Join us, Feeling us, Enjoy us!

I’ve been flicking through an international club/disco mag and the ads run by Chinese OEM audio/lighting companies stand out like a Chinaman in a Stetson. The naivete of these ads is absolutely gob-smacking. Peppered with thumbnail shots of sprawling factories and jaw-dropping examples of ‘Engrish’, they’re strangely compelling. For example, ZYT’s snappy motto is “the most we can accomplish” and signs off with “Choice of your OEM/ODM partner. Join us, feeling us, enjoy us!” Meanwhile Guanghou Huihong Lighting Equipment lay to rest any Western misgivings by signing off with “HuiHong faith: Credit standing for 100 years and Technology innovatively.” And lastly (for the sake of brevity, because I could go on and on), BOB Audio’s ad leads with its web address in 20-point quickly followed by the warm cuddliness of the words “Welcome Deputize”, and later exhorts readers to “Spiel perfect timbre   Create the best of theatrics”. Indeed.

I love stuff like this, it appeals to my sense of the absurd. But, equally, you need only look at recent history to be assured that these same Chinese companies (provided they kick on) will soon be publishing ads the equal of anything you might currently see in this or any other publication. The reason I can be so sure is because of the lessons learnt from the ’90s. Remember how Western hi-tech manufacturers (I’m thinking audio and lighting) were extremely loath to admit they’d ‘outsourced their manufacturing off-shore’? The words ‘Made in China’ were anathema and for good reason — the build quality of Chinese-sourced hi-tech equipment was very often indifferent, and everyone was being tarred with the same brush. But the tide soon turned. Now, few people bat an eyelid at the words ‘Made in China’. For our purposes, there are still a few elite corners of the ‘haute design’ market that are digging their toes in. But to think China can’t take 100+ years’ expertise in making bentwood chairs, just by way of example, and produce something of equal quality in less than 10 years of trying… well, you’d be kidding yourself. Of course they can.

To sum up, everything China has put its mind to in the last 20 years, it’s managed to pull off. And before anyone hops on their high horse, I’m not condoning knock-offs or counterfeits — and neither is China, because it’s bad PR.

Right. Next: Macau.

Macau is an extraordinary example of how the tectonic plates of the world’s economy are shifting. If you somehow suspected it was the ‘Vegas of the East’ or Hong Kong v2.0 then you’d be wrong. There’s nothing particularly cosmopolitan about Macau (anymore); you can put the adjective ‘melting pot’ back in the locker, it’s a giant casino and restaurant for China’s nouveau riche. Macau is now Chinese territory, run by Chinese for the Chinese and any vestiges of its sleepy colonial past have all but disappeared in this decade’s explosion of investment and growth.

So what? Try this on for size: the Chinese, after a few short years of feeding Western civilisation’s insatiable demand for ‘stuff’ are now, in this case, calling the shots. After a couple of decades of pandering to the West’s proclivities, foibles and mores, assimilating its marketing and manufacturing methods, China has its own playground, where its rich and middle class can now consume its own ‘stuff’ — and if, as a Western operator, designer or architect, you want a turn in this very lucrative sandpit then you have to play by China’s rules.

‘Okay, fair enough, we’ll give China what it wants. No sweat.’

Really? Is it really that easy?

Remember those crass marketing attempts from the likes of ‘Guangdong Golden Dragon Lucky Dream No. 8 Co.Ltd.’? Do we appear any less gauche in our attempts to go ‘all Chinese’?

Surely, it takes a special kind of Western arrogance to believe we can, in a thrice, mentally and creatively ‘retool’ for Sino sensibilities.

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