store with another model, He Jiahui, also 22. The duo try out a dozen new items in front of some 10,000 viewers, explaining which styles pair best.

Before this week’s broadcast, He spent nearly eight hours at a lingerie shoot for her own Taobao shop that hasn’t officially opened yet. After failing to find any decent plus-size lingerie in Chinese stores, she decided to order 122 sets from a manufacturer in eastern China and start her own shop. She plans to launch by Qixi Festival — known as Chinese Valentine’s Day — which falls at the end of August this year.

“I believe it’ll be a hit,” she says. “I just want people to know that big girls can be sexy as well.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

Caring for China’s Smog Dogs


SICHUAN, Southwest China — When Li Xiaolu adopted two puppies last summer, she worried about how to train them, where to buy them the right food, and whether the two would get along. What she didn’t worry about was how badly they would be affected by smog.

Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, is often described as the home not only of giant pandas, but also of some of the happiest people in China: Chengdu residents are known for their relaxed and slow-paced lifestyle. But recently, a decline in air quality has had the city’s 14 million people feeling worried and anxious.

The smog this winter was so heavy that at one point, the runway of Chengdu’s international airport had to be closed. “I saw the haze in the air, and it felt like the sky was falling down,” the 22-year-old Li recalled, describing the view from her window on a return flight from the southern city of Guangzhou.

When her dogs started to cough last November, Li didn’t associate it with the air pollution right away. “At first, I thought Bu Yao had food stuck in her throat, as she’s so tiny, so I held her upright and shook her,” says Li, who moved to Chengdu in 2010 to study nursing.

In December, when other dog owners in the neighborhood began talking about both them and their dogs coughing a lot, they started to suspect that it was due to the air pollution. Li started to worry about the health of her Bernese mountain dog, Bu Dong, and her toy poodle, Bu Yao — whose names translate to “don’t know” and “don’t want,” respectively. She says she named them after her life philosophy of being content with what she has and not desiring too much.

Throughout early March, official figures put Chengdu’s air quality index (AQI) at around 110, or “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” including the very old, very young, and immunocompromised. “But dogs, especially big ones, need to be walked so they can release some of their energy,” Li says.

When she takes her dogs for a walk, Li makes Bu Dong wear a muzzle and a snout mask. Masks made for humans don’t fit the 34-kilogram dog, so she puts wet tissues inside the muzzle and covers it with a piece of cloth on the outside. “Bu Dong doesn’t like it, but it’s for her own good,” Li says.

Li Xiaolu holds her two dogs, Bu Dong and Bu Yao, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 5, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Li Xiaolu holds her two dogs, Bu Dong and Bu Yao, in Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 5, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Bu Yao, however, has to make do without one, as the toy poodle isn’t even big enough to climb onto the sofa yet, and is far too small for smog masks. When the tiny poodle coughs, Li puts holds her in her lap and pats her back. “They mean the world to me,” Li says of her canine companions.

This winter, the unusually heavy smog has kept Chengdu’s veterinary clinics busy. Huang Li, a vet with over a decade of experience, tells Sixth Tone that since the new hospital she works at opened last November, she has treated coughing dogs every day. “I had never seen this at the clinics I worked at in previous years,” she says.

Although there are no official figures or research on how China’s pets are affected by air pollution, several vets told Sixth Tone that the health implications are similar to those in humans.

“Since dogs and human beings share a similar physical structure, smog that harms humans also damages the lungs of dogs,” says Huang. Several vets in Chengdu also confirmed an increase in coughing and sneezing in dogs, which coincided with periods of heavy air pollution this winter.

Huang explains that larger particles that are obstructed and filtered by the human nose can have adverse effects on dogs, as their nasal hairs are too short and sparse to protect them from dust and larger particles. Furthermore, dogs breathe at a faster rate than humans, and because they are closer to the ground, they’re more susceptible to breathing in particles that can be absorbed by their lungs to cause coughing and sneezing, and then enter their bloodstream to cause a variety of conditions, from retinal disease to fevers. In some cases, air pollution can even cause life-threatening diseases like lung cancer.

Air pollution has a greater impact on puppies, older dogs, and dogs with weaker immune systems — “in much the same way that children and the elderly are more vulnerable to air pollution,” Huang says.

