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.

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More Chins than a Chinese Phonebook

It’s an old joke, but for the Chinese it is no laughing matter.  In the past 30 years not only has there been an explosion in the Chinese economy, there has been an explosion in the ever-increasing size of the collective Chinese waistline.  There are now more overweight or obese people in China than ever before.  British economist Paul French and author of “Fat China” explains;  “In the last 30 years they’ve gone from famine to feast in just two generations”.  There are now around 200 million people in china that can be classified as being overweight.  Around half of those are regarded as being obese.

It is not simply the vast number of overweight or obese people in China that is concerning, it is the speed at which the problem has developed.  Obesity and the resulting health problems are now becoming more common in children.  The Chinese government now faces the real possibility of a major health crisis in the coming years if this issue is not tackled.  It is hard to believe that in the 1960’s, China had one of the worst famines in its history.  Between 1959 and 1961, millions of Chinese died through starvation.  This disaster has been attributed to a combination of drought, poor weather conditions and political policy at the time.  The exact number of those who died has been debated over the years with conservative estimates at around 15 million while others believe the figure to be as high as 43 million.  The truth is that it is now impossible to calculate.  Even death in China is on an incredible scale.

What are the reasons for this increasing obesity problem and how have the attitudes towards food changed through the generations to arrive at this point?  Like any major social and health problem, there is no single reason, but rather a combination of factors.

Social Divide and Employment

Despite the economic boom, many people in China still find it hard to make a living and feeding and clothing themselves is a daily struggle.  For many in the big cities however, this is not such a problem.  There is a huge financial divide between people in the cities and people in rural farming communities.

China was once an extremely lean society.   Even since the mid 1970’s the vast majority of people still scraped a living off the land, working long, backbreaking hours to barely be able to feed themselves.  Since the country began to allow free trade there has been a huge shift in employment opportunities.

The numbers of Chinese people working in agriculture has decreased since 1950 and there has been a sharp decline since 1970, with more people working in Manufacturing and Services.  This has been due to the changing ideology of the Chinese hierarchy and the reconstruction of the country.  More people are now working in factories, construction sites and offices in the cities.  This shift from agricultural work has meant higher wages and on average less physically demanding jobs.  That’s not to say that the Chinese don’t work long and physically demanding hours however.  Many people travel many hundreds of miles to find work and send much of their earnings back home for their families.  On average the standard of living has improved sharply though the generations and people now enjoy the benefits of a better economy and the perks that come with it.  The perks are higher earnings allowing people to eat whatever, whenever they want.  A developing middle class in China has meant that many people have a much more disposable income than ever before.

The emergence of this middle class has meant more people spend much more on commodities and luxuries than they could hope to dream of 30 years ago.  People in China can now shop, where and when they want.  There is no real surprise that a more westernised outlook to business and free trade has brought a more westernised style of living.  Mass produced food products and the emergence of supermarkets and a 24 hour lifestyle has meant the Chinese diet is of a much poorer standard than previous generations.

Fast Food

The arrival of the Americanised fast food industry in China certainly hasn’t helped.  McDonald’s, KFC and Taco Bell are now commonplace throughout the big cities in China.  The Chinese knack for copying has meant that replicas of these types of fast food restaurants are appearing all the time.  There is now a copy of Starbucks called Bucksstar, a rip off version of Pizza Hut called Pizza Huh and a knockoff McDonald’s called McDnoald’s?  Although none of these can rival KFC, which is the most popular fast food restaurant in China.

Higher income has meant bigger portions too.  Bigger portions and less physical exercise will inevitably lead too a bigger waistline.  China is well on track to emulate the Americans in this respect.  Children and young adults are the ones most likely to frequent these fast food establishments shunning more traditional foods for the quick, sugar rich alternatives.  Sweets, which were typically an uncommon treat, only a generation ago, are now a common daily snack among young people.

The One Child Policy

Interestingly one of the more bizarre reasons attributed to the rise of obesity has been the Chinese “one child policy”.

Many have argued that this results in parents overindulging their children.  Parents with comfortable incomes will lavish their children with snacks and big portions.  This may not be the case if there were more mouths to feed.  It is the younger generations that are suffering the most with a large increase of diabetes in children across China.

