Posts Tagged ‘chinese’

The Chinese Year of the Water Snake 2013

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Illuminant wishes all our friends a happy and prosperous year of the snake!

In this new year of the Water Snake, the Illuminant team wishes all our clients, partners, allies and friends be blessed with the luck brought by double snakes.

May you find sources of water on both your left and right, that things bend in your favor under all circumstances, that global sources of revenue flow to you, that your business connections bridge China and the west.

May you prosper in business, as well as in family, and may you thrive to such an extent that you yourself boost the feng (wind) and shui (water).

May your good luck flow gracefully and unstoppable like the winding forward of snakes and dragons.

Artwork for our Lunar New Year card this year was creative directed by Illuminant’s Simon Cousins, and designed by Gina Kim and Jarvis Fernandez. Conceptual input from Kane Gao, Michael Roach, Jiayi Qian and Nicky Ruan.

The Snake in Chinese culture

According to ancient Chinese culture, Snake is always a good omen: a snake in the house means that the family will always have plentiful food.

Of the 12 Chinse zodiac animals, Snake is the most refined and collected of the group. Snake is intuitive, graceful and exciting.

As the most materialistic animal of the Chinese zodiac, Snakes love to surround themselves with the finest life has to offer. Luxurious surroundings and furnishings help Snakes to achieve the peace they need in order to thrive.

Snake is an indicator of material wealth, as he is a reliable provider for his family, and is a good mediator. In particular, Snake has a keen mind for business. Snake is intelligent and wise and adept at husbanding resources.

Hong Kong taipans and Chinese entrepreneurs identify with Snake, as he is naturally skilful at plotting and scheming to make things turn out exactly as they wish. Snake is able to wait for his prey, perfectly still and hidden, until his deadly and effective strike gets him exactly what he had planned to get.  Snakes are possessive and often deadly when threatened.

The Water Snake (2013)

According to the 5-year elemental cycle of the 12 animal years of the Chinese zodiac, the year of the Water Snake begins on 10th February, 2013.  This is the first day of the Lunar New Year.

The last Water Snake year was 1953.

People born in a Water Snake year are said to be motivated, intellectual, determined and resolute about achievement of material success.

These Water Snakes are influential, graceful, insightful and analytical, and for these and other qualities, make good senior business managers and entrepreneurs.

Water Snakes will have what they desire, regardless of obstacles, and comport themselves through life with an expectation of material reward.

Xin nian kuai le!

Learn more about the business and culture of Chinese Spring Festival (aka Lunar New Year, aka Chinese New Year) at our essay about the Lunar New Year, and also at Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout Spring Festival infographic.

Spring Festival: the Chinese (Lunar) New Year (infographic)

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

January 2013′s Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout focuses on the Chinese Spring Festival (also known as the Lunar New Year or the Chinese New Year, which is somewhat of a misnomer since the new year is celebrated across Asia).

If you find this month’s infographic helpful, please consider checking our other Illuminant’s Chinese Takeouts: A Realistic Overview of ChinaUnderstanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes, and Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China and Gifts in China: What to Give, What to Avoid.

Scroll to the bottom to download a high-resolution version in PDF.

Illuminant infographic about the Chinese Spring FestivalClick to download a high-resolution PDF of Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout: Spring Festival

PLEASE CONSIDER THE OTHER INFOGRAPHICS OF ILLUMINANT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT “ENTER THE DRAGON” SERIES

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: A Realistic Overview of China

Enter the Dragon, Part 1 of 12, “A Realistic Overview of China”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes

Enter the Dragon, Part 2 of 12, “Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China

Enter the Dragon, Part 3 of 12, “Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Gifts in China (What to Give, What to Avoid)

Enter the Dragon, Part 4 of 12, “Gifts in China: What to Give, What to Avoid”

Enter the Dragon, Part 5 of 12, “Spring Festival: The Lunar (or Chinese) New Year”

TRANSCRIPT OF THIS INFOGRAPHIC

ILLUMINANT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT

ENTER THE DRAGON: A REALISTIC OVERVIEW OF CHINA

A CHINA-ENTRY GUIDE·PART 5 OF 12 · JANUARY 2013

Chun Jie (Lunar New Year, aka Chinese New Year, aka Spring Festival)

Good Mandarin Chinese phrases to use during the new year are “新年快乐”(xīn nián kuài lè, “Happy New Year”) or “元旦快乐” (yuán dàn kuài lè, “Happy Yuan Dan”).

Date: Jan-Feb (Depending on lunar calendar.

Duration: 7 Days.

Greetings: Yes.

Gifts: Recommended.

Spring Festival Travel

2012

Highway & waterway 92%

Railway 7%

Airline: 1%

Total = 3,154,000,000 trips made

2011

Highway & waterway 91%

Railway 8%

Airline: 1%

Total = 2,893,600,000 trips made

Retail sales during Spring Festival

2011: USD $61,769,870,963

2012: USD $74,194,515,920 (+15%)

The three industries with the greatest increases in sales:

Clothing (18.7%)

Jewelery (16.4%)

Food (16.2%)

Tourism during Spring Festival

2011: Total = 153,000,000 people / Total income = USD $12,529,586,928

2012: Total = 176,000,000 people / Total income USD $16,007,072,158

2012 railway income = USD $481,475,050

2012 airline income = USD $868,233,697

Top 10 domestic travel destinations during Spring Festival ranked by revenue

  1. Chongqing – 21,753,800 tourists
  2. Beijing – 8,270,000 tourists
  3. Chengdu – 8,151,000 tourists
  4. Hangzhou – 6,107,900 tourists
  5. Shenzhen – 4,562,100 tourists
  6. Tianjin – 4,000,400 tourists
  7. Nanjing – 3,160,000 tourists
  8. Shanghai – 3,142,000 tourists
  9. Harbin – 2,981,700 tourists
  10. Sanya – 484,000 tourists

Total tourists = 62,613,900 people.

Total income = USD 5,470,818,454

Top 10 international travel destinations during Spring Festival

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Phuket Island
  3. Singapore
  4. Bangkok
  5. Bali
  6. Seoul
  7. Maldives
  8. Cambodia
  9. Tokyo
  10. Kuala Lumpur

Top 4 industries that benefit the most from the holiday economy

  1. Transportation
  2. Telecommunications
  3. Tourism
  4. Gifts (Typically, alcoholic beverages and foodstuffs)

Fun facts about Spring Festival

Over 30 billion SMS text messages were sent during the 2012 Spring Festival!

Spring Festival represents the largest share of the overseas luxury market, with $7.2 billion spent in 2012.  During the period, Chinese tourists took 62% of the European luxury market, 33% of the North American market and 69% of the Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwanese market.