Huang feels that there’s little she can do to comfort pet owners. In severe cases, she prescribes antitussive drugs to relieve coughing. Generally, though, she just advises them to avoid long walks.

Following the dog doctor’s orders, Li now walks Bu Yao and Bu Dong for very short periods of time — about 15 minutes in the morning, and then again during lunch. In the evenings, when the AQI is usually higher, she rarely takes them outdoors. “When you see the data climb to over 300, you don’t want to go out anyway,” she says.

While many dog owners are using face masks to protect themselves from air pollution, similar masks for dogs currently don’t exist. “The market may not be large, but someone has to take the risk eventually,” says Mary Peng, CEO and founder of Beijing-based International Center for Veterinary Services, an animal hospital and pet care facility.

Peng says she’s been looking for dog masks for years but has only come across homemade products from particularly concerned pet owners. “Necessity is the mother of invention,” says Peng, who owns four cats and one dog herself.

Peng believes that a tight-fitting, well-designed mask could protect dogs from smog, but also that do-it-yourself versions like the one Li uses might not be as effective as optimistic pet owners hope. “I still encourage them to try it though,” Peng says. “They’re just showing how much they love and care for their dogs. At least they’re doing their best and feel good about it.”

Last year, Peng approached Cambridge Mask, a U.K.-based pollution mask manufacturer, and asked whether they would be interested in producing masks for dogs. “I planted this idea in their head, and now it’s sprouting,” she says.

Cambridge Mask CEO and founder Christopher Dobbing told Sixth Tone that his company has already started working on the new line of masks specifically for dogs.

According to estimates, more than 1 million pets — the majority of them dogs — live in Chengdu, and Li is not the only one who is worried about their health.

Fang Ling hugs Jian Jian at her dog hotel in rural Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 4, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Fang Ling hugs Jian Jian at her dog hotel in rural Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 4, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

The only truly viable option appears to be escaping the bad air — something entrepreneur Fang Ling is trying to turn into a business, in the form of a pet hotel in the mountains outside Chengdu, where the air is fresh and clean.

Last year, Fang bought an apartment in the city center with the needs of her young Labrador in mind. She chose one with a big balcony, which would allow her dog, Jian Jian, to enjoy sunshine and fresh air. In the winter, however, air pollution levels were so bad that Fang and Jian Jian spent all their time indoors, never far from their air purifiers.

“He looked sad,” Fang says of Jian Jian. Late last year, the 35-year-old took a drastic step: She sold her apartment, moved 30 kilometers east of the city center, and opened a dog hotel where owners can drop their dogs off while they are away on holiday. Key to choosing the right location, she says, was finding a place where the air quality was fairly good.

As a former marketing director, Fang is adept at promoting her hotel on social media, and although she only opened it in January, more than 50 dogs have already stayed with her. Most of them come from the city.

“We chose this place from many other options in the city because of its relatively good air quality on the mountainside,” says Wang Peipei, who brought her 1-year-old Labrador, Abu, to spend a week at Fang’s pet villa in late January. “Abu really enjoys playing outdoors here because we only let him out a few minutes a day when the pollution is bad in the city.”

Business is going well, and Fang is currently expanding the facilities and adding a pool where her canine guests can swim.

Fang Ling plays with dogs staying at her dog hotel in rural Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 4, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Fang Ling plays with dogs staying at her dog hotel in rural Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 4, 2017. Fan Yiying/Sixth Tone

Fang says that her friends and family laughed at her when she told them about her plan to move for the sake of her dog’s health. But life up on the mountain, surrounded by fresh air, has put her at ease with her choice of lifestyle. “They would understand if they had dogs,” she says of those who criticized her. “I see Jian Jian as my family, and I hope he can live a longer and healthier life.”


This article was published on Sixth Tone.

China’s Year-end Bonus Game Has Just Started


yearend

The end of the year is approaching. This means that Chinese employees start to look forward to their annual year-end bonuses (年终奖). It is a tradition in China that can be both stressful and pleasant for full-time workers: is the boss finally giving out that promised bonus, or do they have to wait another season?

The year-end bonus became a hot topic on Sina Weibo this week. A number of China media, including China Daily (中国日报) and Caijing (财经网), posted the news of a Chinese boss paying terminated employees the year-end bonuses they were supposed to get four years ago.

