China style: old meets new

By Published on .

Now is the time of year that China replaces Santa Claus with fat, golden piggies. Yes, Chinese New Year is coming, and the nation is anticipating the prosperity of the pig year-not just any pig year, but a golden-pig year. Predictably, hospitals expect an influx of pregnant women as parents try to give birth to their own little one-child-policy piglet.

Chinese zodiac symbolism is just one way Chinese tradition is affecting modern life. Chinese design-so-called China style-is joining NBA fashion and European luxury chic as a major influence on pop culture.

China style is a topic of some debate here. According to "ChinaWhispers," a lifestyle-tracking study we conduct with global creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty, more than 40% of young people are very interested in China style, with only half that number claiming no interest.

China style comes from a collision of two dynamics. First is the modernity of today's urban China. The country is rapidly moving into the global mainstream-57% say Chinese lives will be more Western in 10 years, and only 15% of youth disagree.

Yet China's successful modernization has, in the mind of its youth, earned China an equal seat at the table. These youth are confident and proud of China's accomplishments, economic and cultural. Merely decades ago, China revolutionized and damaged its cultural inheritance. Here we are in 2007, and a remarkable 68% of young people say they are interested to learn about Chinese history and tradition, vs. 9% who claim to not be interested. This renewed interest is a direct result of China's perceived success on the global stage.

The combination of enthusiastic modernization with proud embrace of Chinese-ness results in this new China style, a style both modern and Chinese. Recent examples include phoenix brocade sneakers, break dancers dancing with terracotta warriors on TV and a hard-core rapper who raps in Tang Dynasty poetry. Or just check out "Curse of the Golden Flower," the recent hit film from China. It stars the region's hottest R&B talent, Jay Chou, a luminary in the China-style movement. To understand the weirdness of a pop star starring in an ancient costume drama, picture Britney Spears starring in Macbeth. Right. Have a happy year of the golden pig.

P. T. Black is a partner in Jigsaw International, a Shanghai boutique lifestyle-research agency that looks at the direction of change in China.
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