Gifts in China: what to give, what to avoid (infographic)

Friday, September 28th, 2012

This month’s Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout focuses on China’s gift culture: what gifts are good, auspicious and lucky, and which gifts you should avoid giving!

As our infographic says in its introduction, receiving a gift from a Chinese business or government contact and not having an appropriate gift to give in return causes embarrassment and a sense of debt (which is unhelpful in a Chinese negotiation).  Conversely, the giving of a gift to a Chinese party (and catching him or her without a response) can put you into a stronger position, at least to be able to secure a follow-up meeting!

If you find this month’s infographic helpful, please consider checking our other Illuminant’s Chinese Takeouts: A Realistic Overview of China, Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes, and Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China.

Scroll to the bottom to download a high-resolution version in PDF.

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout Vol-04 Enter the Dragon - Gifts (what to give, what to avoid)

 

Click to download a high-resolution PDF of Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout: Enter the Dragon (Gifts in China)

Special credit for this month’s infographic goes to our awesome researcher Nicky Ruan for the topic and research, and our funky new designer Gina Kim for her terrific illustrations.

PLEASE CONSIDER THE OTHER INFOGRAPHICS OF ILLUMINANT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT “ENTER THE DRAGON” SERIES

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: A Realistic Overview of China

Enter the Dragon, Part 1 of 12, “A Realistic Overview of China”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes

Enter the Dragon, Part 2 of 12, “Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China

Enter the Dragon, Part 3 of 12, “Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Gifts in China (What to Give, What to Avoid)

Enter the Dragon, Part 4 of 12, “Gifts in China: What to Give, What to Avoid”

Enter the Dragon, Part 5 of 12, “Spring Festival: The Lunar (or Chinese) New Year”

TRANSCRIPT OF THIS INFOGRAPHIC

ILLUMINANT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT

China in a box

ENTER THE DRAGON: GIFTS IN CHINA

A CHINA-ENTRY GUIDE·PART 4 OF 12·SEPTEMBER 2012

The Importance of Gifts

Chinese culture is a gift culture. Every important meeting is made auspicious by the exchange of gifts. To be empty-handed when receiving a gift from your Chinese host is not only somewhat rude, but will put you into a position of debt in the mind of the Chinese side—this is obviously not an optimal situation in negotiation between you and them!

Learn the important do’s and don’ts of gift-giving in today’s contemporary Chinese business and government context, and improve your standing and trustworthiness with the Chinese side. Be thought of as a “Zhong Guo Tong” (a foreigner “who understands China”) and prosper in the middle kingdom!

Bad: CLOCKS

All types of clocks should be avoided as gifts. The word 送钟 (song zhong, send clock) sounds like 送终 (song zhong, the funeral ritual). Giving a clock is the big daddy of Chinese taboos—if you happen to receive a clock from any Chinese source, get your butt to the airport, pronto!

Bad: PEARS

Gifting fruit is a wonderful gesture, especially at festival times, but giving pears means you hope their family will become separated, as the word for pear 梨 (li) sounds like 离 (li, separate/leave/part from). Remember that China has pears that look like apples, so take great care when choosing fruit.

Bad: UMBRELLA

The Chinese word for umbrella, 伞 (san) sounds like the word 散 (san, loose/fall apart). Offering a promotional umbrella to a colleague or partner will make them feel that your relationship has ended.

Bad: HANDKERCHIEFS

Handkerchiefs are usually given out at the end of a funeral, as a symbol of saying goodbye forever (to the deceased), so please avoid giving handkerchiefs as business gifts.

Bad: KNIFE/SHARPS

Offering implements used to cut things means you intend to sever the relationship. The Chinese say “one slash and it’s in two parts” to mean “make a clean cut in the relationship”. Imagine what it’s like to your business partner or government regulator if you offer the slash!

Bad: CHRYSANTHEMUM

These flowers are used only at funerals or when visiting graves. Never give them (or images of them) as gifts.

Bad: GREEN HATS

Wearing a green hat (带绿帽子 dai lv mao zi) implies that the wearer’s wife is unfaithful. Promotional green hats are a poor choice for a conference gift (or corporate uniform).

Bad: MIRRORS

There are several reasons to avoid mirrors as gifts. Firstly, many Asian cultures have superstitions that mirrors attract malevolent ghosts. Secondly, mirrors are easily broken, and “breaking” anything is a bad omen in China.

Bad: SHOES

Like mirrors, shoes should be avoided as gifts for several reasons. Firstly, the Chinese word for shoes (鞋 xie) sounds like 邪 (xie, evil/heretical0, which could prompt negative feelings. Secondly, shoes are something trampled underfoot. Thirdly, if the shoes are small, it would remind people of the traditional Chinese phrase 穿小鞋 (chuan xiao xie, wearing small shoes), meaning “to create difficulties for others”. Finally, shoes can indicate that the giver wants the receiver to “hit the road” by literally vacating or leaving the business he or she is in. Avoid.

Bad: ANYTHING IN WHITE OR BLACK

These colors are often used during funerals. Symbolic gifts, wrapping paper and envelopes in these colors should be avoided. However, if the product itself is black or white (such as an iPod), the utility of the gift can override the taboo (just don’t wrap a white gadget in white paper, and avoid giving such gifts to people over 50).

Good: WINE

In recent years, Chinese business and government people have developed a love for wine. Foreign “grape wines” (as it’s called in Chinese) generally are an excellent gift, especially if from your home country. A gift of wine will be seen as a toast to the recipient’s health. Just remember to include a corkscrew—it’s a nice and practical gesture.

Good: CIGARETTES

One of most “practical gift options”. China has a large population of smokers are not the social pariahs as they often are in the west. Because quality cigarettes are very expensive in China, the gift (to a confirmed and enthusiastic smoker) greatly boosts the giver’s “face” and prospects.

Good: HEALTH SUPPLEMENTAL PRODUCTS

An appreciated gift to older people in China (especially if from your home country). You know you are old when people suddenly are giving you these products!

Good: PEACHES

Peaches are a traditional sign of longevity. The reason is quite complicated. Long story short, peaches are frequently seen on the banquets of gods and demi-gods in Chinese mythology. Consider presenting these, or peach-shaped things, to senior citizens, especially on the occasion of their birthdays. The peach tradition is fading these days, so be a “Zhong Guo Tong” by making the gesture and keeping an old tradition alive!

Good: REGIONAL SPECIALTIES

In China, regional specialties are considered a very proper gift. Ever wondered why airport duty free stores are stacked with [Insert your city here] Chocolates? This is the root of those Chinese-focused souvenir gifts. Say if you are from the USA, a miniature of the Empire State Building might impress people more than a bottle of fine French wine.

