Cloisonné and its Significance in Ancient and Modern Chinese Art

Cloisonné is the name used to describe the process of enamelling metalwork. The name derives from the French word ‘cloisons’ which means ‘compartments’. Cloisonné involves soldering a pattern of copper or bronze wire onto a similar metal surface, to form ‘compartments’, which are then filled with vitreous enamel. This technique first came to China in the 14th Century via trade routes from Eastern Europe, and through the years has become an exceedingly popular and iconic feature in Chinese art.

The Cloisonné technique is thought to have started in the ‘Near Eastern’ countries such as Egypt, the Byzantine and Roman empires, and even spreading to the more northern Anglo Saxon countries, where the earliest pieces of Cloisonné have been recovered. Some of the oldest traces of Cloisonné work can be found on small rings and brooches from the Byzantine and Roman eras, and are often very simple designs. In these early stages of metal enamelling, metal cloisons were rather bulky and therefore limited the technique’s potential.

Cloisonné is better known to be the main technique featured on many of the Egyptians’ ‘Pectorals’ or neck plates. Ancient Egyptian Cloisonné involves thicker metal plates than those you may see on the classic Chinese Cloisonné, and they preferred to use crushed gemstones and glass rather than enamels for their narrative neckpieces. As a result these Pectorals are vibrant and bold in colour yet, in comparison to Chinese Cloisonné, they are relatively simple designs.

A Piece of Anglo-Saxon Cloisonne Jewellery

As Cloisonné travelled further east to countries such as Greece, Turkey, and Morocco, the wire forming the ‘cloisons’ became thinner, and their pieces became smaller and more delicate. Hence, Cloisonné became a popular jewellery making technique. There are several pieces of Cloisonné Jewellery from the Roman and Byzantine eras which are very similar in technique and in subject. They feature narrative yet simplified designs depicting biblical characters and stories, and are often red in colour due to their repeated use of Garnet stones – a well-known symbol of Christ. Cloisonné is thought to have been developed during the Byzantium period, where the wire compartments became a lot more elaborate and detailed, making it harder to set gemstones and glass, and therefore use of enamels became more prominent.

Cloisonné is thought to have been introduced into China in the 14th Century, during the Ming Dynasty via a network of trade routes from as far as Northern Africa and Eastern Europe. However some say it was introduced during the previous Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty, which suggests that Cloisonné came into China through the exchange of goods from Mongolia and its surrounding countries.

At this point in time, Cloisonné had developed and evolved into a delicate and skilful art, and the first pieces that were imported to China were likely to have been relatively detailed and elaborate. The Chinese then developed their own unique style of Cloisonné, which we recognise today as a popular form of Chinese art. The Chinese name for Cloisonné is ‘Jingtai Lan’. They originally chose the name ‘Jingtai’ but soon added the word ‘Lan’ – Chinese for ‘Blue’ – to the name, when they discovered a new vibrant turquoise blue enamel, which thereafter featured largely in many Chinese Cloisonné pieces.

Jongtailan Cloisonne Vase, unknown artist, Brooklyn Museum

The content of Chinese ‘Jingtailan’ pieces is what makes them so unique. Their pieces often feature imagery of dragons, ‘foo dogs’ (a mythical Chinese creature with the body of a dog but the head of a lion), plants and flowers, ‘Ho Birds’, cherry blossoms, good luck symbols, and repeated oriental pattern motifs. Their designs are distinctive, beautiful, and usually reminiscent of the Chinese countryside.  Another identifier of Chinese Cloisonné or ‘Jingtailan’ is its colouring. There is no Cloisonné as vibrant and bold as Chinese Jingtailan. Their use of ivory, turquoise blues, and rich reds and yellows juxtaposed with ebony-black enamel and the shimmering linear forms of the bronze or copper wire cloisons is simply an outstanding style unique to China.

Temple of Heaven Interior, Beijing

Temple of Heaven exterior, Beijing

This mysterious new technique from the West was in high demand from the emperors and higher classes of 14th Century China due to its splendour and vivid colouring. It was used to its highest potential to decorate and furnish the interior and exteriors of their palaces and temples. The most famous example of this is Beijing’s ‘Temple of Heaven’, constructed during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, 3rd emperor of the Ming Dynasty. The exterior of the temple simply generates richness. Situated in a vast courtyard, its presence is somewhat overwhelming, and the eye is immediately drawn to the rich red, gold and turquoise blue Cloisonné tiles which cover its walls. However, the interior of the palace is really the most exquisite part. The towering internal pillars are covered in a repetitive floral pattern, in red and gold enamel, while the ceiling is an array of blue, jade, red and gold oriental and geometric patterned tiles. It is almost reminiscent of Islamic tiling, and is likely to have been influenced by pieces imported from middle -eastern countries. This historical monument is a fantastic example of not only the extent to which Cloisonné can be used, but it is also a great example of how valuable and prized this technique was, not only in 14th Century China, but in Chinese history as a whole.

