Multicultural China

02 May 2005|LiAnne Yu

China is a multicultural, multiethnic, and multilingual nation. In China there are 7 major language groups (with over 8000 dialects), 56 ethnic groups, and 200 million Muslims (that’s two thirds the total U.S. population). So why do marketers continue to refer to the country in homogeneous terms? Why is the U.S. perceived as multicultural, while China continues to be described as uniformly “Chinese”?

I strongly believe that as the Chinese economy expands (a staggering 9.5% so far this year), marketers will need to develop strategies for understanding and addressing the impact of China’s multiculturalism on consumer trends. Which local cultures dominate, and which become commoditized? What stereotypes or attributes are associated with each ethnic/local community, and how should these inform branding campaigns? How does the use of a specific dialect vs. Mandarin affect consumer perceptions of the meaning behind your product or service?

Whenever I visit Shanghai I am reminded of how it is a microcosm of China, with all of the tensions, messiness, and surprising fusions that diversity brings. Migrants from the mostly Muslim region of Xinjiang sell lamb kebobs on one street, speaking their Turkish-sounding local dialect. Professionals from Hong Kong and Singapore file in and out of their modern, air conditioned offices, looking for hot pot restaurants that serve cold beer. The more statuesque northerners from Beijing and beyond speak with their “curled tongue” accents, sometimes struggling to understand the Shanghainese lisp. The city-its food, smells, accents, and faces-tells us many stories about China’s diversity.

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