China’s youth do not seem to want to go so far as to be labelled anti-American, but while older generations once admired US values, films and brands and held the political conditions and economic and technological advancement in a positive light, conversations with the younger generation show the appeal has certainly faded in the last few years.
Whether it is the change in China’s advertising, fashion or entertainment industries, millennials born between 1995-2010 and Generation Z born between 1980-95 in China are less inclined to prefer American culture, products and values than Generation X born between 1961-80.
China’s younger generation value being patriotic, pursuing individuality and taking pride in China’s rapid development.
In general, young consumers now do not admire American culture and fashion, compared to those born in the 70s and 80s, which is quite a big change
“In general, young consumers now do not admire American culture and fashion, compared to those born in the 70s and 80s, which is quite a big change,” said Liu Xin, a creative director of a leading advertising agency.
“Nowadays, regardless of product design or advertising creativity, Chinese and oriental elements are preferred by young Chinese. Foreign creatives increasingly do not understand the taste of Chinese consumers, and from about the second half of 2018 into 2019, most of our foreign colleagues were leaving China, one after another,” she said.
This is in sharp contrast to the 2000s and early 2010s, when American advertising ideas were very popular with Chinese consumers.
a large number of international advertising agencies set up Chinese branches. At that time when we joined the industry, we all thought that the most wonderful ideas were in American advertising and the best advertising agencies were headquartered in the United States,” Liu said. “Advertisements from McDonald’s, Coca-Cola were known by every passer-by.
“Nowadays, creativity reflecting China’s innovative spirit or pride in a great country has become the most important breakthrough point to win a contract. In a word, no advertising agency would be stupid enough to emphasise American cultural elements any more.”
This has, she conceded, been due in part to deliberate guidance by the authorities in recent years, such as a movement against Western values and festivals.
“In fact, you can see the clues from the changes in Nike’s communication strategy, which has gradually been weakening its image as an American brand in the Chinese market, instead promoting their products in the Chinese market by using domestic [key opinion leaders] and localised cultural concepts.”
Imported films, represented by Hollywood, have also fallen from grace in the Chinese market.
After the first Hollywood blockbuster premiered in China in 1994, Chinese audiences consistently showed box office support.
In 1998, ticket sales for Titanic accounted for 25 per cent of China’s total box office revenues that year, and until 2013, the top three films in China’s box office history were all Hollywood productions: Avatar, Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Titanic.
But in 2018, the appeal of Hollywood films started to fade after authorities required that the number of hours that domestic films were shown each year must not be less than two-thirds of the total hours of all films screened.
That year, China’s total box office revenues rose to 60.68 billion yuan (US$9.3 billion), but the box office revenues for imported films, which were mostly Hollywood productions, fell by 10.5 per cent.
Last year, for the first time, the top 10 most viewed films in China were all domestic films, while the proportion of ticket sales for imported films dropped to only 16.28 per cent, continuing the steady decline from 35.9 per cent in 2019 and 53.4 per cent in 2012.
The top three films last year – patriotic films My People, My Homeland and The Eight Hundred – grossed 3.1 billion yuan (US$477 million), 2.8 billion yuan and 1.6 billion yuan, respectively.
China’s youth born after 1995 are indeed more accustomed to and comfortable with Chinese entertainment and fashion content, as they do not have free access to foreign cultural, political and religious content
In comparison, Tenet and Wonder Woman 1984 took in only 450 million yuan (US$69 million) and 160 million yuan, respectively, both well below expectations.
“On the one hand, the authorities have very tight restrictions on the content and the subjects of imported films, and China’s diplomatic and political environment has also greatly affected the actual box office of imported films,” said Guan Zhi, an independent film producer.
“On the other hand, there is also a trend that China’s youth born after 1995 are indeed more accustomed to and comfortable with Chinese entertainment and fashion content, as they do not have free access to foreign cultural, political and religious content.
“Besides, China’s entertainment industry, both technically and financially, has already become mature, with a large number of domestic science fiction and animation films that can satisfy the entertainment demands of Chinese audiences. Over time, they have gotten used to living in such an echo chamber.”
If anyone says in the office that America is more liberal and democratic, I am sure he will be resented and lambasted by everyone
According to a report by Orient Securities in 2019, the economic, consumption and education philosophy of Generation Z differed from previous generations, with three main characteristics: “little pink”, which means enthused with patriotic zeal; the pursuit of individuality and a sense of difference; and a strong attraction to the domestic “idol” market.
“Colleagues who like Japanese, Korean and mainland idols are the mainstream, while someone preferring American pop music would be considered more of a maverick. We talk about the NBA or American games at the office, but we all love domestic online and mobile games,” said Zheng Yuetong, a salesman in Shenzhen in his late 20s.
“There is already a wealth of Chinese pop culture we can enjoy, so why bother learning about American or Western culture? On the contrary, if anyone says in the office that America is more liberal and democratic, I am sure he will be resented and lambasted by everyone.”
Since 2018, a number of foreign fast fashion brands, including Forever 21 and Old Navy, have pulled out of China, while Esprite, Bershka, Pull&Bear and Stradivirus have also closed all their stores in China, and Gap is considering selling its China business.
We do understand the US trade and technology sanctions against China, but I think Chinese youth born after 2010 will maintain open minds and not be impulsive to counteract or demonise the US
McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks and Haagen-Dazs are no longer trendsetting brands in the eyes of Chinese consumers, who instead look to China’s new tea cafes and restaurant start-ups.
In a report by the Pew Research Centre in 2012, 73 per cent of Chinese respondents expressed their admiration for US technological and scientific advances and more than half of the respondents favoured American ideas about democracy.
In contrast, a survey by the Eurasia Group Foundation last year showed 28 per cent of Chinese respondents reported an unfavourable view of the US, up from 17 per cent a year earlier, while the number reporting a favourable view fell to 39 per cent from 58 per cent.
While members of the younger generation are generally not interested in issues concerning the US, they have not written it off entirely.
“We do understand the US trade and technology sanctions against China, but I think Chinese youth born after 2010 will maintain open minds and not be impulsive to counteract or demonise the US,” said Wen Sheng, a 17-year-old high school student.