The Chinese Diaspora

06 May 2005|LiAnne Yu

The term Diaspora is traditionally used to describe Jews living in different parts of the world outside of Israel. But ever increasingly in academic and mainstream publications, we hear about something called the Chinese diaspora. This diaspora consists of over 50 million ethnic Chinese living outside of mainland China-roughly the population of Great Britain, and two and a half times the number of ethnic Indians living outside of India. Why, as brand and product design researchers, should we incorporate the concept of diaspora into our methods?

The concept of diaspora allows us to think beyond the conventions of national boundaries. Typical market research focuses on what happens inside of borders: go to France to understand the French, go to the PRC to understand the Chinese. But when it comes to Chinese culture, mainland Chinese have always been deeply interconnected with and influenced by their overseas counterparts-in terms of politics, culture, economics, and all forms of consumerism. Mainland Chinese enjoy black market DVD’s of Singaporean and Hong Kong soap operas, influencing their perceptions of modern lifestyles and fashions. Young Shanghainese look at Taiwanese fashion and movie star gossip magazines to learn about what’s hip. Blogs and other online communities link ethnic Chinese students and professionals in Silicon Valley with their peers in the Mainland, who want to network to learn about the latest business trends.

As product and brand designers, we must build our research methods around the reality that consumer culture isn’t developed entirely within a nation’s borders. When it comes to China, consumer culture is shaped by transnational processes, as diasporic communities share media, knowledge, money, and ever-shifting ideas about what it means to be Chinese.

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