What surprised me for quite a while is that people are completely not interested or at least uninformed about anything related to China. I’m talking about random people here in Germany, but I guess it is also true for other people from Europe and maybe other places as well. If they know something it’s probably some untrue prejudice. Or they have heard something, but they heard it from a friend who heard it from his friend and so on. So the story is totally different from the reality.
1914 map of China. Source: Wikipedia
When I go to a party or to a bar I sometimes go there with friends, but sometimes I go alone. When I’m going alone I make a lot of new friends there. I talk to many people and of course a typical question is how I spend my free time. I have a number of hobbies. I like to do a barbecue with friends, I like snowboarding and I like other things. Mentioning one of these can unfold in good and long conversations. However, if I mention that I learn Chinese, the other person most often doesn’t know what to say. Sometimes they state that Chinese must be a very difficult language to learn, but then the topic is pretty much over.
I’m also registered with a few social networks (facebook, etc.) and there is one network which is rather popular here in Germany and there are two items of particular interest in people’s profiles. The title of the first is: “Places I have been to previously” and the other is “Places I want to visit in the future”. And so far I have to find a single non-Asian person, except myself, who either has been to China or wants to go to China. In fact people want to go to many places all over the world, but very few want to go to Asia at all. Only Japan, Thailand and Bali (Indonesia) are mentioned by a few people. A handful people have visited or want to visit Israel and Dubai. A single person wants to visit Vietnam. But that’s it regarding Asian countries. Note that I have looked at a limited number of profiles.
If China was as big as Paraguay or if China had as few inhabitants as Finland I wouldn’t be surprised. But it’s not like that. In fact China today has a lot of weight in many ways. Now China is regularly present in the mainstream news media. Of all foreigners studying in Germany, Chinese people are the largest group. So I kind of assume, people must have heard of this strange place called China. I do not expect everyone to know things about China. But the reality is, most people are completely uninterested in China, if not even ignorant.
So I have been thinking,
how is it possible that hardly anyone knows about China.
And I think the answer is pretty simple. Countries are not well known by default. They are only well know if they offer something for the typical ADD victim (Attention Deficit Disorder). Many people, if not a majority of people today suffer from ADD. They need a lot of attention by others and only can give little attention to others. Political news won’t cut it for them, they need Britney Spears and Michael Jackson. They need something that makes their life more fun.
Looking at China I can hardly see anything that the typical ADD victim could possibly be interested in. Apart from the fact that Chinese music is mostly boring it is also sung in Chinese and thereby very inaccessible. Chinese music has no edge at all. There is no Chinese Eminem yet. Although I do not understand a word of French I still listen to French Hip-Hop, simply because it sounds good. But Chinese music that is pleasant to the ear? I haven’t heard any so far. (My examples feature Hip-Hop, but I do see the same problems with Chinese Rock, Metal, Jazz, Techno and other music genres) They only have cheesy love songs.
How about movies? The situation is pretty similar to the music situation. There are very few movies or TV series in the mainland that I can bear to watch. When it comes to Hong Kong and Taiwan the movies are much better. In fact a few HK movies have been translated and exported overseas. While Taiwan and HK movies are better, the audience in these countries is rather small and publishers have a hard time evaluating if these movies can also succeed overseas. So they rarely make their way to the Western world.
Violence but no love. This is what I think when I see movies from the mainland. Last year when I was in Shanghai, watching TV in the evening, I saw some pretty disturbing war movies during prime time at 8 in the evening. But did I see any love? I have to think very very hard. No kisses. Kisses are also often cut out of Hollywood movies. Maybe a hug here and there. The lover of violent war films might find something interesting, but that’s not for me and I think many other people will agree.
Pornography is also completely of the map when it comes to China. Japan is well known all over the world for their steamy movies, especially amongst the male population. Although opinions on pornography vary, it has previously successfully promoted the CD (compact disk) and DVD (digitally versatile disk). It has probably promoted Japan to some degree and China is clearly missing out here.
Furthermore, there is no special well known alcoholic beverage coming from China. Japan has Sake. Many countries have their own special alcoholic product. Where is China’s special alcohol? Baijiu? I think baijiu could earn a name as a cleaning product. So how about Mijiu or ricewine? This one could become famous if some Chinese company makes an effort. Mijiu has a unique flavor and I have tasted a few bottles that feature a very pleasant and probably mainstream compatible taste. Maybe if they can make it a little bit sweeter to get it popular amongst young drinkers it could become a success story. It just hasn’t happened yet.
Beautiful beach in Sanya, Hainan, China. Source: Wikipedia
So what is left? Japan is well known for its Anime culture. Personally I’m not interested, but I do know a few people who started learning Japanese just because they like Anime stuff. Thailand and the Philippines are notorious for sex tourism. China also has its fair share of the red light business, but for some reason word hasn’t spread out all over the world. This is another missed chance for China to be well known. Then there are the beautiful beaches in many places of South East Asia. China has Hainan and I heard it is also very nice there. Yet it seems completely inaccessible to Western tourists.
I have my personal reasons why I’m interested in China. Namely great food, can’t live without my regular Hot Pot, attractive women and a challenging language. But China lacks products suitable for the average Joe and it also needs to ramp up the marketing for those things that already exist in China.
Does China intentionally behave this way to be the unknown, mysterious place?
Do you see a potential world class mass-compatible product coming from China?
If you come from a non-Asian country, what do your fellow people say when you tell them that you are learning Chinese?