Parallels

It seems that many of the reasons for the increase of obesity in China are very familiar to us.  There are many parallels with us in that respect.  Too many calories consumed and not enough burned off is the simple explanation.  However the psychology of over-eating is the difficult part to explain.  It seems that the Chinese problem is in that in trying to emulate the success that the west, they forgot to drop the parts that have been our undoing.  The younger generations in China are eating more, doing less exercise and as a result are getting unhealthier.  People have higher wages and an improved lifestyle, so they eat more and more often.  The introduction of Americanised fast food restaurants and their Chinese copycats has meant more choice but at a price.  China only has to look at the West to see where this current path will lead.  To their credit, China has invested Billions of Dollars into a new national health service, but they risk jeopardising that investment with the burden of an overweight population if they cannot halt what has already been set in motion.

Changes Throughout the Generations

China is one of the world’s fastest growing economies in the world, so naturally has seen some drastic changes in its culture and way of life.

I aim to discover how life has changed for those living in China over the generations; what the living conditions were like, and how they are now.  To what extent has the ongoing construction work changed China’s biggest cities and are old traditions being abandoned due to a culture that is suffering with these ongoing drastic changes.

The ‘City of Dreams’ documentary is a brilliant insight to the unbelievable changes that are happening in Shanghai.  With a staggering population of 23 million, Shanghai is the ‘posing symbol of China’s phenomenal growth’ and its current redevelopment is called the ‘largest construction project in the world.’  With its middle class making a surge of wealth and its incredible ‘science-fiction’ skyline Shanghai really is the ‘new’ China.  With the considerable amount of construction work that is ever changing Shanghai’s skyline, it is said that the streets now resemble those of New York and Toronto, with McDonald’s, H&M’s, designer shops and numerous starbucks on every street.  Shanghai has clearly been heavily influenced by Western cultures and over the years has seen its own culture disappear.

So how has this changed the lives of many civilians in China?  This documentary followed three people, an upcoming advertising and film director, a fashion designer whose aim is to conquer the fashion world and a lady who has lost almost everything due to these changes.

This recent economic boom has affected everyone in China, in particular those that aren’t well off.  For this one lady, she has lost her job, her home and is now worried she won’t be able to support her son.  She is one of 2 million other residents in Shanghai who have lost their homes.  Dealing with this struggle can be unbearable; her husband tried to fight the system and is now in jail.

Many homes are being destroyed to make room for new high-rise apartments thus destroying old communities that families have lived in for generations. To add to this struggle, many homeowners in these small communities have only been offered a fraction of what their homes are actually worth which leads them unable to afford a new home in the city once their homes have been destroyed.

Not only are small communities being destroyed, but also ancient buildings that hold hundreds of years of culture and history.  A statement from the book ‘City of Heavenly Tranquility’ by Jasper Becker really stood out to me.  Becker talks about how many ancient buildings have been destroyed but the Chinese authorities ‘have constructed ‘new’ historic buildings or temples from scratch’ for tourism purposes.

Whilst many families are suffering with these changes, others are finding the advantages of this economic boom.  An upcoming advertising and film director talks about being the first generation in almost fifty years to not be controlled by the communist party.  He goes on to talk about Shanghai’s booming advertising prospects and how he has benefitted greatly, but also talks about his past and memories of living a very ordinary life, wearing simple clothing and living in cramped living conditions.  He also talked about how traditions have changed and how the younger generations of China are in no rush to get married or have children.  They simply want to enjoy life.

Along with the director, a passionate fashion designer has also benefited from these changes.  China is known for its incredible culture and family traditions, however over time the younger generations find it almost impossible to find work close to home, so nowadays many are moving away from home to pursue their dreams or find a job.  This is exactly what this young fashion designer did.  She moved to the city to pursue her dreams and now she is a very respected fashion designer in Shanghai.  She talked about how some cultural traditions help keep her family together, but others have been completely abandoned.  She remembers how disappointed her grandparents were when the younger generation started to move away.  Her grandparents wanted her family to stay together as traditionally the more people there are in a family, the more prosperous you become.  Like many women in China, she was determined to be a part of the ‘hip new urban lifestyle’ and enjoyed leaving the old restrictions and attitudes that stopped women from achieving their dreams behind.

Another major change in the Chinese society is the cost of education.  This documentary also addressed the issue of families moving to smaller apartments as the cheap rent allows the parents to provide a good education for their children.  Education has become very important and many children in China are feeling the pressure to do well so they can move away and earn a better living than their parents.