In later years, Cloisonné in China was somewhat dismissed to being a ware only suitable for the likes of décor for lady’s chambers and smaller ornaments, however it was still a greatly prized technique. In this period Cloisonné was developed on smaller pieces and therefore designs became even more detailed. Hence, much of the Chinese Cloisonné that can be found today is in the form of vases or pots with elaborate designs. During this period, many new Cloisonné techniques were invented; the most significant being the Diaper technique, developed during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). This is the name given to a design applied to large areas of ‘background’ on a piece of Cloisonné. There are many forms of this technique including ‘scroll’, ‘wave’ and ‘cloud’. The process is similar to regular Cloisonné in the sense that wire is soldered onto the metal surface in a pattern. However, the wire does not join up to create compartments, it is purely a form of decoration within larger compartments, and the enamel is simply filled in around the pattern.

Champleve

Basse Taille

Another popular technique created by the Chinese in this period is, ironically, named ‘Base Taille’ after the French for ‘low waisted’. This process involves much more shallow wire compartments, so that the enamel is able to leak over the top of the compartments. The cloisons are still visible beneath the enamel but at a lower relief. Similar to this is a technique named ‘Champlevé’, which is French for ‘raised areas’. No wire is used to create the compartments but instead the metal is raised in a ‘repoussé technique (denting and raising metal) to create areas to fill with enamel.

 

Although created by the Chinese, many of these techniques have names deriving from the French language. This is where we begin to see the influence of ‘Chinoiserie’. During the 17th Century, trading had gradually increased in Europe and Asia, and a complex network of trade routes had been created, stretching from Western Europe to the Far East. The well-known term for this is ‘The Silk Road’, named after the popular Chinese silk trade. As importing and exporting goods between countries became more and more prominent, techniques such as ‘Japanning’ (laquerwork) and ‘Jingtailan’ were exchanged between the East and West. Eventually, Jingtailan reached countries such as France and Germany, where it became an extremely popular form of Chinoiserie. Although Western European countries were aware of the Cloisonné technique (popular during the Medieval period) it was the Chinese designs, techniques, symbolism and colours which were in such high demand, and artists used it to create pieces of art displaying their own fantastical vision of the Far East.

Chinoiserie-style Cloizonne Snuffbox, Claude de Villers, 17th Century, V&A Collection

This snuffbox dates back to 17th Century Paris, and was created by an artist named Claude de Villers. It is a perfect example of Chinoiserie-style Cloisonné, featuring images of ‘Chinese’ houses, people, vessels and plants. However, it is somewhat lacking in authentic Chinese Jingtailan style. Although the content of this piece looks Chinese, the technique is still reminiscent of early European Cloisonné styles such as the Roman Empire. Rather than copying the vividly coloured enamel of Chinese Jingtailan, this artist has used a mix of shell and gemstones, similar to that of Roman and Byzantine Cloisonné.  Overall, the content of the piece is very similar to what you may find on a piece of authentic Chinese Cloisonné, however the style is blatantly European Chinoiserie.

Parisian Cabinet featuring 'Japonism' Laquerwork and Chinese Cloisonne

This Parisian Cabinet is of Oriental influence, and features many of the techniques taken from the East, such as laquerwork and Jingtailan, as well as oriental-style motifs and imagery reminiscent of Chinese designs. However its excessive ornamentation and decoration makes it European, and is extremely similar to the Brocade style, which was so fashionable in the 17th Century. Chinese furniture was often more simple in form but with elaborate pattern.

Authentic Chinese Cup, unknown artist, 17th Century, V&A Collection

This item was made sometime between 1736-1795, and is a great example of classic Jingtailan (Jingtai Blue). The design of this piece is elaborate and vivid in colour. Rather than the narrative imagery of Chinoiserie Cloisonné, this Chinese cup features oriental patterns and motifs. There is a classic mix of reds, yellows, blues and jades on a base of copper, which gives the piece an exquisite and authentic look. Chinese Cloisonné was more popularly used as a way to decorate vases, jugs and other ornaments, whereas Chinese-style Cloisonné in Europe was often used to decorate pieces of jewellery. For example, snuffboxes and lockets.

Although European Cloisonné is not authentically Chinese, it is a significant part of the Chinoiserie fashion era of the 17th Century, and a good example of the impact Chinese techniques had on other countries.

