Wang Jian: “I Hope Chinese Mentality Toward Luxury Will Gradually Mature”

Wang Discusses Need For Home-Grown Chinese Brands, Resisting “Money Worship”

Wang Jian

Wang Jian

Although major luxury brands are clearly bullish about the Chinese luxury market, pumping millions into the construction of new flagship stores and retail locations in second- and third-tier cities, some Chinese academics and commentators are concerned about the societal effects of the “luxury mentality” in China. Among other concerns, many worry that conspicuous consumption could only exacerbate underlying social tensions that are particularly pronounced in the same second- and third-tier cities that luxury brands are now eyeing for expansion.

This week, Wang Jian, head of the Middle East, Europe and Asia Institute at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and a social commentator whose “Wang Jian’s Viewpoint” column appears on “China Voice” and a number of Chinese-language sites, writes that we shouldn’t read too much into China surpassing the U.S. to become the world’s second-largest luxury market, as luxury consumption in itself is no measure of a country’s true development.

From Northeast Online (translation by Jing Daily team):

Last year, when China surpassed the U.S. to become the world’s second-largest luxury consumer market, the Xinhua Daily Telegraph published an article saying, “We should reflect on what it means to be the world’s #2.” I strongly agree with this.

Regarding luxury consumption, I think there are several points that are worth considering.

First, I feel that one aspect of luxury consumption is a tendency towards money worship — the Xinhua Daily Telegraph used the term “conspicuous consumption” (炫耀性消费). Actually I think the reason most people buy luxury goods is because buying something that others can’t afford and readily spending money on things that others can’t buy, attracts the envy of others, something that these luxury buyers really enjoy. I think this tendency is shameful, but of course the choice to buy luxury goods doesn’t always come down solely to money worship — since it also has something to do with product design and quality, marketing ability and so forth. However, there are many facets to luxury consumption which we need to keep in mind.

Right now in China we’re focused mainly on large-scale production, which brings up new questions, such as how we can start to transition our products to the high-end, how we can spend more on early-stage design efforts and avoid getting into low-end price wars, and how we can effectively market our products to keep them from looking uniform and generic and be more specialized. For example, creating limited edition [products].

While the luxury goods market has given us a lot of inspiration, of course I think one ugly side of luxury consumption is a state of mind that luxury consumption somehow gives the Chinese people some kind of honor. I think this is preposterous. In real life, we cast envious glances towards those people draped head to toe in expensive luxury brands. But if this person were to spend their money on doing public good rather than buying luxury products, we’d call them crazy, just like people have said Chen Guangbiao (president of Jiangsu Huangpu Renewable Resources Company and one of China’s top philanthropists — JD) is nuts for doing his charity work. This kind of attitude is pathetic.

We always say that the emergence of a great country requires the mentality of a great country. But with this sort of mentality we have towards luxury goods, I think from any point of view China is still a developing country. No matter how much is spent on luxury goods in China per year, I hope the mentality of the Chinese people toward luxury goods will gradually become more mature.

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