Good: RED ENVELOPES

With, um, cash inside. Red itself is the luckiest Chinese color, and wrapping cash with a red envelope means good intentions and wishes. People usually give these to family kids during China’s Spring Festival. Certain commercial events also conventionally call for lucky money, but remember that bribery is a serious infringement of the law, but there are (complicated) established protocols and exemptions, so seek the advice of a local expert before deciding on red envelopes.

Good: TEA

Another practical gift option, like wine and cigarettes. Tea is to China what coffee is to Americans. Good quality tea (avoid jasmine tea and consider pu’er tea) is a gift for all people and purposes.

Good: GIFTS IN SETS OF SIX OR EIGHT

If you’re angling for a lot of “face”, consider giving your gift in sets: 6 and 8 are great numbers for such occasions. 6 represents good luck in pop culture, while 8 means prosperity. 6 bottles of good wine will bring about a great result; 6 iPads will give you a giant measure of “face”.

Good: CHINESE DATES, PEANUTS, LONGANS AND LOTUS SEEDS

When offered together, these are very traditional and lucky gifts to newlyweds. Why? Combining the words of the food names 枣生桂子 (zao sheng gui zi) sounds like 早生贵子 (zao sheng gui zi), meaning “will get a baby soon”.

*Please always comply with your home country’s laws concerning the use of gifts in business and government contexts, and observe relevant laws of the People’s Republic of China.

This Chinese Takeout by:

 

Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout: Colors to use and colors to avoid in China

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Illuminant’s first Chinese Takeout covered the absolute basics concerning China as a new market for your business, product or service. Our second Chinese Takeout covered the yearlong schedule of vacations and holidays in China, forming a template for the best times to plan your market visits into the middle kingdom.

With these first two overview infographics, new market entrants should have a decent idea of where they’re going and when to go.

This month’s Chinese Takeout — the third in our yearlong series — addresses one of the fundamentals of how to localize your brand identity for China: the use and misuse of color.

Given China’s relative isolation from much of the western world over the millenia, cultural norms have developed strongly and independently in that massive country. Color is a ‘primitive’ influence on the minds of all people, regardless of national origin or culture. This is especially so in China, due to the relatively higher stake that superstition has in the minds of mainlanders.

Consequently, the correct use of color is an absolute must-do, prior to entering the China marketplace. When encountering color, Chinese consumers simply don’t respond in the same way as westerners do. For example, did you know that if you display a photograph of one of your directors, say in your brochure, with a black border around that photo, Chinese consumers will think that she is dead?  And you want to avoid giving the recipients of your lovely souvenir gifts the feeling of being at a funeral, so don’t wrap those gifts in white. And avoid the embarrassment that a European client suffered when they gave out thousands of floppy green hats at a major tourism trade show in Beijing.

We first wrote about the use of color in China in this blog in January 2011.  That article, Avoiding Insult and Injury when using Color in China, has gathered hundreds of thousands of pageviews, and is consistently in the top-10 list of most-searched-for articles on our website. A short peek into the terms that large numbers of internet users have searched for, and subsequently arrived at that article, include:

  • colors to avoid in china
  • china colors to avoid
  • colors not to use in china
  • what colors shouldn’t you use in china
  • chinese color symbolism
  • china color symbolism
  • color symbolism in china
  • chinese colors
  • chinese color meanings
  • colors to avoid wearing in china
  • popular colors in china
  • wrong brand color in china
  • study of shape, color and culture in china
  • qing color
  • qing color meaning
  • green and gold colors meaning in china
  • use black and white for your collateral materials, since colors have great significance for china
  • …and many more

Without further ado, we’re proud to present this third Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Colors in China (What to Use, What to Avoid):

Scroll to the bottom to download a high-resolution PDF

 

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout Vol-03 Enter the Dragon - Colors in China (What to Use, What to Avoid)

Click to download a high resolution PDF of Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Colors in China (What to Use, What to Avoid)

PLEASE CONSIDER THE OTHER INFOGRAPHICS OF ILLUMINANT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT “ENTER THE DRAGON” SERIES

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: A Realistic Overview of China

Enter the Dragon, Part 1 of 12, “A Realistic Overview of China”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes

Enter the Dragon, Part 2 of 12, “Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China

Enter the Dragon, Part 3 of 12, “Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Gifts in China (What to Give, What to Avoid)

Enter the Dragon, Part 4 of 12, “Gifts in China: What to Give, What to Avoid”

Enter the Dragon, Part 5 of 12, “Spring Festival: The Lunar (or Chinese) New Year”

TRANSCRIPT OF THIS INFOGRAPHIC

ILLUMINANT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT

ENTER THE DRAGON: COLORS IN CHINA

A CHINA-ENTRY GUIDE·PART 3 OF 12·AUGUST 2012

WHAT TO USE, WHAT TO AVOID

The ancient and complex Chinese culture is the big daddy of cultural symbolism. Highly resonant symbolic memes run old and deep.

No Chinese cultural symbolism is as pervasive as color. The hidden meanings of colors are surprisingly different in China than in other world cultures, and in many cases more powerful.

Companies new to China should avoid confusing Chinese consumers and key opinion leaders by ensuring that localized brandmarks and marketing materials are sympathetic to and persuasive within local cultural biases.

Red 红

Don’t confuse the red of China’s political system with “the red of the common people”. The ancient roots of red didn’t include revolution.

In ancient China, red gained positive meaning from fire. The saying, 红红火火 (hong hong huo huo, or literally “red, red, fire, fire”) means that your life is growing, crackling and rocketing like red flame. 火了 (huo le, “caught fire”) describes something very popular. 火爆 (huo bao, “fire and explosion”) describes a place jam-packed with people, or a book or movie packed with action and excitement.

Red is the primary color for celebrations, especially the Lunar New Year and wedding ceremonies, and other happy occasions.

However to overuse red out of context is poor marketing, analogous to Westerners using Christmas decorations in June.

Our advice:

It’s good to use some red to create “Chinese elements” in your marketing, but don’t abuse it.

WARNING

Don’t handwrite in red ink: it communicates that you’re ending your relationship with your correspondent!

Yellow 黄

WARNING

Yellow can be dangerous to use in your marketing. If your copywriting refers to a product or service and that is connected to yellow, great care should be taken.

When the term for yellow, “黄” (huang) is used in connection to any kind of publication or media, it means the thing it describes is pornographic. For example, 黄图 (huang tu, “yellow picture”) means pornographic pictures and graphics, 黄书 (huang shu, “yellow book”) means pornographic writing, 黄片 (huang pian, “yellow clips”) means pornographic movies, and 黄网 (huang wang, “yellow web”) means pornographic websites.

The other key cultural marker for yellow is that in ancient times, pure, bright yellow was reserved for use by emperors of several dynasties. To say someone 黄袍加身 (huang pao jia shen, “to wear the yellow robe”) means he has ascended to the throne, most likely by usurping. Anyone caught using yellow in any way during the dynasty would be put to death.