Japanese 'Shippo' Vase

The Japanese were also highly influenced by Chinese Jingtailan, arriving in Japan shortly after it arrived in China. There is a very small but significant difference between Chinese Cloisoné and Japanese ‘Shippo’. The main differences are the unique techniques within Shippo that were developed in Japan. These include the popular ‘Musen Jippo’, a name used to describe Cloisonné where the wire cloisons are removed shortly before firing, so the enamels blend together but still keep a faint replica of the pattern from the wire. Similar to the Chinese ‘Champlevé’ technique, the Japanese developed ‘Tsuiki’ which involves a repoussé technique rather than use of wire cloisons. However, the biggest identifiers of Japanese Shippo are features such as ‘Kiku No Mon’ – the name for a Japanese emperors crest. These are largely featured on ancient Japanese Shippo pieces as they were often created for emperors or the higher classes, and required a symbol to represent their name.

The content and design of Japanese Cloisonné is more narrative than that of Chinese Jingtailan. Their designs feature detailed paintings of animals, houses and plants, while Chinese Jingtailan is often more pattern-based, focussing on Oriental motifs and colours. However, these two styles have been shared between China and Japan, making it hard to tell the difference between the two. Nonetheless, Chinese Jingtailan has made a significant impact on Japanese Shippo.

It is clear that Cloisonné has been a significant part of Chinese art and history for several generations, and is still a popular technique today. It has had a great influence on almost every country from Western Europe to the Far East, and is by far the most popular type of Cloisonné to be found. There is a large market for ancient and modern Chinese Jingtailan pieces throughout the world and it has remained one of the most exquisite arts within Chinese culture. Having personally had several failed attempts at making my own Cloisonné, I can appreciate what a divine skill it is, and why it is so valued.

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Rags to Riches

Thousands of people every year migrate from their rural homes in the country to find work in the big cities.Yet, 9 times out of 10, this procedure is not successful.

So why do they continue to do it?

This article will focus on China’s everlasting struggle with poverty and unemployment through the generations, and why nothing is being done about it.

A Harsh Reality

Today’s urban China is a melting pot of rich and poor. While successful businessmen go about their hectic lives of working, socialising and showing off, they turn a blind eye to the poverty that surrounds them. It is not often that these people take notice of the waiters, waitresses, chefs, shop assistents, factory workers and builders who are responsible for China’s wealthy citizens’ comfortable lifestyle. And it is sufficiently more unlikely for them to care about the conditions in which many of these people live and work. It is said that suicides in China count for 26% of suicides worldwide, and many of these suicides are within factories due to ridiculously long hours, hard labour, and extreme stress and pressure, with no end reward. Recently, Shenzhen’s Foxconn factory had to hang suicide nets due to a dozen people committing suicide in the factory.

And these people are the lucky ones. Some of Shanghai and the other big cities’ residents do not even have a fixed job: ‘urban life for them might mean sifting through rubbish for things to sell, or a fresh search for work – like the men who sometimes squatted on the pavement with little cardboard signs laid out in front of them advertising their services: ‘carpenter’, ‘plasterer’, ‘labourer’…’ *

In Hewitt’s ‘Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China’, we are told about a man called Wei Yuan who works for a rich businessman called Mr Pan. After complaining that the people who usually wash his car (which was now Wei Yuan’s job) never do a good job, he states that he’s sure with Wei Yuan, this won’t be the case. “Its a new job for them, so they’ve got to work extra hard to protect their rice bowl” * His mocking tone is one employed by many others of the same social status with anything concerning their poor migrant employees. It is simply not one of their priorities to care about the lives of others less fortunate than them. Hense the term The ‘Me’ Generation.

The ‘Me’ Generation

This is term used to describe the generation of rich and successful young people living in Modern China, who are often portrayed as self absorbed and concerned more with the latest fashions than current affairs. “On their wish list, a Nintendo Wii comes way ahead of democracy.” **

“There’s nothing we can do about politics, so there’s no point in talking about it or getting involved.” ***

There is a vast divide between the ancient, tranquil China and the ever-increasing global power that it is gradually becoming. And between them? The twenty-something generation: a cross between the shallow, successful young business people of urban China and the struggling factory workers from the countryside. While the young adults of the ‘Me’ generation continue to ignore the issues with their suffering peers, nothing can be done to help them. “Contemporary Chinese society: the officially enshrined divide between urban and rural citizens.” *

The Migrant Generation

For years now, the young people of rural China have followed the somewhat mundane procedure of finishing school, and leaving their countryside homes to find work in the big cities like Shanghai or Hangzhou. As I said earlier, this is never usually successful. However, poverty is extremely prominent in rural China, and people have no choice. “My family are real peasants…I felt my burden was too much on them so I went to look for work” * 

Through the years, as the big cities have gotten bigger and imported foods have become easier to access, there has been less and less demand for produce from the farms in the coutntry . Therefore there is less work in the country, and more work (for however little pay) is available in the cities. Hense, the migrant generation. These people must find work in the cities to provide for their families, but as their search to find a living becomes more desperate, poverty becomes more prominent.