Over 90 employees were forced to leave the Chongqing-based company in 2011 due to financial problems, and the employer failed to give them their year-end bonuses that year. Since the company has been doing better in 2015, the boss decided to reissue the bonuses that he promised his former employees four years ago.

The news received much attention on Weibo, where the hundreds of netizens responding to this post can be roughly divided into two camps: those who praise the Chongqing employer for being “such a wonderful boss”, and those who say that they just want to repost this news to their own boss as a subtle hint.

 

“Over 80% of employers paid year-end bonuses to their employees in 2015.”

 

According to PXC Consulting, a well-known human resource research organization in China, over 80% of employers paid year-end bonuses to their employees in 2015. Within these enterprises, 77.6% pay more than RMB 5,000 (±US$1,058), and 4.1% pay more than RMB 30,000 (±US$4,645) to each employee. Of all cities, Shanghai tops the ranking with the average employee working there receiving roughly 8,515 yuan (±US$1,319) on top of their monthly salary.

The height of the year-end bonus largely depends on one’s profession. People employed in the finance, e-commerce, automobile, and aviation sectors rank amongst the top earners when it comes to year-end bonuses, PXC Consulting reports.

 

“I only stay at the company because of my year-end bonus.”

 

For many Chinese workers, the year-end bonus is their motivation to work hard and stay in the company till the end of December. Sina Weibo user ‘Xiao Meng‘ is a typical example of such a worker: “My wages are nothing compared to the labor intensity of the job. What’s more, my company is a two-hour drive from home. I only stay at the company for the sake of my year-end bonus.”

The year-end bonus is also called the ‘December bonus’, which means that the bonus is supposed to be paid in December of every year. But over recent years, more and more companies choose to pay the bonus in the middle of the year or divide it into seasons, to make sure their employees don’t leave right after receiving the bonus.

Weibo user ‘CBH2015‘ complains that he might not be able to receive half of his year-end bonus. “My income is composed of a base salary and the year-end bonus. However, the year-end bonus is given out twice a year – in the end of December and in the middle of next year. I don’t think I will get the second half of my bonus, as I have just resigned.”

 

“Some employers have turned the ‘year-end bonus’ into a ‘stay-and-don’t-leave bonus’ to make sure their factory workers will come back after the Chinese New Year.”

 

It is up to each employer how much they pay for the year-end bonus, and when they pay it. Some employers have now turned the ‘year-end bonus’ into a ‘stay-and-don’t-leave bonus’. This way, they can ensure their factory workers will come back after the Chinese New Year. Since companies care about keeping good employees for the development of their businesses, and employees care about the receiving a bonus to boost their income, the delay of bonus-giving seems like a clever solution for many companies.

Pressured by rising prices, the timing of when to pay the year-end bonus and deciding on its amount seems increasingly crucial to employees. Therefore, most companies do not add the bonus to their labor contracts. Whether or not they give out the bonus depends on the company’s situation and recent profits.

 

“Last year, a Guangzhou Internet company gave away 10 Audi cars as year-end bonuses for its employees.”

 

According to Fu Ting, a labor relation lawyer from Beijing, employees should demand a written promise to ensure the pay of year-end bonuses. She writes that it is not required for companies to give out year-end bonuses, unless there is a contractual agreement. Such an agreement would avoid confusion and disappointments, benefiting both employers and their employees: “The written promise could be included in the work contract, in a compensation agreement or in the company regulations. The specific date of payment should be written in the contract as well.”

But in reality, many employers are not yet willing to contractually agree to give out the year-end bonus. They do not want to risk violating the contract once they cannot afford to give out money at the end of the year. Simply not putting anything on paper is the safer route to take.

 

“After I complained about it on Weibo, they decided to give out the bonus.”

 

The year-end bonus will be a hot topic for the coming weeks, as some workers will be surprised and some disappointed. It has created some social media hypes over recent years. Last year, a Guangzhou Internet company gave away 10 Audi cars as year-end bonuses for its employees. Another company reportedly gave out 1 RMB lottery tickets as a year-end bonus, making some employees resign on the spot.

If the boss is late paying, complaining on Weibo might offer a solution. User ‘Nikovsky‘ writes: “My company always delays the year-end bonus. The managers don’t pay us until we are back for work after Chinese New Year. But after I complained about it on Weibo, they’ve decided to give out the bonus in the end of December.”