Our advice:

Be very careful with yellow. Avoid large swathes of yellow, and avoid yellow in your key brandmarks and products. Judicious use of yellow is possible but seek advice of a qualified China-specialist partner.

Gold 金

Gold is a color which has long been used in China as a symbol of nobility and wealth. It is closely related to the ancient emperors “bright, pure yellow” (see “Yellow”, above).

Our advice:

It’s fine to use metallic gold and golden colors in your marketing materials. There are few, if any, cultural faux pas to be watchful for.

WARNING

Avoid over-use of gold: there was a time from the late ‘80s to ‘90s when practically every Chinese mainlander became crazy about gold ornaments and golden colored paints. This “gold rush” has cased over-use of the color to become the domain of the nouveau riche, and as such, can easily appear to make your massage gaudy and cheap-looking.

Purple 紫

Unlike European and British cultures, purple has deep religious meaning in China. An ancient Taoist symbol of divine presence is canonized as “a purple cloud coming from the east”.

This phrase is always used in connection to anything mortal ascending to immortality. In more recent times, purple has been borrowed from Europe as a symbol of romantic love.

Our advice:

Get creative and consider using purple to your advantage. Purple can be a very effective symbolic method of connecting your brand with positive notions of nobility, immortality, and (amongst younger consumers) wholesome love.

Green 绿

Green is a powerful symbol in the west, but can be confusing in China. While the western idea of “green” has some similarity in China, there are subtle but important differences.

In China’s mainland, green means “clean” or “free of contaminants”. This is not the same definition of “green” that westerners might assume. Mostly when westerners talk about “green technology” or “green energy”, they mean “sustainable” or “eco-friendly”.

However in China, “green” vegetables are free of pesticides, but may contribute to environmental degradation. “Green” milk is milk without toxic melamine. “Green” publications are without explicit or prohibited content. In some cases though, the conceptual mapping of western “eco” green to a similar “eco” meaning in China does exist.

So you see, “green” is a widely-used adjective with much broader and different meaning to “green” (eco) products or services, but sometimes, in the minds of some urban audiences, actually does mean “eco green”!

WARNING

Symbolically, “getting a green hat” means a man has an unfaithful wife. When preparing gifts, green should be avoided at all costs if the gifts are intended to be worn anywhere on or near people’s heads.

Our advice:

Go ahead and use green for just about any marketing purpose, but do not assume that your “green” product or service will be viewed as “eco”. If you do intend an “eco” meaning for your China green, you must elaborate and give relevant obvious context. And don’t give green hats away at your next trade fair unless you want to become a laughing stock!

White 白

White is used in Chinese funerals. A 白包 (bai bao, “white envelope”) is an packet of money to show the sympathy to family of the deceased, much opposed to the 红包 (hong bao, “red envelope”) given to newlywed couples and children.

WARNING

White is a color you must avoid for anything festive or celebratory (and that includes product launches) especially in the less westernized (that means most) regions of China. When giving gifts of any kind, never wrap in white.

Our advice:

Be judicious with the use of white according to the context of the marketing material or activity. Seek expert advice before committing to white as a brand or marketing feature element.

Black 黑

Black, when used in copywriting and text, has a wide array of symbolic meanings that include evil, morbid, corrupted, illegal, and/or greedy. As a color it has a hint of formality and solemness in the minds of the Chinese people. Never put black borders around photographs of people.

It means that they are dead and are being memorialized! Avoid presenting someone’s portrait (a phoeo focused on the face) in black and white mode. This makes your audience think of pictures on graves.

When giving gifts of any kind, never wrap them in black.

Our advice:

Take care not to over-use black. It’s often safest to avoid black altogether.

Multi-color and Rainbow Spectra 彩虹

Chinese people seldom use a rainbow spectrum. In ancient times, a rainbow across the sun would foretell that the emperor would soon die or be challenged. And no, the Gay Pride rainbow is unknown in China.

Use of spectra in Chinese marketing materials is likely to make your Chinese audience think that you’re presenting the national flag of a minor country, or that you’ve used cheap, end-of-run colored materials in your production.

Our advice:

If you must use a rainbow or a color spectrum, go right ahead, but any hope for cultural resonance will probably be lost on you audience.

Qing 青

青 (qing, pronounced “ching”) si an interesting color that doesn’t appear in the standard western set of colors.

Fitting qing into the western spectrum, some Chinese say it’s a sort of blue, while others say it’s part of the green family. Culturally, qing is a color that sits anywhere in between blue and green. You can call it green, blue, greenish-blue or bluish-green, and not be thought of as odd.

Adding a little more interest to this unique Chinese-only color, qing may include some grey. So qing can also be described as greenish-grey blue, or bluish-green grey, or any other combination of these shades.

Qing is closely linked to historical buildings and clothing, like qing bricks, and qing pattern porcelain. Also, there is a type of female character in Peking Opera called a 青衣 (qing yi, “qing colored costume”) because they usually wear costumes of this interesting color.

Our advice:

Give qing consideration if you need to instill a feeling of history and traditional culture.

Summary

China, as a modern country, has a lot of facets, and a full spectrum of colors. Stereotyping it with red is but a safe but boring practice. Free your creativity and experiment with different color in a different cultural context. The pitfalls outlined in this article are easy to avoid. All will be fine as long as your campaign or design is baked by reliable market research and cultural analysis.

This Chinese Takeout by

London Olympics asks Beijing’s approval for London 2012 website?

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Today, the 2012 Olympic Games will open in London.  A routine visit to the London 2012 website revealed something that amazed our China-watching antennae.

Visit the website now, and scroll to the bottom, you will find, in almost invisible grey font, a tiny line which we’ve highlighted below:

London 2012 website with Chinese government "ICP" approval

Official London 2012 website, fully approved by the Chinese central government’s relevant organ.

 

Experienced China hands are already chuckling and shaking their heads.

However, readers who do not spend their days studying and working in the minutiae of the Chinese goverment’s, um, diverse, regulatory environment may be wondering what an ICP filing number is. If so, good question.

An ICP, or “Internet Content Provider” filing number is a kind of Chinese business approval license, as you may have already suspected. Its a privilege, not a right, to have a website in China.  According to Chinese laws and regulations, all websites based in China must acquire such a license before being able to operate legally. “Based in China” typically means:

  • The domain is issued by the Chinese government organ which controls .cn domain name space;
  • Or the server is physically located in China;
  • Or the company operating the website is properly incorporated in China (whether they be domestic or foreign).

It makes us wonder: why does London Olympic Games’ website need the approval of The Central People’s Government of People’s Republic of China?

