Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Western labels increasingly key to sales in China

CONSUMER BACKLASH If it says `made in China' on the label, most people won't want to buy it -- unless they're tourists

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

In city markets across China you will hear the following: "Look at this beautiful silk shirt, made in America." "Look at these, real leather shoes made in Japan." "Over here -- the very best chocolate, made in England!" On a publisher's tour of China in April, my Western friends asked me what it was that people were shouting. I never knew what to say.

Equally, I found it hard to answer my teenage son Panpan's question last year in a Shanghai department store. A saleswoman showed us a frying pan which she claimed had been made in Italy and "designed by the Great British Museum."

"You mean the British Museum is making frying pans?" Panpan asked her.

She was standing behind a demonstration table wearing a Western wedding dress with a veil.

"Yes, young man," she said, smiling, proud of her grasp of the international market. "You would know that if you read Italian."

Panpan turned to me. "Mum," he said, "when did they move the British Museum to Italy? Have they really gone into the frying-pan business?"

I told him to be quiet, but I sympathized -- I had heard similar things many times myself. I once tried to buy Chinese-made underwear in China, but again and again was told that the best kinds came from America.

Many of my Chinese friends have been disappointed with the gifts I have brought them from the UK -- toy telephone boxes, little London taxis, all stamped underneath, "made in China."

While Western shops are full of Chinese-made products, China is increasingly obsessed with all things Western -- shops, fast food, hotels, even art, literature and

architecture.

"Where can we go for an authentic Chinese shopping experience?" someone asked me on the publisher's trip.

"Xian," I suggested, "or Jinzhou [a 1,000-year-old town in Hubei Province] or Zhouzhuang [a small village in Jiangsu Province]."

My Chinese friends asked me why anyone would want to go there, where the shops were full of old Chinese junk: why not the big, Westernised shopping centers of Shanghai and Beijing?

But I think visitors to China really do want to see these places, the real China.

Xian was the first Chi-nese city to open itself up to the ancient world, not under the "open door" policy of the 1980s, but during the Tang dynasty, when Xian was the first stop on the Silk Road.

For more than 2,000 years and over 11 dynasties, Xian was China's capital, playing a vital role in bridging the gap between east and west.

When I told a friend, a successful Shanghai businesswoman, how much my Western friends had enjoyed visiting the grand mosque in Xian, she found it hard to believe.

"What did they get out of that old place? Shanghai's restored Yu-Garden is far more interesting." she said.

Another friend, a journalist, pointed at the label on her Chinese Tang dress, which said, "made in China."

"Look," she said. "This was made in China, but the label is in English."

Any Chinese woman who was unable to read English would assume it had been made in the West.

"Shouldn't the label be in Chinese, too?" she said.

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