By Yiying Fan

This article was published on What’s on Weibo.

Tipping is not the Only Way to Improve Service Quality in Shanghai


I went to a steakhouse on Nanjing road (city center of Shanghai) with one of my American friends the other day. It’s a fancy restaurant which charges 488 RMB ($78) for a meal set per person. The environment was elegant and the food was tasty. It stands to reason that we expected decent service.

Unfortunately, the waiter still gave us one menu to share, like 90% of the other restaurants in Shanghai that I’ve been to. It’s been bothering me for so long. Aren’t we supposed to have a menu for each? Then during the meal, my friend also reminded the waiter that he should serve the lady first. He nodded but he didn’t learn at all.

Honestly, we were not that satisfied with the service and to our surprise, we were forced to add 15% service fee to the bills for that level of service. As the manager explained, the service fee is like an international convention; however, the service here is worse than what I’ve experienced in the US. I would love to tip the waiters or pay the service fee if the service is good. Here, I’m not sure if the service is 15% better when they charge 15% service fee.

In the US, the servers’ salary mainly depends on the tips they get from the customers. The restaurant manager only pays servers the lowest salary by law. The service level can decide how much they can earn. That ensures that the service quality in the US is decent. When I was in California, whether I went to a small family style diner or a fancy French restaurant, waiters greeted me with smiles. They wanted to help and they knew the menus well. They are professional most of the time due to the tipping system.  They constantly served me sample of wine and food that I didn’t order. I knew they did it to get more tips from me and the managers just turn a blind eye as they know it can gain more returned customers. The customers have the right to decide how much they want to tip based on the service they receive, which to me is totally fair.

However, here in China, whether the servers are paid 2000 RMB ($320) or 1000 RMB ($160) is up to the owner of the restaurant. As long as they don’t break the plates or annoy the customers, their salary won’t be deducted. In other words, no matter how well they serve the customers, it won’t help them add any more pennies to their pockets either, unless the boss decides to give them a raise some day.

I’m watching an American sitcom called Two Broke Girls which is about two waitresses who are making their efforts to build their cupcake business in Brooklyn, New York. When one of the waitresses Max knew the manager was to hire another waitress, she said, “don’t hire any new waitress. I can do all the work and I could really use the extra money.” The more tables they serve, the more tips they will get from the customers.

In the US, there is only one manager in the restaurant and the rest are servers. I’ve noticed that the servers there serve the customers the whole process from leading them to the seats to pass the bills. However, in a restaurant in China, you can see a group of waiters chatting with each other instead of serving customers. There are also head waiters, division manager, lobby manager, etc.

Of course, some people will say the tipping culture in the US motivate the service staff to give customers better service. It’s just an excuse. I believe we can figure out a way to enhance the service quality in China, especially in a metropolis like Shanghai. I admit the service in Shanghai is probably the best we can have in China, but compared with that in the US, it’s still far from satisfactory.

The good thing is at least someone is trying and it’s working. The service at the famous chain of hotpot Hai Di Lao Hotpot is described as too good to be true. I went there twice and I was amazed by its service. For example, I went there in a raining day and right after I was seated, the waitress handed me a cloth for my glasses. Hai Di Lao is ranked as No.2 of 6528 restaurants in Shanghai on Trip advisor and it takes nice spots of Top 10 best services restaurants in Shanghai on Dianping.com (Chinese version of Yelp).

A visitor from New York even consider Hai Di Lao as the best hotpot restaurat in the world!

Image

Then, how come Hai Di Lao is able to offer such an excellent service to the customers? They don’t charge service fees at all and they don’t expect the customers to tip them either. What they do is a policy called employee stock ownership plan. All the employees, from the cleaning lady to the regional manager can all share the profits of the company. It means employees’ income is not entirely decided by the boss. Instead, it’s related to their service to the customers. The better service they offer, the more customers will come. In the end, the profits are shared by all the servers.

I understand most bosses don’t want to share the profits with employees but I’m sure they can figure out a way to enhance the service quality. It should connect the service price with customers’ feedbacks.

I hope next time I will be paying the service fees for the excellent service.