China’s ‘American Dream’

Its hard to express…It’s like wanting something that’s out of reach” *

Ultimately, the people of China, whether they are poor, rich, young or old, are in search of one common thing: the American Dream. It is this idealised concept that encourages the ‘me’ generation, and divides them from the older generation and the unfortunate migrant workers whom they live so close to. But it is not only the so called ‘me’ generation who are in search of this dream. The reason people migrate to the cities and work so hard for such little money, is because they strive for the same thing. And this, I believe, is the reason that poverty and unemployment in China cannot improve.

TT

* All quotes marked with (*) are from ‘Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China’ – Duncan Hewitt, Vintage Books, 2008.

** Quote from Hong Huang, ‘ China’s Me Generation’ article by Simon Elegant, Time Magazine, 2007

***Quote from a young Chinese person,’ China’s Me Generation’ article by Simon Elegant, Time Magazine, 2007

A Fascination With Copying

For decades China has been renowned for it’s ability to copy and mass-produce foreign designs on a massive scale. It is this mass manufacturing that has been the driving force behind the country’s massive economic boom in recent years. However, as a new generation of young creatives begin to embrace today’s changing China and the new freedom that comes with it, will the phrase ‘made in China’ soon be evolving into ‘designed in China’?

China’s primary industry today is taking sample designs of gadgets, clothes, toys, etc. provided by western companies, reproducing them on a large scale in one of hundreds of thousands of factories, to then export back to the west to be sold. To be able to do this and do it well, meticulous attention to detail is key, and this is something the Chinese have certainly mastered. Team this with an abundance of workers willing to work long hours for little pay, and it’s no surprise so many companies, big and small, both high end and low end, choose to manufacture their products in China. No wonder it’s been labelled ‘the world’s factory’ seeing as only a tiny percentage of goods produced in China’s factories actually stay in China, the rest end up in shops all over the world.

However this Chinese fascination with copying foreign designs is no longer simply a means of successful mass production for foreign companies, it has become a part of everyday life in modern China. Whether it be American style homes and suburbs, British style villages or imitation and counterfeit goods, this obsession with copying has spread through all parts of Chinese consumer culture.

Counterfeit Capital of the World…

Chapter six of Karl Gerth’s As China Goes, So Goes the World, explains how consumers live in uncertainty due to the huge number of low quality counterfeit products on the Chinese market.

Brand owners in China estimate that 15 to 20 percent of all prominent branded goods in China are actually counterfeit…’

Sometimes there’s no way of telling what is real or what is fake until it’s too late, as victims of countless counterfeit scandals, such as the ‘big-head-baby’ formula scandal of 2004, have found out.

Shanzhai Culture…

Gerth also explains the concept of Shanzhai culture, when copies of popular western designs, most commonly mobile phones, are passed off not as fakes but as imitations, usually with similar sounding names, far lower prices and sometimes with more features to suit the Chinese market. These shanzhai products are not viewed as negatively as counterfeit products, they are sold openly and have ‘gained a level of social acceptance’. These ‘imitations’ are interesting, because although the appearance of the product has been copied, shanzhai manufacturers often add features, alter programs and change certain aspects of the design, therefore, in Gerth’s words, ‘blurring the line between imitating and originating.’

Thames Town…

30 km from central Shanghai, you will find Thames Town, a town made up of English style houses, streets, parks, shops and churches. Everyday soon to be married Chinese couples flock here to have their wedding photos taken against this bizarre backdrop of a perfect English market town.

Copy Artists…

I recently watched a documentary called Copy Artists, that explored the town of Dafen in Shenzen, a town famous for its oil painters. However the majority of the painters that live and work here are not creating works of their own, they are working in assembly lines, producing imitations of famous paintings to sell. Most of the people who work in these assembly lines are art students, working to pay their way through their studies, but others are struggling artists who have never been able to make a living selling their own work. Despite the high quality and amount of effort that goes in to each and every painting, workers earn very little, probably about as much as factory workers do in the city. People have argued that this process of copying classic pieces to sell is wrong, but the studio owners behind them argue that because they are not trying to sell their pieces as the original and are always open with the fact that it is merely an imitation, that it is perfectly ethical and not counterfeit.