There are several possibilities we’ve considered (you may have different theories, which we’d love to hear about in the comments section, below):

  • The website is hosted in China. But this doesn’t make sense. China isn’t a country especially well known for great IT infrastructure, and its internet “pipes” to the world are horrifically constrained by both technical and, um, regulatory reasons. Why not just put the server in the UK or base it in the US?
  • LOCOG is incorporated in China. Again, this doesn’t make much sense. This third London Olympics is the pride of UK.
  • They want to attract Chinese visitors. If so, why acquire a Chinese ICP license without offering a Chinese version of the website? At the top of the home page, there is a language switch… but only between English and Français. Plus, the website has a substantial number of services that can’t be accessed by Chinese users, namely Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
  • Or the London team has considered the possibility of the website being blocked by China’s Great Firewall (“#GFW” on Twitter), and hopes an ICP license will gain the website a free GFW pass? This may be the most likely answer, although regulatory compliance is absolutely no guarantee that your site won’t be blocked by the GFW.

In our opinion, this maneuver isn’t going to help London 2012:

  • If you just want Chinese netizens to use your service,and you’re not promoting it widely in China, an ICP license is really unnecessary. There are millions of websites do not have the license but still easily accessible by Chinese people. For example: Last.fm
  • If you want to establish the website as a Chinese-friendly service, an ICP license is the least of the challenge. Much more important for a Chinese audience is a Chinese user interface!
  • If you just want to please Beijing… well, the job is half done. What’s left is to make the ICP license number bigger, stronger, more obvious (not greyed out to the point of being invisible, as in the London 2012 example).
  • If the tactic is for a GFW pass, well, forget about it. China’s relevant government organs can revoke any ICP, at any time, when a leader feels a website is ungood. An ICP license doesn’t produce a protective aura around your online chakras.

With all that said, we wish London a successful Olympic Games!

If any of our readers want to know more about China’s ICP licensing system, feel free to ask us about it.

UPDATE: NEW YORK CITY 2012-07-27 15:25:  According to the Taipei Times, LOCOG told its reporter that London 2012 applied for an ICP because without one it would not have been possible to host some of its content in a China-based Content Delivery Network (CDN) service. However following reports such as ours, the London spokesperson said the ICP was removed from its website to “minimize confusion”.

Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout: Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Every day, hundreds of web users search their way to Illuminant’s website to find out more about  the “Chinese New Year”, as well as the other Chinese holidays.  This topic has become one of Illuminant’s all-time most popular topics.

To address that need, we published articles on Chinese Holidays as well as a special guide on the Spring Festival in our Illuminant’s China blog which have generated huge traffic and very positive feedback.  These Chinese holidays are not only of great significance to the Chinese people, but also have a huge impact on foreign and domestic business in China, good and bad.

There is a lot more to the annual schedule of lunar and fixed Chinese holidays: when understood well, and with the help of a skilled agency such as ours, they can be powerful methods to help your business relationships and sales successes.

To further amplify this advice we routinely provide our clients, we have created our 2nd Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout infographic of the 12-month Enter the Dragon series: Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes.

We hope that the simple guide that follows will help you to plan your business visits and marketing activities accordingly, and capitalize on these holidays as great opportunities to deepen your guānxī with your Chinese partners, regulators and customers.

Scroll to the bottom to download a high-resolution PDF.

 

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout: Enter the Dragon volume 2, "Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes"

 

Click here to download a high-resolution PDF of the infographic.

PLEASE CONSIDER THE OTHER INFOGRAPHICS OF ILLUMINANT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT “ENTER THE DRAGON” SERIES

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: A Realistic Overview of China

Enter the Dragon, Part 1 of 12, “A Realistic Overview of China”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes

Enter the Dragon, Part 2 of 12, “Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China

Enter the Dragon, Part 3 of 12, “Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Gifts in China (What to Give, What to Avoid)

Enter the Dragon, Part 4 of 12, “Gifts in China: What to Give, What to Avoid”

Enter the Dragon, Part 5 of 12, “Spring Festival: The Lunar (or Chinese) New Year”

TRANSCRIPT OF THIS INFOGRAPHIC

ILLUMINANT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT

China in a box

ENTER THE DRAGON: UNDERSTANDING CHINESE HOLIDAYS FOR BETTER BUSINESS OUTCOMES

A CHINA-ENTRY GUIDE·PART 2 OF 12·JULY 2012

Understanding Chinese Holidays

If you’re a company taking your first steps into the Chinese marketplace, don’t experience disruption to your business plans due to lack of planning around the Chinese mainland’s unique holiday calendar.

For new entrants to the China market, it can be quite disorienting to discover your entire in-market team away on holidays you’ve never heard of. And it’s really very irritating (and expensive) to arrive in Beijing or Shanghai to find that none of the “big potatoes” you need to meet are available due to an incomprehensible slowdown caused by an impending holiday (or one just passed!)

Due to religious differences, China doesn’t officially celebrate Christmas, Easter, or any other Judeo-Christian holiday. Rather, China has a series of traditional holidays, some derived from nationhood and others with ancient agrarian roots. Holidays dedicated to China’s nationhood and political system fall on the same date each year, while traditional holidays very according to the lunar calendar.

We encourage you to understand China’s holiday schedule and to take advantage of your new understanding: you have great opportunities to deepen your business and government guanxi relationships.

Year 年

Yuan Dan (New Year’s Day) 元旦

International New Year’s Day is officially marked in China, and has a three day vacation attached to it, however celebrations are pale and minuscule compared to the Lunar New Year a month later. Due to the short vacation of only 3 days, few mainland Chinese travel much distance during this holiday.

The New Year isn’t at all disruptive to business.

Good Mandarin Chinese phrases to use during the new year are “新年快乐” (xin nian kuai le, “Happy New Year”) or “元旦快乐” (yuan dan kuai le, “Happy Yuan Dan”).

In summary, do take advantage of the new year, but keep your powder dry for the cacophonous glory of the lunar New Year, which will soon be upon us…

Date: 1st Jan

Duration: 3 Days

Greetings: YES

Gifts: YES (Recommended)

Chun Jie (Lunar New Year, aka Chinese New Year, aka Spring Festival) 春节

In China, the Lunar New Year is of equivalent importance as Christmas and Hanukkah in the Judeo-Christian traditions. That is to say, it’s the main holiday in the annual schedule that is celebrated and observed with the greatest gusto by all Chinese people.

The two weeks bookending the beginning and end of the Lunar New Year week is a terrible time to be doing business in China. Much like the “silly season” around the Christmas/New Year period in the west, this is a time of year during which few major decisions are made and few large purchase orders are written. It’s best to avoid time-consuming or expensive business development activities during this period.

Be sure to send greetings! “过年好!” (guo nian hao, “happy getting past the old year!”) “恭贺新春” (gong he xin chun, “sincere congratulations on the new spring”), or more generic “新年快乐” (xin nian kuai le, your typical “Happy New Year”). Avoid 恭喜发财.