Wine Education Needed in Shanghai


I was enjoying a glass of fine wine with a local friend on his belcony on a sunny afternoon the other day. He bought a bottle of French white wine at Shanghai French Week that was held later last month on Yandang road.

“That French guy told me that this is a famous wine brand in the world but I haven’t heard of it,” he confessed, “I still bought one bottle as it’s on promotion. 99 yuan per bottle for such a great wine is a great deal.”

Oh, yes! It’s great. We both agreed it tastes wonderful. Then I asked him how to judge a good wine and how to appreciate a good wine. He was speechless. I didn’t know the answers either.

I’m sure there are a lot of wine lovers in Shanghai. As Paris of the east, no other city in China has ever embraced exoit and diversity more than Shanghai. Shanghainese love to focus on life quality and enjoy life. That’s why Shanghai is also described as the heaven of petty bourgeoisie.

Sipping a glass of wine while chatting with a friend on a sunny afternoon is a kind of petty bourgeoisie. Shanghai should have the biggest wine market in China because it has the most highest density of five-star hotels, wonderful restaurants and people who are willing to pay for extravagant things. What’s more, in Shanghai, it’s full of business people who love to drink, to gamble and to have fun. From my own experience, it is in Shanghai that business people treat clients with wine, while in the North, in most cases, it is replaced with Chinese liquor or rice wine.

Then the problem occurred: how many of these wine lovers actually know how to taste wine? I was looking for a wine tasting class online but I haven’t seen many options. Then I read a story that a professor of Shanghai Jiaotong University developed a course this semester called the culture of wine. In his class, students can taste different wines with goblets while listening to the music and chatting with classmates.

It’s not surprised that this class is popular among students from Jiaotong University. They are lucky. The wine class I had was based on text books where the teacher just orally told us how to taste wine. Drinking wine is a regular method of socializing and it represents an elegant culture. If we could have an opportunity to learn knowledge on wine tasting at school and apply it in social life after graduating, it could embody personal manners. However, the sheer theoretical knowledge fails to express the essence of wine culture. Text book reading would just made students sleepy.

I also noticed a TV show called Connoisseur. It is produced by a small production company based in Shanghai. They have made 24 episodes so far and all the videos can be found on Youku.com. It shows you everything you need to know about wine in an entertaining way. I think it’s a great way to educated ourselves with wine knowledge when we can’t find a good wine class in real life or we don’t have time to go to such class.

http://player.youku.com/player.php/sid/XMzAzNzIzMzQ0/v.swf

As one of the emerging wine market in the world and the biggest market in China, people in Shanghai are eager to learn more about wine. However, most wine brands haven’t really paid attention to the education. It’s extremely important to educate the customers and local partners if these foreign wine producers want to raise the quantity of wine sold in Shanghai, even in China.

I’m going to attend a wine tasting class and have myself educated. I hope I can pick up a good bottle of wine with specific reasons next year during Shanghai French Week.

In Memory of Steve Jobs in China


Right after I got an iPad as my birthday present, I heard the news of the death of Steve Jobs. To be honest, I wasn’t a big fan of Apple as everyone in Shanghai is using iPhone and I want something unique, but I’m in love with my iPad after playing it for a couple of days as it’s so powerful and it makes my work and life so much fun and efficient.

Apart from the product itself, I truly admire Steve Jobs as a great person.

I’m not alone. I went to the newly opened Apple Store on Nanjing road pedestrian street the morning I heard the sad news and I met a guy who came there to buy an iPad to remember Jobs. He confessed, “I don’t think iPad is useful as I have a couple of laptops and netbooks already. But I want to buy one today for Jobs.”

When asked why Steve Jobs was important to him, he said he really appreciated Jobs’s concept of following one’s heart.

Jobs addressed at the commencement of Stanford University in 2005 that don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. However, as Chinese, we are so used to be taught what to do and have others arranged life for us. Our parents choose which school we go to, which job to apply for and who we should marry. It’s sort of Chinese tradition that parents or higher authorities can always give right direction in our life. Thus, sometimes it’s really difficult to follow our hearts.

But I think it’s going to be changed. Apple is so popular in China. Chinese consumers have become the most adoring and loyal fans of Apple. It’s relatively a new brand to China but in the second quarter of this year, Apple sold nearly $4 billion worth of products here. The death of Jobs quickly captured the attention in public especially on the Internet. Over 20 million posts on Weibo mourned for Jobs or quoted his famous remarks. More and more of us are learning the ideas from Jobs and inspired by this innovation. Think differently.