A New Generation…

It is exciting to know that to counteract this copycat culture, an aspirational new generation of creative people with big ideas now have the freedom to express themselves and open the door to make way for a new way of design thinking in China. This generation are not content with copying foreign designs and are striving to push China in the direction of not only making, but also designing their own products. The documentary China Rises: City of Dreams, features Shanghai based fashion designer Jenny Ji. In an interview, Jenny sums up the attitude of this creative generation and their new found freedom…

‘I’m a designer from the new generation and I feel great. I don’t have the old restrictions and boring attitudes…

The old pessimism has gone, and I can embrace the new changes. I’m always dreaming of the choices available to me…’

Fuelled by a society that is bursting with confidence and originality, the future of China has the potential to be one of design and innovation rather than simple replicating and manufacturing, an exciting thought for any young designer like myself.

Something About Women

Humility, resignation, subservience, self-abasement, obedience, cleanliness, and industry.  Back in the day these were the qualities deemed appropriate for China’s little girls to aspire to.  The seven virtues that author Ban Zhao (a woman) urged China’s women to display in her book Admonitions for Women.    Women in feudal China were birthed and grown and shaped for men and men alone.  Confucian philosophy preached the highness of men and the lowness of women.  The overriding attitudes towards China’s women in the past were pretty clear.   They were mostly considered as property.  The women of China were there to obey their fathers, husbands and sons, no questions asked.

Image

A women’s role was firstly to keep the hubby happy and second to have babies.  Specifically little, bouncing boy babies, who, if their father ever died, would take on the task of making sure their mama was behaving herself.   In feudal China an arranged marriage was just the way society rolled and regardless of how miserable a women was her responsibility was to stay married.  No divorce.  No remarriage.

The idea of widow chastity really sunk it’s teeth into Chinese society and not only were women unable to remarry if their husband passed away, many actually took to committing suicide to ensure their purity and virtue was intact for the entirety of their lives.  “By the early Qing period (1644-1911), the cult of widow chastity had gained a remarkably strong hold, especially in the educated class. Childless widows might even commit suicide. Young women whose weddings had not yet taken place sometimes refused to enter into another engagement after their fiancé died. Instead, they would move to their fiancé’s home and serve his parents as a daughter-in-law.”  (Patricia Ebrey).

It seems fairly obvious that women were made for men.  When it was decided during the last Tang dynasty that itty bitty baby feet were beautiful women took to binding up their daughters feet in order to make them more desirable.  Long strips of cloth were used to restrict growth by wrapping them so tightly that the toes would curl under creating a much shorter, narrower and more arched appearance.Image

During the Ming and Qing dynasties women were actually not eligible for marriage unless they had bound feet and despite the obvious pain this would cause a young girl this practice was carried out for almost a thousand years.

Times would change however, and so did China’s feelings towards its young ladies.  During the mid 1900’s and with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China the life and prospects of young girls changed drastically.  Gone were the days of complete obedience and arranged marriages.  The early 1950’s introduced laws that radically altered the lives of China’s women.  They now had equal rights with men.  They were to receive equal pay and the same vocational opportunities as men.  They were not required to have an arranged marriage.  They were let loose and allowed to follow their dreams.

Today, although the women of China are still the main homemakers and do the bulk of the child rearing they are also at the forefront of the workforce.  China’s women are ambitious and are now encouraged to work their way to the top even if that means trampling over the men, that a hundred years ago they would have been serving.    “Today China has a greater percentage of women in its Parliament (21.3 percent) than the U.S. does in Congress.” (Newsweek Magazine, 2010).   The attitudes towards women that preached lowly subservience and resignation are seemingly a thing of the past and women are finally able to be recognized right alongside their male counterparts. Image

Generational Traditions in China

Tradition, this word means something different to everyone, but the same general traditions are upheld in a culture. To us in the UK, tradition could be the local parade, Christmas celebrations or even as close knit as family traditions that have been happening for generations. Traditions stretch across a culture, and as they are intimately linked to each other. Tradition affects culture, and as new generations pick up traditions things change. Some traditions being forgotten or changed into something different.

This blog post will look into the traditions of China, and how some of the generations celebrate tradition, change or have even stopped them all together. When deciding on what aspect of life I wanted to focus on for this report most of the generational differences would of been seen as bad, or sad. I wanted to show a nicer side to the generational differences, where tradition is upheld and still seen with respect.

Chinese new year is the first tradition that comes to mind when thinking about China,  as a child I thought it was odd as it did not happen on the same day as our own new year. The Chinese new year is never on a set date but between the 21st January and the 20th February this is due to the Chinese running on a lunar calendar rather than a fixed one like the west.