Other sources, such as China’s Housing Crisis, an article by Peter Yuan Cai, gives details on how expensive it is for new couples in China to buy a new home in China’s ever-changing economy.  Not only do they need to save money themselves but they also need the support from both parents and grandparents – ‘Three generations of savings are thus exhausted in buying a single house.’

China will continue to change for many years to come.  It’s clear their traditions is what keeps their culture alive, but how much longer will this last?

Made by hand.

Handmade goods have always been associated with quality. The word handmade leads us to believe a craftsman has poured blood, sweat and tears into his work to give us the highest possible quality product and for the highest possible price too. However this is not the case when people think about goods from China.

The general thought is that products which have been manufactured in China are done so in sweat shops by people who are paid low wages and work long hours. This is most likely the way they are made but why do we think that the product that they work so hard and for so long to make is less than an item made in Europe?

Right now in the Western world, there has been a resurge of people making things by hand, mainly by creative people. I know of countless disciplines where people have reverted to the old ways after the digital boom of the 90’s; textiles, printing, film, photography, etc. We all appreciate the effort and aesthetics of this and even more so we are willing to pay for a hand crafted product over a machined one. So why the stigma of Chinese Products?

After interviewing a select number of people, there seemed to be a common connection between their thoughts on Chinese goods. All of them said that they believe the goods were made in sweatshops, as stated earlier.

Critics also point to the fact that sweatshops often do not pay taxes and thus don’t pay for the public services they use for production and distribution and don’t contribute to the country’s tax revenue. In some countries, such as China, it is not uncommon for these institutions to withhold workers’ pay.

“According to labor organizations in Hong Kong, up to $365 million is withheld by managers who restrict pay in exchange for some service, or don’t pay at all.”

Furthermore, critics of sweatshops point to the fact that those in the West who defend sweatshops show double standards by complaining about sweatshop labor conditions in countries considered enemies or hostile by Western governments, such as China, while still gladly consuming their exports but complaining about the quality.

Sweatshops have been around for a long time. Every country has had ‘sweatshops’ sometime in there history. For example, in the UK around 1840’s, there were sweatshops, mostly filled with working class women, who were increasingly needing to earn a wage for themselves, working as seamstresses. The work was long and low paid, as it is today for Chinese workers.

Charles Kingsley, an English priest of the Church of England, university professor, historian and novelist, published a paper on the state of affairs in England in 1850. The paper was entitled ‘Cheap Clothes and Nasty’. This brought the matter to public attention. I am not defending sweatshops in anyway, merely trying to dismantle the negative stereotype that all goods from China are made in horrible conditions and sweatshops are a part of our history as much as in China today.

Attitudes Towards China

When it comes to buying the latest technology or fashion trend, are people aware of where these goods are coming from?

I aim to find out what peoples attitudes are towards China today; are they aware of where the goods they are buying were actually manufactured, and how do they perceive the quality of ‘Made in China’ goods compared to ‘Western’ goods?

I set out with a short questionnaire that covered the basics of these topics.   I interviewed a cross-section of people to see what their perceptions were.  Here are a consolidated series of opinions that were shared.

Firstly, I asked ‘when buying new technologies or clothes do you think about where the product is coming from or are you more focused on the brand, price and how it looks?

The majority of people said they never think about where their products are coming from.  However, one gentleman did say it would depend on what he was buying.  For example, if he were to buy a car or tools for DIY then he would generally go for German made as they have an excellent reputation, but for anything else he said he never puts much thought into it.  I also went onto ask one lady about her opinions on buying clothes, she said that it’s incredibly rare now-a-days to see clothing with the label ‘Made in Britain’ and if more things were made locally then she would buy them, but most of the clothes she purchases are from China or Asia.

I then went onto ask where they thought most of their goods were manufactured and why –

Most said China or Asia, however some had no idea.  When asked why, I was given some very interesting answers; some just linked their answer to the ‘Made in China’ stereotype, but others spoke about the huge work force and cheap labour.  The huge work force allows for mass production of goods and although the workers are paid very little they are willing to work hard to support their families.  Some went onto talk about ‘sweat shops’, they were aware to avoid purchasing goods that were manufactured in these places.  One lady said ‘nobody should be exploited’ and she would be prepared to support this cause.

