Beijing bans ads– but not all of them

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

China Daily, et al, report that

Advertisements that promote products as luxurious or “high-end” have been banned in a move experts say is designed to protect social harmony.

The clean up means commercials posted or aired in public can no longer include words like “supreme”, “royal”, “luxury” or “high class”…

This move is designed to deal with the growing resentment about the wealth gap that exists between (some) urban and rural Chinese.

Additionally, they are banning ads that promote “xenophilia,” “feudal emperors” (i.e. the pre-Mao days) and even the older Chinese script itself (the more ornate style that is apparently popular among the affluent and Taiwanese.)

But note that they aren’t banning the wealth itself, or taxing it to oblivion; but managing the appearance of wealth, the description of wealth.  It’s still okay to sell high end real estate,  just don’t describe it as “elite” or “luxury.”

The Chinese government is fighting a linguistic battle, not an economic one.  Anyone who sees a nice car may want one, but it is the description of that car and not the car itself that makes it an aspirational good.  As long as the people who cannot afford the car do not feel it necessary to obtain one– as long as it doesn’t become a symbol of their poverty or wealth, they can hold off the revolution for a decade or so.

He said many advertisements promote the belief that “wealth is dignity”

which is a message Americans have heard loud and clear, and the Chinese are hearing.

Also note that the regulation is aimed at advertisements.  While traditional media is also controlled, the importance of advertisements as definers of a culture cannot be overstated.  When they sell a car, they are also selling the image of the person driving that car.  A consumer might resist the car ad, but not the image of that woman as an ideal.  They can sell the car, say the Chinese, as long as you don’t tell them they should want to be like her.

Probably too late. 

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12 Responses to Beijing bans ads– but not all of them

  1. rDigital says:

    Keep it up TLP, we’re listening.

  2. Dave Pinsen says:

    The Chinese government has managed to keep all the plates spinning a lot longer than most Western observers expected.

    • fraula says:

      Nah. You think they have, and that is where the Chinese government has “succeeded”, in scare quotes because it’s their definition of success. Not the Chinese people’s.

      I have a French friend who’s lived in Beijing for a decade now; he speaks fluent Mandarin, and I also have a Chinese friend who attended a presitigious engineering school in Beijing. She worked her arse off to be accepted into it, knowing that it was one of the few, very few ways that Chinese students were allowed to leave the country. She got out on an exchange program that, on paper, required her to return after a year abroad; she never came back.

      According to both my French and Chinese friends, there are loads of people, never given a voice by the media, who desperately want things to change. But they’re voiceless and powerless. It’s no accident that their government doesn’t want luxury or riches for its people. The government wants them poor and desperate, but not quite desperate or connected enough to organize a revolution.

      The plates are not spinning. They’re broken on the floor, and no one’s in any position to clean them up in China, though resistance has been forming. Of course, the government’s been pretty good at releasing its choke hold just enough to let people breathe from time to time… it’s really sad when you know people inside the country and the hell they go through.

      • Stephen Cashman says:

        Suffering people doesn’t mean the Chinese model has failed – it’s goal is not tricking outsiders though, but internal political stability (so it’s goal is tricking it’s own people to a large degree). As long as the Chinese people continue to not ‘resist’, whether because they are powerless or because they are happy China is succeeding the way it wants to.

  3. ThomasR says:

    When I saw that article, my first thought was of The Devoted Friend by Oscar Wilde.


    “‘What a silly boy you are’! cried the Miller; ‘I really don’t know what is the use of sending you to school. You seem not to learn anything. Why, if little Hans came up here, and saw our warm fire, and our good supper, and our great cask of red wine, he might get envious, and envy is a most terrible thing, and would spoil anybody’s nature. I certainly will not allow Hans’ nature to be spoiled. I am his best friend, and I will always watch over him, and see that he is not led into any temptations.

    The wealth gap here in China is an enormous and growing problem. And the government bans luxury ads.

    The story ends with Hans dying.

  4. rawford says:

    I think you’re on point, here. The CCP strategy has been to try and decouple economic reforms from political and social ones. Being on top of advertising as a medium that must also be managed is pretty savvy of them.

    Wealth is dignity, is another way of saying that the stuff you own defines you. It’s a very American/ Western way of understanding the world. Framing things in this way is going to affect the way you perceive your circumstances and the demands that you might make on government.

    The CCP actually does it’s best to make material comfort possible for its urban educated middle class. Rural communities are still pretty well screwed. But in the past all the revolting has come from the educated elite. The idea is to keep them happy and conservative, so that instability is against their interests.

    The CCP line here is this: You can have the stuff, but what you have doesn’t define you, we still do.

  5. BluegrassJack says:

    Economic freedom inevitably leads to political freedom. In China, the strong central dictatorship will slow that transition by all means possible. As the educated young Arabs are the radical Islamists, so the educated and moneyed Chinese will be at the gates, demanding more natural rights presently denied them by their government.

    • rawford says:

      I realize it’s axiomatic to certain political scientists and economists that economic freedom leads to political freedom. But China is making a case that this isn’t always true. Particularly when the central political authority is perceived as responsible for growing economic prosperity. The educated and moneyed Chinese don’t want democracy, because they don’t trust the rural majority. Maybe this changes. But I don’t think there’s anything inevitable about it.

      • BluegrassJack says:

        The self-chosen Chinese leaders will allow the choice of refrigerator and college education for the Chinese people to buy or take, but will not allow the personal choice of leaders that the Chinese people will follow? Nope.

        The human animal is the most ornery one in the animal kingdom. That’s why humans rule the animal kingdom and go as far as preserving endangered species of animals that no other animal would even consider. The “rural majority” of China see the advantages that the moneyed and educated urban Chinese have and – as humans – understandably want that, also. And, they will get it, also. Because, we’re all ornery.

        Chinese Statists will fight that orneriness with all their power. China has a lot of tea, and the Chinese Tea Parties – urban and rural – will prevail.

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