In China the tradition of new year is celebrated with the exchange of money in red envelopes, exchanging gifts with the family, firework displays and much more. This tradition has been happening in China for generations, a time to gather with the family. Generations have celebrated the new year in different ways, as each generation is raised it seems that the customs of a Chinese new year are dwindling. Not that far in the past Chinese new year was hugely celebrated, the older generations in China would still remember them to this day, grand fireworks displays, 15 days of celebration to bring in the new year. During new years lantern processions would take place in the streets, as people welcome another year. The modern Chinese new year consists of a 7 day holiday from work, of which all socializing is mainly done through the internet or use of mobile phones and even ordering in food from a restaurant instead of cooking themselves. The family still gathers though and younger people travel in from there place of work to spend this special time with family.

The Chinese new year festivity’s have changed through generational jumps, still being revered by the elderly but the younger generation not embracing all of the older customs, not enough time, having a work place to go back to. This generational gap of technology and longer working days/working away from home shortens the festivity’s and some of the older customs. Here we see things such as the lantern processions dying, cooking the day before new year is also a dying tradition, as there is more money it is easier and more relaxing to let a restaurant cater for the big day. This being said the Chinese new year is still celebrated and embraced by all generations even if the tradition is slowly getting smaller in size.

Traditional Chinese medicine is also a generational tradition, the Chinese believe in their medicine and the role it plays. To the west this could be seen as alternative  medicine but in China it is used in some of the health care delivered. As generations pass the knowledge and willingness to use traditional medicine changes, the practice is still in use and taught. A survey was carried out by the Prince of Wales hospital in Hong Kong on the attitude of 91 students who study medicine towards traditional Chinese medicine. The survey showed that 40% were positive, 59% neutral and only 1% was negative. This shows that the youth of china are picking up the tradition from the older generation, where the use of traditional medicine may be changing in china, the generational gap is a lot smaller than to be expected.

China, known for many traditions, has born 1 tradition that won the west over, took over the big screen and bought about a new era of movie hero’s.  Kung Fu has been part of Chinese culture for thousands of years, but as the modern era approaches China this may be a tradition that is due to die off or fade into the background. While watching a documentary for a previous report i made note of the attitude of a kung fu master and his students. The film crew focused on his top student, along with his attitude towards learning kung fu, the message was clear; he did not want to learn kung fu, he would rather go to the city, get a job and lead a rich life in the new China. The master was also interviewed about this, and he seemed sad that the art was dying out, but wishes his student a good life, as long as the master had passed on the lessons he only hoped they would be continued as such a tradition had been alive for so long. This shows a decline in the quest for knowledge, rather the yearning for a life outside of the school where a job can be gained. This is kind of sad in a way, the traditions of old masters may be dying out, people who put their  lives into the advancement of kung fu and only wish to pass on this knowledge. Who knows we may see a day that kung fu is only taught the way it is here, in weekly lessons or even just become a memory.

There is a lot to talk about on this subject of tradition, as China is rich in its cultural heritage but i hope i have portrayed some of the better sides to the generations as traditions are passed on, old customs live on in the hope that people remember where they came from and more importantly why the customs exist in the first place. Things change as time goes by, each generation will drop parts of traditions due to time or even not believing in them anymore.

Generation Gaps towards Consumer Behaviours

Whenever one is trying to talk about the consuming ability of Chinese people, the capability of Chinese expenditure should be familiarized by most of the world. If you try to go to Paris, Milan and step into any luxurious shops, it is of high chance that you can see Chinese people around you.

Due to the immature market environment, the Chinese consumer behaviors are sometimes being criticized as it shows a certain special characteristics. However, the side that we always see about this group of consumers does not represent the whole population of Chinese. Indeed, the traditional Chinese culture has formed its unique consumer characteristics, and the distinctions between different generations show big differences between these gaps.

When it comes to consumer behavior, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is always being mentioned. These hierarchies of five different levels of demand are the minimum to meet their basic physiological needs, followed by the security needs, social needs, esteem needs, and lastly self-realization.

Reflected in this hierarchy of needs theory is a universal condition, but in the actual market behavior, especially in the Chinese market, the environment is quite complex, and different phenomena under this model varies between generations. The consuming behaviors, life styles and habits between different generations show an obvious distinction.

Chinese towards expenditure are usually divided into four generations and distinct by the general level of economic development during their growth stage, which shape their primary characteristic.