I then asked, ‘what do you think the general publics perception of ‘Made in China’ goods is?

The general consensus was ‘cheap.’  It was discussed that people today, especially the older generations, are heavily influenced by the past and are stuck with the historical memory of ‘Made in China’ goods being cheap.  One person mentioned his opinion on the fact that many people didn’t, and still don’t, appreciate China’s ability to produce good quality products.  Another went onto to say how people today are very money orientated.  Those with money are willing to pay a fortune for designer labels, but how much did these designer clothes actually cost to make?  An interesting point made by one of my subjects.

Finally, I asked ‘how do you perceive the quality of ‘Made in China’ goods compared to ‘Western’ goods?

Again, some said that ‘Made in China’ goods were cheap and ‘Western” goods are of a better quality.  This, however, wasn’t the case for all.  A few people spoke about how China has flourished with the technology boom and as their society has improved dramatically so has their ability to manufacture high quality products on a massive scale.  I was also surprised to here one person say he thought the quality of China made goods were in fact better than ‘Western’ goods because of the huge number of employees that are willing to work extremely hard to produce high quality products.

It’s clear that many are still heavily influenced by the past and still perceives China made goods as cheap.  Whilst in some areas this may still be true, China has developed dramatically over the years and is now an influential competitor in the world.

Personally, I’ve never really put much thought into where my goods are coming from, not until recently when I watched a documentary called ‘Factory City.’  This programme looked at one of the largest factories in the world, Eupa, situated in the Southeast corner of China.  I found this documentary a real eye opener to the way many of our goods are manufactured.  It was truly fascinating how dedicated the factory’s 17,000 workers were and the amount of pressure they are under every day to produce staggering amounts of goods which are then exported all over the world.  Not only do they work in this factory, they dedicate their entire lives to this factory; they live within the surrounding area, they eat there, they get married there, they raise their families there and send their children to school there.

So why do ‘Made in China’ goods have this stereotype of being cheap when most of the latest technology and clothes we buy are in fact made in China.  I, for one will now be more aware of where my goods are manufactured and will appreciate all the hard work that is put into making them.

Is Apple Launching the iPhone5 in March? No. it’s iPhone7!

Yes, everyone’s attentions draw on the same side again. Recently, there have been rumours saying that Apple is going to release its new product. Everyone tends to try on guessing when Apple is going to launch its new iPhone.

 

But actually the new product is presented in the Chinese market already! The price is incredibly cheap with the totally new style. Wait for a minute… This is actually a “HiPhone5” which belongs to the clone product that is made in China.

This is a new product from a local Chinese mobile provider which promised its customers to “Go beyond the iPhone5!” The price is very cheap with only 200 Yuan or approximately 18 GBP. The function is very similar to the previous iPhone by Apple with a large touch screen. Its weight is very light and makes it feel like a toy instead.

This new products in China is always innovative things to shock the world.  iPhone5? There’s more! “iPhone 6” & “iPhone7” available!

This so-called “iPhone 6” claims to cover all functions in the real iPhone, with the only different that its logo writes “iPnoho 6”.

Another network provider also invented the “iPncne7”, at which that the classic logo of Apple is not being bited.

It will not be surprised for any Chinese people to see these kinds of fake products, as the culture of Chinese production has obviously involved these products into different areas, such as clothing, catering, advertising etc.

However, what is the level of awareness among typical Dundee shoppers about these kinds of products? Let’s try to ask around to see some feedbacks. After interviewing different people about their points of view on these “new” products, the conclusion comes with two major opinions.

Along the interviewees, some have heard that China is famous for fake products while the others said that they don’t really know about these matters. However, all interviewees expressed that they have never thought that a “special version” of fake iPhone are existing in the market.

Regarding the feeling towards these phones, some interviewees think that it’s very incredible to have such an idea innovative items, while most of the others think it is not proper to make counterfeit products.

But when it comes to the questions that will they try to get one for themselves, almost everyone being interviewed refused to try using these phones, mainly worrying about the trustworthiness of these fake products. The safety issues of using these phones are most concerned. The actual workings of functions are also worried. However, some young interviewees said they may try to get one to carry around due to the fact that they think it’s funny, but they won’t use it for long-term usage.

Almost everyone hold similar feeling towards these products, and it is worth discussing about the responses of all interviewees. How do they actually perceive the quality of electronic products?

