Luxury, as a display of success, is a key element in China, among all different cohorts, says marketing veteran Tom Doctoroff, author of What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism, and China’s Modern Consumer to Emarketer. What they have in common is a Confucian culture, binding all Chinese together, he says. If explains the longing for luxury.
Luxury, no matter what demographic cohort in China you’re talking about—whether it’s young consumers who have limited out-of-pocket funds or the man on top of the mountain—is used as a demonstration of the ability to get ahead in the game of life or maintain one’s place. And this is largely driven by Confucian culture.
Could you explain what Confucian culture is and how it’s connected to luxury consumption in China?
Confucian culture is a combination of rules and regimentation, and [the idea] that the individual does not exist independent of his obligations and responsibilities to others. Therefore, there is a need to obey certain standards; in this case, demonstration of success. But the other part of Confucian culture that people don’t usually think of is that it’s a meritocratic culture. Not by rebelling but by mastering the rules, you are able to climb up the hierarchy. Luxury goods and the type of positioning that luxury goods have reflect the aspirations of what people want to project about themselves in society. So luxury is not frivolous at all.
If you look at the role luxury plays in American society, it is relatively minor compared with Chinese society. In the US, these types of expression [aren’t required], no matter how subtly they are displayed. In America, people don’t have the same rule [to demonstrate] a marker of success, due to the nature of its individualistic culture.
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