Cars And Villas Are Luxury Products Around The World, But What Sets Chinese Luxury Apart?
(The following is a guest post by Yue Li, a Jing Daily correspondent based in Beijing)
Like a flaneur strolling around a French arcade, if you keep your eyes open while sauntering in a Chinese jewelry store, you will always notice that displayed among the pearls and jewels, there is something different, something uncommon in most Western jewelry stores. They are a transparent green or white, pure and bright, delicate and elegant. They are distinctive and timeless Chinese jade. With a long history of being the exclusive ornaments of Chinese emperors and aristocrats, and an enduring symbol of wealth and power, jade (and its more expensive counterpart, jadeite) is beloved and valued by all Chinese people. As the Chinese saying goes, “gold has a value, whereas jade is invaluable.”
Compared to the prevalent Western concept of jewelry as comprised of diamonds, gold, and silver, jade is considered more precious in the Chinese mind, not only because of its rarity, but also of its time-honored and high cultural status. In Chinese culture, jade is imbued with a myriad of human virtues such as hardness, durability, beauty, and integrity. As a result, despite the passage of time, jade is still regarded as a desirable luxury in China in terms of its auspicious connotations and its association with China’s imperial past.
Tea, another Chinese specialty, is deeply woven into the history and culture of China. It is considered one of the seven necessities of Chinese life, along with firewood, rice, oil, salt, soy sauce, and vinegar. Common and inexpensive as it may seem, the highest quality tea is considered priceless among tea connoisseurs and collectors, and even in contemporary Chinese culture, drinking high quality tea represents wealth and status. Among China’s rarest teas, such as aged Pu’erh, much like fine wines the price is in direct proportion to its age, geographical origin, and the techniques used to process the tea leaves.
While cars and villas enjoy upscale luxury status in modern Chinese society, jade and tea are more treasured and considered more dignified due to their deep cultural roots as well as the intricate traditional craftsmanship employed in their creation. The mass production techniques in modern society may be capable of reproducing traditional handicrafts that once were rare and time-consuming, but as sociologist Walter Benjamin once pointed out, it is the non-replicable aura associated with the item that is lost once and for all in the process of churning out identical and standardized copies. This concept fits perfectly with the luxury goods most coveted by the Chinese luxury consumer, whether it be limited-edition luxury cars or haute couture. Hand-crafted rarity is key to appealing to Chinese connoisseurs, and in the particular cases of tea and jade, mass production only strips the products of their appeal and essence, leaving only an expensive reproduction, albeit an attractive one.