Date: Jan-Feb (Depending on Lunar Calendar)

Duration: 7 DAYS

Greetings: YES

Gifts: YES (Recommended)

Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping Day) 清明

Since the taboo subject of death is involved, the whole business of Qing Ming is quite private and solemn. As a non-Chinese, don’t bother with special greetings or gifts, Best to leave this three day holiday alone.

The Qing Ming period is only minimally disruptive to business, Senior decision makers may be out of the office for a day or two on either side of the holiday, so plan your business activities accordingly.

Date: April

Duration: 3 DAYS

Greetings: No (Nor necessary)

Gifts: No (NOT Recommended)

Lao Dong Jie (Labor Day, aka May Day, aka International Workers’ Day) 劳动节

Labor Day is marked with a three day national vacation beginning on May 1st every year. The holiday was introduced by the post-1949 government of Chairman Mao. The holiday is a modern one: it doesn’t have any traditional cultural importance. Like most Chinese holidays, you should assume that more senior decision makers will take a few extra days on either side of the holiday, so avoid important business during the week leading up to and the week after the Labor Day period.

Date: May 1st

Duration: 3 DAYS

Greetings: No (Not necessary)

Gifts: No (Nor necessary)

Duan Wu (Dragon Boat Festival) 端午

Originally a day to honor ancient poet Qu Yuan, this day turned into a holiday in recent times. This three day holiday is the time that Chinese mainland people will eat 粽子 (zong zi), a glutinous rice package wrapped in bamboo leaves. Everyone in China eats zongzi, although few actually race dragon boats these days.

From a business timing perspective, you may find some locally engaged staff-members or business collaborators to be absent from work for a week during this period, especially if they are active participants in dragon boat teams, and are attending race in far flung cities.

Date: May (Depending on Lunar Calendar)

Duration: 3 DAYS

Greetings: Yes

Gifts: YES (Recommended)

Zhong Qiu (Mid-Autumn Festival) 中秋

This important and beloved festival marks the dead-center of autumn in the Lunar Calendar. The Mid-Autumn Festival is second only to the Lunar New Year in the year’s most important holidays.

The effect of the Mid-Autumn Festival on business availability is analogous to that of the Lunar New Year. It’s best to lower your expectations that decision makers will be of a mind to make major decisions for the fortnight leading up to and after the holiday period.

Be sure to plan well in advance to take full advantage of the Mid-Autumn Festival with gifts of mooncakes and a party for your team, their spouses, your best customers and allies.

A good greeting is 中秋佳节快乐 (zhong qiu jia jie kuai le, “Have a happy time during the pleasant Mid-Autumn Festival”).

Date: August (Depending on Lunar Calendar)

Duration: 3 Days

Greetings: Yes

Gifts: YES (Recommended)

Guo Qing Jie (China National Day) 国庆节

Every country has its day. October 1st is China’s day. This is the day that marks Chairman Mao Zedong standing on the rostrum at Tian’anmen Gate, in 1949, declaring the People’s Republic of China. China National Day is the beginning of an annual seven day vacation.

There will be a lot of fireworks exploding overhear, but people don’t celebrate it personally. There is no need or real opportunity to improve personal business relationships during this seven day vacation—however large businesses commonly take out full-page advertisements in major newspapers to congratulate China on her birthday each year.

The most common Mandarin Chinese phrase used on National Day is 欢度国庆 (huan du guo qing, “Enjoy the National Day Vacation”)

Date: Oct 1st

Duration: 7 DAYS

Greetings: NO (Nor necessary)

Gifts: NO (Not necessary)

SUMMARY

The principle of making good use of Chinese holidays in your business development and corporate communications campaign can be summarized into three main points:

·Be aware of all upcoming holidays, taking care to ascertain the actual dates each year.

·Ensure good timing on your promotional activities and events.

·Be different from everyone else. Make your greetings, cards, gifts and events stand out from an ocean of mediocrity.

It can take some time to become accustomed to Chiense holiday timing, and a solid localization effort to distill a communications style and voice that fits the Chinese cultural context and your brand identity well. The easiest solution for a fast and successful program is no engage the services of a local expert. Your local partners will be your calendar, your alarm clock, your copywriter, your design team and your event manager. If you’re still without such a partner, please do consider Illuminant’s battle proven services.

This Chinese Takeout by:

An insight into the Chinese online media’s copy-and-paste techniques

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Kudos to this guy on Sina Weibo for providing us “the big picture”, literally

Today provides us with a fascinating look behind the curtain of Chinese media, its hidebound hierarchical system, and its approach to fact-checking.  This short post concerns how an erroneous story published by a respected Chinese news source can blanket the Chinese online news media in a matter of minutes.

The image shows China’s four dominant web portals, QQ, Sohu, Net Ease and Sina, reporting on the same story.

According to today’s reports, the world’s most famous bicycle race, the Tour de France, is caught in a huge crisis, in which 1,832 riders have quit the race!

A normal media consumer, Chinese or otherwise, might ask, “Is this possible? A bicycle race with over 1,800 riders?”

A quick web search on any of the abovementioned portals reveals that the Tour de France 2012 has 22 teams competing against one another, each featuring 9 riders. 22*9=198. So, according to China’s online news behemoths, today in France 1,832 out of 198 riders have left the race.

This kind of erroneous news publishing is not uncommon in China’s fast ‘n’ furious media sector.  Today’s example unraveled as follows:

  • Xinhua, the state-owned news agency of China, is covering the Tour de France in France. A Xinhua journalist was writing about how 156 out of 198 riders made it to the end. However, maybe due to a jerk of fingers, he/she accidentally hit the “8″ key one extra time. 198 became 1988. The journalist didn’t spot the tiny typo though. A click on the submit button, and the news is out on the infallible Xinhua wire.
  • The People’s Daily, the premier Chinese state-owned newspaper, picked up the story. Apparently the editor on duty has some “independent thinking”. He/she took the initiative and did the math: started with 1,988 riders, now only 156 left. That will make big news!
  • Sina’s editor saw the news on People’s Daily, and forwarded it with a casual copy & paste job.
  • And another casual copy & paste job by a Net Ease editor.
  • And another casual copy & paste job by a QQ editor.
  • And another casual copy & paste job by a Sohu editor.
  • Full house! Now the entire Chinese web believes le Tour de France is doomed, because 92.2% riders supposedly don’t think it’s worth their while. Could such an event have any future?

Curiously, throughout the entire process, not a single media professional involved questioned the figures, or to check other sources than People’s Daily or Xinhua.  Ironically the only one in the entire chain who exercised some independent thinking was the People’s Daily editor, and unfortunately he/she grasped the story in an entirely wrong way.