Netizens on Weibo saying that the best way to remember Jobs is to carry on his spirits. Stay hungry, stay foolish. It’s easier said than done. The education system in China isn’t suitable for talents like Jobs. If he was born and raised here, he wouldn’t be the same man who changed the world. Chinese education doesn’t encourage students to be innovative. It’s not the cradle of talents.

Because of the exam-oriented and single-answer education system, we don’t have someone like Jobs in China yet and it will probably take a long time to realize it. But we need to see the essence of Apple products which is to combine technology with humanity. The common mistake that Chinese entrepreneurs always makes is that they don’t put users first. Technology serves people and create experience. I’m sure there are IT companies that are more innovative than Apple, but few of them are able to define the purpose and the worth of high technology.

That’s what we should learn from Jobs. I hope someday in the near future, China will be a creator instead of a copycat. It will be the best way to remember Steve Jobs.

Be more careful with foreign brands


CCTV recently reported that Davinci, a furniture manufacturer whose products are all listed as being “Made in Italy”, has in fact been producing their products in China. The products obtain an “import certification” after a one-day tour in Shanghai Waigaoqiao Free Trade Zone.

In today’s free competition market, a commodity can be priced at will. There is nothing to be said against the high price as long as consumers are willing to pay for it and merchants are honest about the origins. That’s why most of the defrauded consumers are complaining that Da Vinci is deceiving them about the origin of the furniture, instead of the quality itself.

Why would someone lavish 700,000 RMB on sofa? Why would someone spend hundreds on imported cosmetics whose cost is only a few dozens Yuan? It is a problem that merits an analysis.

Luxury goods have grasped psychology in consumer spending in China. Part of these loyal consumers are eager to distinguish themselves from others by consuming high-end brands to show their levels and tastes. The higher a product is priced, the more popular it is among consumers.

There is a crucial factor we shouldn’t neglect is that most of China’s consumer goods brands came up gradually after reform and opening up o the outside world. Few of them are ranked as top brands. Apparently, the speed of brands development in China fails to reach the speed of a group of Chinese people become rich. This group of people naturally chooses western brands which are mature and well-recognized.

Then I noticed a lot of Chinese brands are inclined to give themselves foreign names. I thought Metersbonwe was a foreign brand until my old boss corrected me. Davinci is another vivid example. Some local brands or stores don’t even have Chinese names. They are registered with foreign names to promote the brand image among consumers.

These merchants surly know Chinese consumers well. Most of us tend to believe that foreign brands are good brands. Imported goods are products with good quality. They are supposed to be expensive. But the truth is, most consumers don’t have the capacity to identify the quality of the brands and their products. We just take it for granted that it’s more likely a product is good if it is priced high.

Every enterprise is purchasing maximum profit. However, the basic is to ensure the quality especially for luxury industry as it has had the biggest profits already. In my opinion, high profits should be built on a brand’s additional value rather than lowering the cost. The cost of luxury goods takes a relatively low percentage in the retail price. There is no point using bad material to further lower the cost. When the economic condition permits, a group of consumers would love to buy luxury goods because they believe these luxuries are excellently made.

As a rational consumer, I don’t think I would ever purchase Davinci furniture. I can afford a 500,000 Yuan closet but that doesn’t fit my consumption concept. It doesn’t matter where a product is made. I more care about the quality and price performance.

A couple of my female friends were very upset when I informed them that Lancôme, Sisley and other international cosmetics brands failed to pass the summer supplies quality inspection, which was released earlier this month. They are firmly conceived that these expensive products can keep them young and beautiful. “It must be more effective. That’s why it’s much more expensive,” one of my friends said.

Sadly, now we know better than ever before that not all the expensive foreign brands ensure us good quality. For those who worship foreign brands, it’s better to ask yourself before you purchase next time: do I really need this product? Why do I want to buy it besides it’s a foreign brand? How much do I know about this brand and product?

These questions seem more necessary to be asked since the deceiving has been exposed. I’m sure there are more brands like that in the market. It’s time to open our eyes and be more careful when purchasing fancy foreign brands, or any other brand.