The Week in China: Tomb Sweeping Day, Durex Orgies, Fixie Bike Bans and more

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Above, all of the name brand paper joss items available for this week’s Qing Ming Jie or Tomb Sweeping Day when Chinese burn items to send to ancestors in the afterlife. Qing Ming is now big business.

China is the second largest economy in the world and every significant brand’s future is impacted by its growth (or collapse)—but who’s got the time?! Here’s the week’s reads that will make you look like a keen China observer in case you find yourself immersed in a cultural conversation.

This week: Apple still in trouble… China’s anti-“fixie” rhetoric… infant formula saga… Celebrity China clout… PETA… counterfeit beer… Porsche… Startup Asia 2013… fly home to vote… “Baidu Glass”… W Hotels… McDonald’s… Iron Man 3 to World War Z… cheap Bollinger… iPhone joss… “vulgar” Birkin brand… and more.[more]

Apple Apologizes to China

Apple apologized to Chinese consumers on Monday after China’s media had been slamming it since the March 15 CCTV Consumer Protection Day bonanza. Many wondered exactly what the apology meant, including Bloomberg’s Adam Minter who wrote that, “Mao would have loved Apple’s apology to China.” Following the apology, China’s press was quick to praise Apple. The China Daily offered “lessons” to be learned from Apple’s PR crisis. Taiwan however has seen Apple’s folding to Beijing as a ding against the island where policies will now differ. Apple is already on thin ice in Taiwan over pricing interference

But Apple may have bigger problems now. According to a post on Weibo, the “relevant authorities” were looking into Apple’s iTunes and App Store. Despite “Great Firewall” blocks on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, Apple’s iTunes store has been left untouched, allowing Chinese consumers unfettered access to download all the movies, podcasts, music and apps found outside China. (Though, Apple has self-censored some material, including apps from and about Tibet.) Shutting this down would not only strangle a market for Hollywood and other content producers but would also make iPhone ownership significantly less attractive than it already is. 

The original Weibo post warning of the scrutiny on Apple’s online store was later deleted.

Vulgar Birkin Bags

The “Sanya Island Haitian Feast” (三亚海天盛宴) scandal was a major Weibo topic this week. On March 31, for an event billed as the “Hainan Rendezvous 2013,” “China’s Haiwaii” Sanya had celebrities mingling with “Gongerdai” and “Fuerdai” (second generation kids of the rich) who played with private jets, super cars and a 2.5 billion RMB 45-foot yacht. Even for the ostentatious behavior of China’s young rich, the Sanya event was noteworthy, in part because of the large number of photos circulating of the galavanting. What caught our eye though was the brand references. Maybe the best was one text exchange posted to Weibo (above) that told the story of a Beijing escort who had made 600,000 RMB ($96,400) at the party. It continued, “When she got back to Beijing the first thing she bought was a Vertu luxury cell, the second thing she bought was a Hermes Kelly bag, because she said Birkin was too vulgar.”

Durex Capitalizes on Asian Orgies

One other brand decided to use all of the attention about the Hainan bacchanal to its advantage. Citing the rumor that 2,100 condoms had been used at the party, Durex’s Weibo posted a quick image riffing on “Haitian sex.” The post was forwarded over 5,000 times. For what it’s worth, organizers of the Hainan event have denied any such “romp.”

Fixie Bikes on the Outs in China

China’s anti-fixie rhetoric has ticked up since our story on Tuesday. One Weibo user posted an image of the newspaper featuring the dead 13-year-old fixed gear bicycle rider. The newspaper headline openly blamed a “死飞” or “fixie” bike. Meanwhile, a Fujian middle school student posted a picture to Weibo (above) that proves authorities were not kidding when they demanded a fixie education campaign for kids.

China’s Heavy-Handed Influence on Hollywood

In a trend that started with Looper and later included 21 and Over, Iron Man 3 will have a China-only cut featuring superstar actress Fan Bingbing. Also in China movie news, Paramount announced that it will partner with China Movie Channel to produce Transformers 4 in China. According to Film Biz Asia, “the film will be partly shot in China and involve Chinese actors and actresses,” But wait, there’s more: Brad “Bradillac” Pitt’s “World War Z” reportedly removed reference to China as the source of a pandemic.

More China News:

Infant formula maker Yashili International Holdings is latest Chinese brand of infant formula to get the go-ahead to open a plant in New Zealand. Yashili International Holdings infant formula scandal in 3… 2…

In December we profiled Starbucks’ efforts to develop coffee in Yunnan Province. Now, Nestle plans to build a coffee farming institute of its own in the region.

We are highly suspect about a list titled “China’s 20 Most Engaging Foreign Celebrities” that does not include Leonardo DiCaprio. Also, Adele is quite the popular one in China.

Audi plans to open one new dealership per week in China in 2013.

“Check Out These Incredible Counterfeit Beers At China’s National Food And Beverage Fair.” Oh yes, please do.

Nokia’s Nanjing Road flagship store, the brand’s largest in the world, has been closed.

Can this American save Sichuan’s Shuijingfang baijiu brand?

Forbes predicts a 17.2 percent increase in the number of Chinese consumers with investable assets between $100,000 and $1 million.

“In the past two years, chain store operators have reported the lowest year-on-year growth rates in 10 years,” reports the China Daily.

The Economist’s special report “A Giant Cage” brings you everything you ever wanted to know about China’s internet in just 14,000-plus words.

A favorite car model of that rich “tai tai” that almost just killed you on your bicycle, Porsche’s new Panamera is coming to Shanghai.

Shanghai’s Disney World plans to hire 5,000 employees by the time it opens in 2015.

The 300-million-plus WeChat app owners may soon get hit with a user fee since telecom companies are upset about missing out on SMS charges, but some Chinese users are calling the move “shameless.”

Startup Asia 2013 was held in Singapore. The #startupAsia Twitter timeline has all the highlights.

China is Lego’s figurative building block. Recently, Legos were used to recreate Shanghai’s Jinmao Tower and World Financial Center.

“How will the fast food market will be after McDonald’s makes its presence in Vietnam?” asks Vietnam.

A $56 bottle of Bollinger is a marketing scam in Shanghai.

Malaysian low-cost airline Air Asia is offering severely discounted flights from region hubs for “registered voters to fly home to make a difference.”

BMW opened a tech center in Shanghai.

“Kuo said comparisons to Google Glass were premature as Baidu has not decided whether or not to commercialize the product,” reports Reuters, on China’s search engine Baidu’s plans to develop a not-at-all-related version of Google Glass.

Developers for online games both education and fun are eyeing China for growth.

W Hotel lands in China with Guangzhou location the first of upcoming five.

Addresses to accounts on China’s social network QQ have begun showing up on gravestones.

According to a PETA press release, “Natural personal-care products giant Nature’s Gate is pulling out of the Chinese market—and losing sales—to show its opposition to animal testing requirements for its products in that country.” Nature’s Gate joins brands like Pangeo Organics that have pulled out of the China market because of the nation’s required safety tests that use animals. 

Finally, Taiwan’s bad boys of animated news NMA take on the Lululemon see-through yoga pant kerfuffle.

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