By now (July 19 2012, 11:32PM Beijing time), the crazy story has been circulated about 1,910 times across the Chinese web, including all sorts of leading portal sites, sports sites, bicycle hobbist sites, and state-owned news sites, and local newspapers. You can keep a track of the total count here.

[UPDATE at July 20 2012, 10:00PM Beijing time: we now see the number of Chinese media reports has increased to 2,470).

Key points, especially for those unfamiliar with China’s PR and news sector, are:

  • Have “key targets” when doing public relations in China. For example, know that Xinhua is one of the only two state-supported news wires. Get one story on Xinhua, and it will be picked up by thousands of media outlets before you can say “sweeet”.
  • Chinese web portals share news from print media and each other very fast, and they rarely apply filters to check if the story is true. Actually they rarely proofread. Quick copy & paste is the order of the average online newsroom operator. If a PR agency can manage to sell one story to one of these portals, or an important enough print media, it will be all over the web in a blink of the eye.
  • And the communications team with the Tour de France might want to clear the air a bit in China before anything stranger happens.  Feel free to call us for help, guys!

Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout: Enter the Dragon (a realistic overview of China)

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Since establishing our first North American office in NYC about a year ago, we’ve often been asked by new US-based clients for a “back to basics” overview of today’s China.

We’re normally accustomed to providing deeper and narrower market intelligence and analysis of China’s business, government and consumer opportunities. However we’re always eager to support our clients’ market and cultural intelligence needs, so we’ve created a 12-month program of infographics to address this basic overview of China today.

We’ve called our year-long series Illuminant’s Chinese Takeout.

We’re proud to release the first part of 12: Enter the Dragon.

Scroll to the bottom to download a high-resolution PDF.

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout Volume 01 - Enter the Dragon (a realistic overview of China) infographic

Click here to download a high-resolution PDF.

PLEASE CONSIDER THE OTHER INFOGRAPHICS OF ILLUMINANT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT “ENTER THE DRAGON” SERIES

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: A Realistic Overview of China

Enter the Dragon, Part 1 of 12, “A Realistic Overview of China”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes

Enter the Dragon, Part 2 of 12, “Understanding Chinese Holidays for Better Business Outcomes”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China

Enter the Dragon, Part 3 of 12, “Colors to Use and Colors to Avoid in China”

Illuminant's Chinese Takeout, Enter the Dragon: Gifts in China (What to Give, What to Avoid)

Enter the Dragon, Part 4 of 12, “Gifts in China: What to Give, What to Avoid”

Enter the Dragon, Part 5 of 12, “Spring Festival: The Lunar (or Chinese) New Year”

TRANSCRIPT OF THIS INFOGRAPHIC

ILLUMNANT’S CHINESE TAKEOUT

ENTER THE DRAGON: A REALISTIC OVERVIEW OF CHINA

A CHINA-ENTRY GUIDE·PART 1 OF 12·JUNE 2012

China in a box

SIZE:

9.6 M KM² (26M MI²), 23 PROVINCES, 5 AUTONOMOUS REGIONS, 4 MUNICIPALITIES, 2 SPECIAL ADMINISTRATIVE REGIONS.

Many people are surprised to learn that China’s landmass is slightly smaller than the USA’s: 3.7 sq.mi vs. 3.85M sq.mi.

The people’s Republic of China views Taiwan as a province and it should be referred to as “Taiwan, China” in all dealings on the mainland. Similarly, refer to China’s two SARs as “Hong Kong, China” and “Macau, China”.

Many Chinese netizens say that the map of China resembles a chicken.

POPULATION:

1.3 BILLION

Population: US: 313 million China: 1.3 billion

Mobile phone subscribers: US: 258 million China 1 billion

Internet users: US: 245 million China: 513 million

GENDER COMPOSITION:

MORE MALES THAN FEMALES

51.27% male, 48.73% female means that 34 million Chinese men probably won’t be able to find a wife.

Due to the one child policy (or “Policy of Birth Planning”), a typical Chinese family is only allowed a single child. Chinese men and women have equal rights in all social aspects, but in certain parts of China, particularly rural areas, people still value boys over girls because boys can carry on the family name and can bear heavier agricultural work.

ETHNIC GROUPS:

56

The overwhelming majority of Chinese citizens are of the Han ethnicity. However, “ethnic minority groups” do exist in clusters. In certain regions, such minorities are actually the majority, such as the Uighur people in Xinjiang Province, and the Hui people in Gansu, Shaanxi, and Ningxia.

If you plan on doing business in such regions, it’s of critical importance that you study local “ethnic minority” cultures and religions.

POLITICAL/SOCIAL SYSTEM:

“MARXIST-LENINIST SOCIALISM WITH CHINESE CHARACTERISTICS”

China’s unique form of socialism diverged from that of North Korea or the former USSR since Chairman Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms in 1979.

The Chinese government formally defines its political/social system as “Marxist-leninist Socialism with Chinese characteristics”. It features a partial market economy with key sectors controlled by the government or state-owned enterprises.

When you’re working within the Chinese economy keep in mind that it’s still socialism, regardless that the few square miles around your fance hotel look a lot like capitalism.

RELIGION:

MANY

All major world religions have some influence in China. Buddhism has traditionally been the most popular. Followers of Islam and Judaism are often related to specific ethnic groups. Taoism has been falling out of favor. Christianity (especially Catholicism) has developed substantial momentum in recent years since some “benign” forms of religious observance were decriminalized.

Technically, the 60M members of the Chinese Communist Party are now allowed to participate in religious institutions, however only a small minority do (certainly the more powerful the bureaucrat, the less likely he or she will declare themselves religious).

LANGUAGE:

MANDARIN CHINESE, MOSTLY

Mandarin Chinese (“Putonghua”) is the standardized form of Chinese speech and writing however only around 840M (of 1.38) Chinese citizens can speak Mandarin! Hundreds of distinctly different dialects and languages are used for verbal conversations in different regions.

In the southern Guangdong province and Hong Kong, Cantonese (“Yue”) is has it’s own written and spoken forms and claims 71M speakers/readers. Aroung Shanghai, hundreds of different Shanghainese (“Wu”) dialects are mutually unintelligible by the language group’s 77M speakers. “Min” is spoken by 60M; “Xiang” is spoken by 36M; “Hakka” is spoken by 34M; “Gan” is spoken by 31M. Hundreds more non-Mandarin dialects and languages are spoken by tens of millions more.

PRIMARY FOREIGN LANGUAGE:

ENGLISH

Modern Chinese students are mandated to learn English starting in middle school, and a certain level of English is a requirement for all Bachelor’s degrees. However, that doesn’t mean all Chinese people are English-capable. Since it’s mandated on all students, a huge number of Chinese people dislike the language with a passion. In China it is therefore important to conduct all business in Chinese if possible. For written communications, there is no question that beautifully written Chinese will be more effective than trying to communicate in English.

