British newspaper The Times recently attempted to depict the ambiguous cohort of “middle-class” in China as the following:
“She loves Gucci handbags, buys organic food from Tesco (Beijing branch), has an Ikea kitchen, smuggles formula milk from Hong Kong, uses an app to track the pollution in Beijing, loves BBC’s Sherlock series.”
“He drives a Hyundai Tucson SUV, wants a BMW SUV, smokes Hongtashan cigarettes, owns a Canan EOS-60D camera and an iPad2, wants to buy a property abroad, is obsessed with British private school.”
Doesn’t sound like a bad lifestyle for a household with an annual disposable income of $16,000 to $34,000, the average Chinese middle-class income as classified by McKinsey & Co.
However, China’s netizens seem to be more offended than impressed by such representation. Below are some examples of the reactions from users of Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, and Douban, China’s most active online community for movies, music, and book reviews:
“I think the middle class in China should at least use Chanel. Gucci is for old ladies who sell vegetables in the market.”
“Chinese middle class drive BMW. Hyundai is for losers.”
“Isn’t Ikea for the poor?”
“This is not how the Chinese middle class really live. This is how the Chinese middle losers live.”
A few searches on Weibo also yielded the following comments:
“Middle class means being able to buy a house and send your children to study overseas.”
“Only peasant workers smoke Hongtashan cigarettes.”
“I won’t even go to the Tesco right by my house.”
“This description for middle-class is too low.”
Seems like the Chinese has a much higher standard for “middle class” than one they could actually, by definition, afford. This distortion could present a big challenge for luxury brands.
photo credit: weibo