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Marketing, Social, Tech

Up in a puff of smoke

Hanfu- art work by Ranny: 2022

Hello again from Aim2D real time, 24/7 #ChinaBusinessMarketing, Tech and Social Media News Portal of Bic Brands based in sunny Shunyi. Tuesdays we look at business, marketing, tech or social news in and around China. Friday is image gallery where we examine a place, topic or subject giving you greater insight, background to life in China, and of course, your Chinese consumer.

Today, we take a quick unscientific look or forecast perhaps of China’s fortunes for 2023 and some background to Chinese New Year Day – China’s Spring Festival.

For those of you who may have been elsewhere, like another solar system, Sunday, 21st January was the lunar New Year Eve. The night before what is more commonly known and celebrated by Chinese world wide as Spring Festival.
In case you missed it, we previewed it here:

If most of us were asked to make a list of 10 things that come to mind when we think of China, chances are fireworks or gunpowder would be among them. Or not.

For those of you fortunate enough to have spent a Chinese New Year here, maybe 8 or 10 years or more ago, the sight and sound and smell of hours of pyrotechnics is still burnt into your memory.

If that is something new for you, we’ll walk you through it. Depending where you are in China, the outside temperature can be anything from + 5 down to – 30. Maybe snowing.

Unless you are in China’s far North West – Xinjiang – where the sun still shines at midnight China time, the action begins from about an hour or so after sunset. Usually with young children and sparklers (fire on a stick) and little cone fountains with harmless little spurts of stars. As the evening progresses, so does the size of the explosives.

It’s big boys toys time. As we’ve noted elsewhere, the original purpose was to chase away evil spirits, (a custom not restricted to Chinese) so the focus, initially is on noise. Lots of it.

In the beginning there is darkness. But noise. Gentle at first, like the rumble of distant thunder that gradually grows louder as the eye of the storm approaches. With each bang from those long, long strips of explosives rolled out on the ground like a red carpet, there is a faint flash of light. The low, distant skyline is momentary illuminated. Barely significant.
A mere match flutter, or prelude of what is to come.

Gradually small starbursts begin to punctuate the sky. They too build in intensity, size and frequency as the night advances.
Come 11-30 it is nearing peak.

Seemingly everywhere ones looks the night sky is ruptured with incessant colourful explosions which then elegantly rain down in a graceful shower of light. Nighttime becomes a weird, kaleidoscopic day, mixed with the deafening roar of firecrackers exploding all around.

This is no short, 20 minute, professional fireworks display centred on a bridge or tower. This is a full on, 3D, stereophonic, surround sound, sensory experience. Even indoors, behind 30 cm of soundproofed brick and steel and double glazed glass, the noise is disruptive. Open a window and conversation becomes impossible. The air is full of the acrid smell of burnt paper and gunpowder.

But everyone will have saved something back. Usually the biggest boxes. And so, as I-Phones indicate midnight, everything is let go in one magnificent orgy. Unrehearsed, un choreographed. Yet at the same time an almost coordinated action by hundreds of thousands of people spread across the cities, the countryside of China,

A huge orgasm of light and sound. Of hope. Expectation. Banishing evil spirits. Paving the way for incoming good luck. A panorama, from as far as the eye can see to a few metres in front of you. Then as time moves on, everything gradually winds down until around 1 AM when just the few, odd, occasional explosions rend the night air.
The Chinese New Year has arrived.

But that was then, maybe a decade back, this is now where by and large, the sale and use of fireworks are restricted over much of China.

Describing New Year’s Day in China

An ambitious headline if ever there was one. In truth it’s probably impossible to accurately describe New Year day in China. Just as in western culture, different regions, different cities, different families have different ideas.

But essentially it is a day of family. The aged or ill will be visited, either at home or in hospitals as the case may be. Long time friendships, separated by 360 days will be revived. The grave of ancestors will be visited. The air is heavy with the smell of incense.

