China’s critical lack of creativity, quality
“I am not selling to you. You should leave now.”
“How can you say that to a customer? Why are you kicking me out?”
At a shop in Xiushuijie Market in Beijing, a well-known shopping district of counterfeit goods, a Canadian tourist and a salesperson in a red vest were arguing.
The salesperson was offended because the customer was knocking the price too low. But the customer did not want to get ripped off and was not pleased with the attitude. An online travel guidebook gives tips on how to negotiate the price, claiming merchants often ask 10 times more than they will take. When you say you won’t buy it and walk away, the merchant will follow you and resume negotiating, says the travel guide. However, the Canadian tourist failed to make a deal, saying online advice may not work all the time.
Xiushuijie Market was created when merchants used vendors to sell traditional crafts and silk products in the district with a high foreigner population in 1980. As China became the “factory of the world,” counterfeit luxury goods were manufactured and sold here. As high-end global designers relocated their factories to China, fake goods dominated the market. While the shopping district enjoyed explosive growth, the market is apparently shaken nowadays. Customers who were attracted by the cheap prices are disappointed by the quality, as the seams tear and fabrics wear out in just a few months.
Since both the seller and buyer are aware that the goods are counterfeit, the customers are not willing to pay higher prices for better quality. So the market is trapped in a vicious cycle of circulating poor-quality products to tourists. Foreigners believe the prices are rising after the revaluation of the Chinese currency, and the vendors have to raise prices even further because of the rising cost of labor and leasing.
The dilemma of Xiushuijie illustrates the limit of rapid growth based on imitation without going through the painful process of creation. It reflects the reality of China, impetuously trying to shift from quantitative growth to qualitative growth. The success formula of the last 10 years that you get rich by selling anything in the country’s 1.3 billion strong consumer market has started to crumble.
As Psy’s “Gangnam Style” becomes a global sensation, the Chinese-version cover of “China Style” gets over 10 million views despite its poor quality that fails to grasp the witty ideas of the original. In some ways, it has come to symbolize the problems facing China. While the gigantic market might look like a charm, the sheer size is affecting China negatively in terms of inspiring the creativity and quality that should be the growth engine that will allow coming generations to prosper.
So China should not just deplore the fact that it doesn’t have Psy when the country possesses international political and economic influence that overwhelms that of Korea - not to mention vastly more singers and dancers.
* The author is the Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Cheong Yong-whan