Economics:

Chinese Michael Jordan lookalike case grinds through China’s courts

Monday, March 5th, 2012
Qiao Dan basketball shoe

A current shoe design from Qiao Dan

The notorious “Jordan vs. Jordan” (NBA legend Michael “Air” Jordan and sons versus Chinese company Qiaodan Sports) case is now grinding slowly through the Chinese courts.

Here’s a quick update from Illuminant’s Beijing-based research team — and it looks like Michael Jordan is fighting an uphill battle.

Beijing court dismisses Jordan sports infringement case; will move to Shanghai courts [QQ News, February 29, 2012]

Beijing courts refuse to take the Jordan vs Jordan case, because: the name “Jordan” (“Qiaodan”) is “not a unique name, and is shared by thousands of Americans” [NB: The pronunciation of Michael Jordan is transliterated to “Qiaodan” in China's mainland, and “Zuodun” in Hong Kong]. Hence, the Beijing courts have ruled that Michael Jordan has no right to sue Qiaodan Sports. The report states that Michael Jordan and his lawers are moving the case to the Shanghai courts.

Jordan Case: legal experts say it will be difficult for Michael Jordan to win his lawsuit [QQ News, March 4, 2012]

Chinese legal experts are not optimistic for Michael Jordan. This article quotes several senior lawyers and summarizes the following conclusions:

  1. The most likely ruling is that Qiaodan Sports infringed Michael Jordan’s “name rights”. However, Chinese civil law has never extended any of such “name rights” to foreigners. Experts expect an uncertain mess if Michael takes this approach.
  2. An important legal technicality is that Qiaodan Sports didn’t actually infringe any of Michael Jordan’s rights, because “Jordan” alone doesn’t specify “the Michael Jordan” [NB: regardless that Qiaodan Sports brand identity is a dead ringer for Air Jordan].
  3. Experts suggest that Michael Jordan’s best chance is to plead that Qiaodan Sports infringed his “image rights”, which covers elements including his name, voice, look, and “business value”. This approach seems to fit Jordan’s case precisely. The only problem is that Chinese law does not define what is exactly “image rights” [NB: a great deal of Chinese law is highly ambiguous; some experts believe this is a deliberate strategy stemming from the 1949 founding principles of the People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong).
  4. The Chinese experts speculate that the judges won’t view Michael Jordan's case as valid. In their opinion, on one side is the bigger-than-life Michael Jordan, and on the other is a company with 3 billion Chinese renminbi annual revenues [USD475M]  and substantial employment. The experts predict that the courts will favor Qiaodan Sports due largely to this key characteristic of the Jordan complaint.

In the end, the lawyers concluded that Michael Jordan’s case isn’t hopeless, but it’s still a wild shot.

Illuminant feels that this is an important cautionary tale of  how messy things can become in Chinese copycat complaints. China’s civil law is largely ambiguous and not based on legal precedent.  Judges aren’t expected to always follow law, given the fluidity of the national and provincial legal corpus.

For almost a decade, lluminant has advised early copyright and trademark registration, combined with a minimal level of media and PR activity to keep names active in the Chinese marketplace of ideas.

See also: Chinese Michael Jordan lookalike brand sued by Jordan and Nike 

Chinese Michael Jordan lookalike brand sued by Jordan and Nike

Friday, February 24th, 2012
Qiao Dan basketball shoe

Yesterday during Chinese media monitoring on behalf of a sportswear client, we encountered an article published on Sina’s finance channel concerning a fake Chinese Michael Jordan sportswear brand in Fujian province.  The established Chinese sportswear brand called Qiao Dan (乔丹 — this is a phonetic transliteration of the phonemes for “Jordan” into Mandarin Chinese) is incorporated in Jinjiang, Fujian Province. Qiao Dan’s company’s website can be found here. Qiao Dan’s logo and CI has a distinctively NBA and Michael Jordan style (compare it to Nike’s Jordan brand). Qiao Dan’s tagline is “Beyond Yourself”.  

The story is indicative of general Chinese intellectual property issues around famous western names, and first-to-register legal protections commonly granted to Chinese “shanzhai” or lookalike brands.

From a business development perspective, its interesting to note that this fake Jordan brand has been operating in the open for 12 years and according to the article, Nike has been in dispute with the company since 2006.  According to the article, its only this week that the real Michael Jordan has brought legal action against the fake brand.  The lesson being that for western companies with valuable brands its always advisable to establish beachheads in China as early as practicable and to exercise brand-building and PR via digital, social media, experiential, retail, etc, as a key method of legal defense.

The English summary translation of the article is ours.

Typical Nike Jordan shoe design

Typical Nike Jordan shoe design

News link (Chinese): http://finance.sina.com.cn/chanjing/gsnews/20120223/092911436815.shtml

Feb 23, 2010, Beijing. The legendary Michael Jordan announced through AP that he’s formally suing Chinese sportswear maker Jordan Sports for abusing his name and his children’s name. “It’s not about money”, said Jordan.

The trademark of Jordan Sports is a silhouette of Michael Jordan in the air getting ready for a slam dunk. The brand has grabbed a big share of rural market with cheap sports shoes, and achieved CNY2.91 billion revenue [NB: USD462M] in 2010, currently seeking IPO on stock exchanges.

According to the IPO document, Jordan Sports claims that “Jordan” is but a common family name for foreigners. It’s not supposed to be specifically “Michael Jordan”. As to the “Air Jordan” brand owned by Nike, the Chinese Jordan claims that the differences between the two of them are pretty obvious. Plus, Jordan Sports registered “Jordan” trademarks in China first, and Nike’s applications for similar trademarks are currently non-exceptionally rejected by the SAIC [NB: Chinese State Administration of Industry and Commerce].

However, in the same document it also said that Jordan Sports has two other trademarks under its belt: “Jie Fu Li Qiao Dan” (Jeffrey Jordan) and “Ma Ku Si Qiao Dan” (Marcus Jordan). [NB: Michael Jordan's two sons are named Jeffrey and Marcus].

Except for the Jordan brand, Nike and its offspring Converse have been engaged in a long-lasting war against Jordan Sports over Converse’s star-shaped trademark too. The dispute stretched from 2006 until now.

[NB: according to other Chinese news resources, in early 2012 there was a Beijing consumer suing Jordan Sports for business fraud. The angry consumer pleaded that “Jordan” as a transliteration is very well known and commonly associated to Michael Jordan, and Jordan Sports never mentioned in any marketing collateral that the brand has nothing to do with the real Michael Jordan. Illuminant speculates that this may be a part of the Nike/Jordan legal offense.]

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