There is nothing that the west – and we in the western media – love to hate more than when Chinese money threatens to take a chunk of the free media that we see as a cornerstone of our democracies. So when a Chinese recycling millionaire said he was buying the New York Times, we either squealed with outrage or denounced it as a publicity stunt (which it seems that it was).
China’s distressingly frequent food quality scandals are bad news for Chinese citizens but may be good news for UK food exports – so long as China can be persuaded to eat foods it has never eaten before, and UK food brands can adapt their traditional fare for a different kind of palate.
We want one in China
Travel can certainly be an eye-opener.
Guo Guangchang, chairman of Fosun, China’s largest private conglomerate, had so much fun with his young family at the exclusive Atlantis resort in Dubai that he made a deal with developer Kerzner International to build his very own Atlantis resort back home in China – at a cost of $1.5bn.
Ultra-luxury fireplaces and wood burning stoves may not sound like the obvious things to sell in China, which has little or no tradition of decorative heaters – and no wood to burn in them if it did. But if Starbucks can make itself almost a household name in a country that doesn’t like the taste of coffee, then anything is possible.
Chesney’s, the high end fireplace and stove brand which opens two large new showrooms this week in Shanghai and Beijing, is hoping that rich Chinese have all the famous-label bling they can handle, and are ready to move on to subtler ways to spend money.
These days, more and more Chinese love overseas tourism, not least for the shopping: luxury goods are far cheaper overseas than on the mainland.
So much in fact, that many Chinese overseas tours involve shopping stops so long that there is not enough time left to see sights other than the inside of shopping malls. Beijing has a solution to that problem – but there are knock-on effects.
Wang Jianlin: sitting pretty
Twice in the last few years, Zong Qinghou of Wahaha, China’s drinks king, has been the country’s richest man. This year, according to the Hurun Rich List released today, his fortune has swelled by half.
But despite that, he’s lost pride of place to a man who doesn’t make much of anything – except making sure that people around the world have a place to watch movies, shop and buy yachts.
China is increasingly flexing its legal muscles to protect consumers against everything from illegally fixed prices to, it seems, over-the-top product packaging.
Friday’s official Shanghai Daily reports a slap on the wrist for some cosmetic firms guilty of having “too much empty space in the packaging”.
There is plenty of room for skepticism about whether Beijing’s latest austerity drive will have any lasting impact on the per capita consumption of Lamborghinis by government officials. But in one area it clearly has had a marked effect: luxury dining. Government-funded consumption of meals that cost as much as the monthly income of a lower tier city have certainly fallen. And that seems to be one reason why some upmarket eateries are increasingly shifting their focus to the middle market.
If any of us needs more proof that China is rapidly becoming a quintessentially middle class nation – with all that portends for companies whose products appeal to those with a bit of coin in their pocket – then take a look at the divorce statistics.
The number of divorces soared 13.2 per cent last year in Shanghai, while marriages declined 3 per cent. According to city hall data, divorces – were still well short of marriages – at 44,000 versus 144,000. But we can see which way things are going.
General Motors is counting on persuading China’s nouveaux riches – some of the world’s most devoted connoisseurs of German luxury in motion – that what they really want is an all-American Cadillac.
Mao Zedong decreed that Chinese communism should have its very own luxury car, so he launched the Red Flag limo in 1958.
More than half a century later, China still does not have much of a luxury car industry: even the chairman’s political heirs prefer to drive foreign. But maybe that all is about to change.
Spare a thought for Mickey D. Just when McDonald’s was successfully moving away from its burger-centric menu in China – which generally prefers chicken – along came bird flu to bedevil its new avian offerings.
And now that the US burger giant is trying to localise the menu further by introducing rice dishes – a couple of years after Yum’s KFC did the same thing – Chinese diners still seem unimpressed.
The average American in the US pork belt knows one thing about pigs in China: they float.
So it’s hardly surprising that some US legislators have raised concerns about the food safety implications of the proposed takeover of the pork powerhouse Smithfield Foods, by a Chinese purveyor of pig meat.
The issue, of course, is not just the flotation properties of Chinese porkers, over 10,000 of which were found dead in the Shanghai water supply earlier this year. It’s the health worries that they bring to the surface.
China’s parents will do anything to help their child succeed in life – and at this time of year, that means attending to even the most miniscule details of their sleep and evacuation patterns to guarantee maximum success in college entrance exams (gaokao) in the first week of June.
Parents throughout China are booking hotels and restaurants near every exam venue, to make sure their child can study until the very last minute on exam day, and eat nutritious meals nearby that will not send him out of the examination halls with the kind of bowel complaint that could consume precious exam minutes.
Worried about the slowdown in the Chinese economy? Or Beijing’s austerity drive? Lane Crawford, the iconic Hong Kong purveyor of luxury brands, is not.
It says the time is just right to open a shop in Shanghai which, at 150,000 square feet, is twice the size of any other Lane Crawford store anywhere. It will open in September.