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Luxury, Dragons, and Consumer Aspirations: A Chinese New Year Tale

Updated: 5 days ago


The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is a significant holiday in Chinese culture that marks the beginning of a new year. It is celebrated on the first day of the lunar calendar, which usually falls between January 21 and February 20. This year, it will be celebrated on February 10th and will mark the beginning of the Year of the Dragon (The Chinese Zodiac, 2023). The dragon holds profound cultural significance in ancient Chinese civilisation, symbolising progress, fortune, power, nobility, and auspiciousness. It is deeply associated with imperial authority, as emperors throughout China's dynastic history utilised the dragon as a symbol of their dominion. Moreover, in Chinese mythology, dragons are ascribed control over aquatic phenomena and are believed to have the ability to induce rainfall during periods of drought (Ho, 2023). As a result, the dragon is considered the most important and powerful animal in the zodiac. People born in this year are known to be charismatic, ambitious, adventurous, and fearless. They have confidence, independence, and vision, and are not afraid to pursue their dreams and goals (The Chinese Zodiac, 2023).


In tandem with these cultural intricacies, the economic landscape of China in 2023 and 2024 is characterised by a nuanced interplay between traditions and economic dynamics. Projections from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicate an anticipated 4.5% economic growth in 2024, marking a slight deceleration from the 5% recorded in 2023. This moderate growth reflects cautious optimism amidst a complex series of challenges and strategic shifts (Goulart, 2024). A worldwide consumer survey recently conducted by McKinsey buttresses the overall optimism expressed by consumers in China. In that survey, conducted in August 2022, 49 percent of respondents in China agreed that 'the economy will rebound within 2-3 months and grow just as strongly or stronger than before COVID-19,' compared with 11-26 percent of consumers in developed markets. This positive sentiment aligns with the evolving consumer trends observed globally, as highlighted in the survey, where consumers are showing a willingness to seek high-quality products and services, indicating a positive outlook on the economy during this period (Hui et al., 2023). 



As the tapestry of cultural fusion unfolds in the realms of fashion, beauty, and now extending to food and beverage, the Lunar New Year becomes a unifying theme that binds these diverse industries together. KFC's innovative collaboration with the Wutaishan temple complex in China, generating over 330 million views on Chinese social media Weibo, introduces a unique sandalwood-flavoured coffee with the playful tagline: “You drink coffee, I drink KFC coffee.” Chinese users applaud this unexpected fusion, associating sandalwood coffee with good luck for the new year. Sandalwood, known for its aromatic properties, is traditionally linked to wealth and prosperity in Hinduism, believed to be the abode of the goddess Lakshmi (Out of Stress, 2023). Despite positive feedback, dissatisfaction arose regarding consumers’ inability to order the coffee through courier services or receive it in standard glassware. Unlike HeyTea's prior Buddhist collaboration, KFC strategically avoids religious symbols, featuring only red-orange ornaments and dragons on their coffee cups. This approach resonates positively, showing cultural sensitivity and adding an extra layer to the festive experience (Wang, 2024).

Starbucks, the renowned coffee giant, also joins the festive celebration with a unique collaboration tied to Chinese cinematic heritage. Partnering with the classic animated film Havoc in Heaven (1961, 1964), which narrates the early chapters of the Chinese fantasy novel Journey to the West, Starbucks introduces a co-branded beverage line featuring the iconic Monkey King, Sun Wukong. The collaboration, however, faced criticism from netizens who deemed it "perfunctory" due to the absence of exclusive co-branded merchandise and gifts, such as stickers, cups, sleeves, or paper bags (Wang, 2024).



Across the diverse sectors of fashion, beauty, and the expansive landscape of food and beverage, brands seamlessly intertwine the opulence of Western luxury with the profound symbolism of the East, showcasing a sophisticated grasp of cultural intricacies while satisfying the ever-evolving desires of consumers. The persistent trend towards premiumisation, coupled with the enduring cultural resonance of the dragon motif, emphasises a graceful convergence of tradition and the dynamic shifts in economic dynamics. This synthesis not only cultivates a vibrant and multifaceted market but also fosters a profound connection with consumer sentiments, shaping the collective ethos of the marketplace. As China confronts various challenges and embraces strategic shifts, the upcoming year signifies not merely progress but a transformative fusion of heritage and innovation, exerting a substantial influence on consumer choices and guiding the strategic trajectories of brands toward a more nuanced and culturally attuned future.




ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Giulia Busnardo 竺明玉, is a young professional with a deep passion for international relations, marketing, and Chinese culture. She is currently enrolled in a Master's program in Retail and Marketing Management at the CUOA Business School. With a solid academic foundation in the Chinese language and culture, she has authored multiple articles across various subjects for European Guanxi. Additionally, she proudly represents Italy for Chinese Bridge 2023. You can find her on Linkedin at http://www.linkedin.com/in/giulia-busnardo-753041245.


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