Temple Fairs have long been a cultural tradition in China, but more recently seem to have became a speciality of the bigger cities. Beijing for example, is now noted for it’s marvelous Temple Fairs. Or again, was, prior to Covid.

To dive any deeper into Temple Fairs is wandering too far from our aim. Suffice to say that, again, pre Covid, they were a huge attraction. Another gauge of China’s economic health in the coming year.

Which finally brings us back to our intro; an ever so non scientific, slightly tongue in cheek analysis of China’s economic outlook for 2023 .
Based on the amount of smoke and Temple Fair turn out.

For the past 3 years, restriction on fireworks plus Covid had a major impact. Very few were brave enough to risk catching the virus by participating in large gatherings. Such as Fireworks and Temple Fairs. Especially during the early years when the disease was ranked higher as a killer.

Last year, for example, in our immediate vicinity, the Chinese New Year eve passed off without so much as even a single pop from a burst wet paper bag. Likewise very few Beijingers ventured to Temple Fairs.

We can’t speak for all of China but it is relatively fair to say this was nationwide. That led us to predict Chinese were, generally less optimistic, cautious and likely to spend less. This proved to be true as domestic consumption shrank and China’s economy sailed close to recession.

And sure, we accept, one doesn’t need to be Einstein to figure that. But sometimes, even the simplest things a child sees escapes our notice. Something about wood for trees?

2023 China New Year Celebration

However, this year felt and was different.
Despite the fireworks ban, from 11-00 pm the sound of thunder rumbled in the distance. Muted, yet noticeable. Equally noticeable some time later, starbursts punctuated the otherwise bleak sky along with an intensity of sound.
Both growing stronger as midnight approached.

Although a million times less than say a decade past, 2023 Chinese New Year Eve indicated to us that Chinese are more positive. Optimistic. Prepared to brave the freezing cold, break the law and turn several hundred RMB  to smoke. 

Sunday, New Years Day, the Temple Fairs in Beijing were also bustling. Mum, dad with children skipping excitedly beside them. Couples hand in hand. Younger adults wheeling grandparents wrapped up in shawls. Groups of women arm in arm. The sound of laughter. The feeling of excitement.
The vibrations of positivity were contagious.

But again, in terms of pre 2019, numbers were down. A variety of reasons. Despite a bright clear sky and brilliant sun maybe the biting wind and frigid temperatures had a bearing?

Many Beijing residents call the city home. Yet as is the case in many cites globally, hail from other parts of China. Consequently, when they return home during Spring Festival, the city is quieter. Seats on busses, subways, in cafes, restaurants are easier to find. Department stores, malls, supermarkets, less crowded.

But this year, the subway was surprisingly more busy than we expected. An indication perhaps that there are still a large number of people who, for one reason or another, did not journey home. We expect China’s holiday travel figures, when they are released , to show a substantial increase over 2022, but still, some way off pre 2019 statistics.

Overall however, based on the amount of RMB converted to smoke on New Year’s eve coupled with the larger public turn out at this year’s Temple Fairs, we believe 2023 will see China return with a mighty roar.

For a little more practicality we also factor hard data. According to Beijing, US China imports / exports for 2022, show a record trade balance of $760 billion. We’ll know more after the US has completed its appraisal in February this year.

Finally, the recently released UN World Economic Situation and Prospects report also crystal balls the world output growth will fall from 3% in 2022 to only 1.9 per cent in 2023.
However they predict China will outpace Western economies this year with growth around 4.8%.
Or, put another way about 1.7% below pre Covid 2018 figures.

The UN sees the EU situation as having sharply deteriorated, an already difficult situation exacerbated by the war in Ukraine predicting growth of 0.2% for 2023. They expect the US economy to fare little better with growth of just 0.4%. Down from 1.8% in 2022.
Watch out world. China is on the comeback trail.

Download a PDF of the UN report in your own language here:

World Economic Situation and Prospects 2023

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