According to China Daily writer Matt Hodges, “Chinese arts and products need to become cool again.” A recent article by Hodges bemoans the attitude of young Chinese—and, in fact, most of the world—toward taiji, an ancient physical and spiritual exercise whose Chinese name literally translates as “supreme ultimate fist.”
Hodges argues that taiji needs some “serious re-branding” in order to appeal to the Chanel-wearing, Louis Vuitton-toting, California Fitness-exercising young Chinese who disdain what they see as an exercise for the elderly. If taiji cannot even compete in the domestic market, it has little chance of succeeding as a Chinese export.
Although Hodges’ passionate article is really a defense of martial arts, he makes a good point: instead of trying to simulate the West, perhaps China should look inward as it attempts to compete against foreign companies with home-grown enterprises.
At a recent Shanghai forum on luxury goods, discussions covered the idea of branding native Chinese products—for example, Maotai and Dragonwell Tea—in a luxury format. This came in the wake of Swiss watchmakers announcing an expected 25 percent increase in Chinese sales next year. After all, if the West can capitalize on the Chinese market, shouldn’t China—the nation itself—be able to do the same?
Taiji, Hodges says, needs aggressive marketing, focusing on its holistic benefits. Taiji, as most of traditional Chinese culture, is based on the idea of qi, or “life force.” Exercises like taiji increase an individual’s control of and synchronization with qi. Supposedly those who can tap into their qi can catch bullets, bend reality, and do all manner of superhuman feats.
Perhaps, then, China is in need of some national taiji: to come in contact with the life force of its people, its land, and its history, instead of relying on Western luxury imports as status symbols. If China can synchronize its enterprise with its national character, it may be able to unlock the Chinese market in ways that Western companies—grown from a different set of beliefs and traditions—can’t even imagine.