Price, texture and style are basically the most important things of clothing or accessories to draw consumers’ attentions. While many of us don’t actually care about the producing place of clothing or accessories, place of birth of electronic products seems to catch more attentions among typical shoppers.

The reason under this phenomenon is mainly due to the common stereotype of Chinese products. The reputation of products from China is usually not aligning with safety or durability, which makes potential buyers unwilling to get products. News reporting quality problems, such as the 2007 recall of toys containing lead paint, occur with alarming frequency.

With the low labour costs and rapid turnover in filling orders, the manufacturing companies in China have gained an important place around the world. Companies all over different areas tried to get orders with this cost-efficient expert. Nevertheless, nothing is going to be perfect and the quality is normally sacrificed among these production advantages. But breaking up is hard to do. Companies that build long-term relationships with Chinese manufacturers still find that their partnerships worth to be continued.

With the increasing orders around the world, Chinese manufacturing industry is stepping closer to the center of world trading, however, China is known as a country producing counterfeit products. This long-build image of their defected products and copyright infringement may also pull this dragon back from the grateful path. Its future depends a lot on how it is going to tackles with their reputation. And this should be the most crucial thing that the country may want to reform.

The Art of Batik

The art of batik is one that if often overlooked, but dating back to as early as the sixth century it is known as one of China’s ancient handicraft techniques.

Along with the bandhu method (tie dyeing) and the calico method (block/stencil printing), batik is one of the three major printing crafts in Ancient China. A highly skilled and time consuming craft, batik is a type of wax printing that prevents the dye from reaching certain areas of the fabric.  The wax, beeswax being the most commonly used, is applied to the fabric using a tjanting (a tool that holds and dispenses the hot wax).  This tool allows the artist to control the pattern laid down by the wax with a great deal of precision.  However, in ancient times a thin blade of a bronze knife would have been used.  The wax has to penetrate the fabric completely before applying the dye otherwise the process will not work.  Once the wax is dry, the fabric is dyed in a cold-water vat of soluble dye, or alternatively can be painted on.  When the dyeing process is complete the fabric is then washed in hot water; this dissolves the wax, which in turn reveals a pattern in a contrasting colour to the dyed fabric.  Naturally, this could be the finished piece but a batik artist may apply several layers of colour, adding numerous layers of wax and re-dyeing the fabric to create a multi-coloured and more detailed fabric.

It is still unknown when batik was invented, but an old folks tale tells us something:

Long ago, there was a girl living in a stone village called Anshun, now a city in Guizhou Province. She was fond of dyeing white cloth blue and purple. One day, while she was working, a bee happened to alight on her cloth. After she took away the bee, she found there was a white dot left on the cloth, which looked very pretty. Her finding led to the use of wax in dyeing.”

Batik is believed to have existed in China as early as the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD).  In ancient times, batik was a tradition that was passed down from generation to generation; this however, is no longer the case.  As Chinese society evolved, this process was abandoned.  There are now only two communities in China that have preserved the tradition of batik, the Zhuang and the Miao ethnic groups.  These two communities live in small enclaves in Guizhou, Guangxi, Sichuan and Yunnan, Provinces in South West China.  The Miao group in particular use wax printing along with embroidery and weave for their designs, using mainly hemp and cotton.  They also put great emphasis on their costumes, which are made up of decorative fabrics that are achieved by pattern weaving and wax resist.  Batik printing has been an essential part of all the women’s lives in these remote parts of China and will continue to be used for many years to come.

Example of Miao Batik

Batik designs are often taken from the artists memories or ancient tales relating to the artists culture.  The designs are bold, vibrant and powerful, each telling a different story.

Example of an ancient tale being told through batik

Through time the style of batik has changed considerably; traditionally the designs were very geometric but nowadays, the designs have been modernised and more figurative designs are used such as flowers, birds and fish.  However, it stands true that batik ‘displays the unique enchantment of Chinese art.’

I find this process truly inspiring; each design is unique and eye-catching with rich patterns and elegant colour.  Everything a textile designer loves!

Since originating in China, batik became yet another “Silk Road” commodity that was exported all over the world.  Whilst there are very few in China that still practice this technique, batik is renowned in other parts of Asia, in particular Indonesia.

As China continues to evolve, their passion for ancient traditions and practises is one that is still incredibly fascinating, and will continue to inspire many for years to come.