  • 1st : Born on or before 1945, which have come along with the war
  • 2nd : Born between 1946 to 1965, which is the generation of baby bomb
  • 3rd : Born between 1966 to 1980, the Generation X
  • 4th : Born after 1981, includes the Post-80s and Post-90s

The 4th generation always represents the most developed consumer groups, while the 1st generation is often on behalf of the least developed consumers. These different groups of consumers are grown in different environment in specific period of times. The economic status and the development of consumer market surrounding shapes different specific behaviors of them.

The 1st generation grows in more or less a poor environment as they have experienced war in their lifetime. Basic physiological need is the core value of their consuming behavior. They tends to have a strong family values and the value of money expenditure tends to be more pence-pinching. They will usually compare prices before making a purchase and the preference goes to the cheaper product. Only necessities and essential products would be on their list of purchase. Luxurious products would not attract this group of consumers.

The 2nd generation is the generation of the baby bombers. The consumer market in China expands a lot in the growth stage of this group of people, in order to suit the dramatically expanding market of consumption. Upon the stable growth of post-war economy, there are more choices and varieties of products available in the market. Thus, this group of people tends to pay more attention to product safety and reliability from the varieties. They will conduct careful planning and research before buying any products.

The 3rd generation is what we called “Generation X”. This generation follows the powerful baby bomber generation. “X” described the lack of identity that members of Generation X felt — they didn’t know where they belonged, but knew for sure that they weren’t a part of the overbearing generation of Baby Boomers. With the shocking growth of the economic status during Baby bombers stage, the parents of Generation X would be able to provide better environment for their child. The identification problem together with the better economy has created the starts of needs for self-esteem and self-actualization. The concept of luxury products starts to grow in this stage, as different products seems to be able to provide this group of people different identity. Fashion trends and brand-name goods start to be an important concern of this group of peoples’ buying behavior.

The 4th generation is called Post-80s and Post-90s in China. Post-80s and 90s are colloquial terms which refer to the generation whose members were born after 1980 in Mainland China, after the introduction of the One-child policy. This generation currently aged below 32, making up a major portion of China’s young adult and teenager demography. In this generation, the One-Child-Policy started to launch and the effects of this policy is significant. With the fastest-ever growing of Chinese economy and the restriction of child in family, they are sometimes being referred as “Little Emperors” at home. In many Chinese families the 4-2-1 format, 4 grandparents, 2 parents, one child, takes place, resulting with a child which receives love and attention and has no siblings to compete with. The spending habits and buying behavior of this generation is very significant as their parents tends to encourage them on spending if this makes them feel happier. The concept of luxurious products is very important to this generation and they are willing to spend a lot on buying expensive products to treat themselves.

I have conducted a skype interview towards different family members of mine who live in China, including my grandma, uncle, auntie and their daughter, my cousin, to understand their consuming behavior. To make the interview easier, I have picked up an example of product: Mobile Phone, as they all have one and it’s easier to analyses their behavior.

Grandma /71 years old / Retired person/ Nokia 8310

Uncle /48 years old/ Logistic Manager/ Blackberry 8520

Auntie /39 years old/ Housewife/ iPhone 3GS

Cousin/16 years old/ Student/ iPhone 4S

Question 1: Why do you think you will need a mobile phone?

Grandma: Indeed I do not need a mobile phone, but my son is not living with me currently. They buy me a phone so that they can find me anytime even I am not at home.

Uncle: I need a mobile phone to contact my family as well as use this in working purposes.

Auntie: Obviously everyone needs a mobile phone in this generation. I need to contact my friends and family. There’s no reason for not having a mobile phone for everyone live in town in China now.

Cousin: I need the phone to contact my friends and play games. I also need it for listening music and watch movies.

Question 2: Why did you choose your current phone?

Grandma: My son wants me to have a phone but I really don’t need one. So I just take his old phone to use.

Uncle: Blackberry is good for organizing my stuffs at work. It facilitates my working process. It is very useful.

Auntie: iPhone is very trendy and popular now. The shape and the functions of it are perfect. I feel good for using iPhone that it gives me a luxurious feeling. But my phone is out of fashion now, I am going to ask your uncle to change a new iPhone4S for me soon.

Cousin: This is nonsense of asking why people use iPhone! Everyone knows that iPhone is the best. You are going to use iPhone to do everything. The best thing is that people jealous when you are holding it!

Question 3: How do you find the price of your phone?

Grandma: I don’t know the price of it, but I am sure that it must be high. My son needs to get a new phone for work so give this old one to me. However, it can still function well and I think it’s kind of waste to give it to me. I try to give it to my granddaughter but she refused to use this.

Uncle: I think it is reasonable. The price matches the functions and it eases my workload in certain extents.

Auntie: I think the price is high but It is still reasonable. The price is a bit high as compare to other phones. But as long as it is trendy people are willing to give money to them.

