In the fall of 2016, I wrote a story for CKGSB Knowledge magazine, called “The Middle Minority” (full issue PDF, with gorgeous cover art, available here). The premise of the article: What do we mean when we say “China’s middle class?” Who is that exactly?
Suffice it to say that is not an easy question to answer, but I managed to draw a few useful lines. Summed up: by domestic standards, they are a minority at the top of the heap; but compared to the US or Western Europe, they are perhaps a bit behind; and for many them, especially the younger ones, the future holds a good deal of uncertainty. …it was an interesting introduction.
But I wanted to go further with the topic, and try to gain a deeper understanding of this often-hyped newly prosperous generation. The end result is China’s Evolving Consumers: 8 Intimate Portraits. The book is a collection of essays, each of which takes a close look at a particular kind of person, caricatures you might say, drawn from what can be loosely termed the “new middle class.” The book sheds new light on some already well-worn stereotypes, such as “Tuhao” and “Successful Single Women” (which you may know by the less flattering term “leftover women”). In the spread of characters, from the “Comfortably Elderly” to “China’s Generation Z,” the book tries to give a sense of just how much China has changed in the past few decades, and what that change means across several generations.
The other unique feature of the project is the contributors, one for each chapter. The diversity among these authors is almost as great as the subjects themselves: there is a mix Chinese and foreigners, market research professionals and academics. Some contributors approached their subjects much from the outside. Others, such as the author of “Modern Chinese Mothers,” are members of their own group. The result is a book that not only offers close-up views on eight different types of people, but also eight different ways of looking.
The intended audience of this volume is marketing professionals who are new to China. For these readers, the book provides a value that is beyond the sum of the individual chapters—it gives a rough sense of the total market landscape, the social forces acting on people’s lives and how brands might help individuals make sense of it all. While the book does not provide ready-made answers for how to successfully promote your particular brand, it does, however, provide a solid foundation for smart, insightful questions to get you started.