In China one often hears the lament that China has no great globally recognized brands. While China may be the world’s workshop, the absence of name brand products desired in international markets is seen as an indication of not having quite reached the next rung of the market capitalist developmental ladder. Chinese may make products, but don’t create great brands.
This, of course, stands in stark opposition to the fervor with which China’s new wealthy classes snap up objects of haute couture from just about everywhere–Louis Vuitton, Chanel, BMW, Mercedes, Coach, Hermes. The list is long and the newly constructed fashion districts of every major city are filled with stores dedicated to selling top brands.
Top brands. Being at the top. Distinction and the consumption of the symbolic accoutrements of arrival are mind boggling to behold.
Hopefully some anthropologist somewhere is doing fieldwork for that ethnography right now. This post is, however, going somewhere else.
Last year, while visiting, I became intrigued with the hundreds and hundreds of small brands advertised all over that have little or no recognition. This “brand background noise” extends across small and medium-sized shops across every major city. Specifically I became fascinated with brand names that were given foreign sounding names but were not true foreign brands that I recognized. (Of course, some very well could be foreign brands of which I am not familiar–correct me if you see one!) These brands didn’t use common Chinese characters for their names, nor were they written in Pinyin. Instead they were written phonetically with characters that suggest a translation from another language. A translation without a source. I spoke with a few people who were surprised that the brands were not, in fact, foreign.
So last year, as I traveled around I began to shoot some photos of the brands, and began a list of them on my phone. I thought it would be fun to collect these unusual linguistic artifacts–new words created to seem as if they were translated from another language. Pure brand image struggling to get noticed and gain value in the marketplace. This year I continued the list and now it is hundreds of words long.
The longer the list gets, the more interesting it becomes to me. This year I think it is long enough to be worth this blog post. There are some interesting ones here. If I were a poet I’d use some of these to craft a poem. Alas, I’m not, so I am only offering this list as is. Enjoy reading it out loud in the privacy of your room and let their mysterious names begin to work their dreamy magic.