Cousin: The price is not expensive at all. This gives every functions that you can use and it worth more that it cost.

Question 4: Will you get a new mobile phone in the coming period?

Grandma: No. I am happy with this one.

Uncle: Not in this period until it’s not functioning. This one matches all my need of a mobile phone.

Auntie: Yes. I want to get an iPhone 4S. But maybe my daughter is going to get a new phone soon. So I may get hers if she is getting a new one.

Cousin: Probably. I heard that the new iPhone 5 is launching soon and I want to get that one. It would be the trendiest and people would envy about it. I think mobile phone should always be changing due to current trends.

I hope the results would give you more clues on the difference between generations in consumer behaviors. These gaps in a single family actually represent majority of these groups in China. And I believe this is worth to understand.

One Child Policy in China- Past, Present and Future

“Even if China’s population multiplies many times, she is fully capable of finding a solution; the solution is production. Of all things in the world, people are the most precious.”

Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, made this statement in 1949 soon after the People’s Republic of China was formed. During this time, China experienced a massive increase in population, which at the time was considered a positive direction for China to go in. The mentality of people during this time was that population growth meant economic growth. After centuries of generations suffering from political unrest and epidemics, high population rates were not considered damaging to the Chinese people. This generation wanted to create new lives in a positive time in Chinese history.

It wasn’t until 1955 that the government introduced a birth control campaign that supported abortion in an effort to control the population growth. After a series of natural disasters and poor government planning a reported 20-30 million people in China starved to death between 1958 and 1961. The need to regulate the population started to become a serious issue.

It was in 1978 that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping established the one child policy that limited the number of children people could have to only one. If a family did not comply with this law and produced a second child, there would be substantial fines. At a 2007 press conferences with Chinese officials, Zhang Weiqing was eager to exemplify the success of the one child policy, “Because China has worked hard over the last 30 years, we have 400 million fewer people.” This policy has created an enormous debate on whether it is hindering the basic human rights of Chinese citizens. Zhang Hui, mother of one little girl, believes that one child is enough and she would want one no matter the government regulations and fines. “I’m too busy at work to have any more,” stated Beijing native Zhao Hui. She also went on to say she is not alone in thinking this way. Many of her friends feel the same. A 2008 Pew Research poll three-in-four Chinese people (76%) approve of the policy. Professor Wang Feng, of the University of California, Irvine, confessed that because of the one child policy the Chinese citizen’s attitudes have evolved since the policy was instated in 1978.  “A lot of people simply don’t want that many children. People have accepted the policy,” said Wang. Over the years, the Chinese people have adapted to the childbearing regulations. For past generations, when it was typical to have many children in family, this policy would have seemed unrealistic.

For many in China there has been an acceptance of the one child policy but in some cases people are against it. Mother of two, Liu Shuling, escaped the traumas of a forced abortion when she decided to pay fines, amounting to four times her annual income, in order to have a second child. Liu Shuling and her husband were pleased to have a second son even if it was at the risk of loosing all financial stability. Liu Shuling’s husband admitted in an interview that a son was really what they wanted in order to help them when they reached an older age. Liu Shuling added, “To have a girl doesn’t work.”

Liu Shuling

Because of the one child policy, sex discrimination has become a huge repercussion. Most people prefer sons to daughters and will go to drastic lengths to have their one and only child be a boy. Abortion, neglect, abandonment, and even infanticide have become consequence of the one child policy. Everyday in China, 20,000 babies are born, but for every 100 girls there are 120 boys. The future generation of China will have to deal with the vast number of single men unable to find brides. There is also a fear that with such a high number of single men in China’s future society, there will a drastic increase in crime and violence. Jo Ming, a school principal with a belief that there needs to be a cultural balance between men and women, states in reference to the one child policy, “Once born, we are all equal, and we are all human beings. We need to respect each other. I think, even though some older people don’t agree, it should be eliminated.” The mentality that females are not as preferable as males is not a new attitude in China but only one that has worsened with the one child policy.

The one child policy was created to regulate the population and avoid poverty; however, there are still 600 million people living in China who earn less then $2 a day. Multiple generations will feel the effects of the policy. Because of the one child regulations, generational dynamics within a family have altered. In past generations, the parents were able to rely on their children in old age. For the present and future, a single child must take care of his or her parents and four grandparents. The one child policy has effected generations differently but all people in China are interconnected. A solution made during one generation seems to inevitably make way for an entirely new problem for the next generation. The one child policy was meant be a temporary solution and only last a generation. In 2010, after 30 years of the policy being enacted, the government shows no sign of stopping the regulations.