Can Mattel Make A Comeback In China?

After Mattel’s embarrassing closure of its flagship store, the House of Barbie, in Shanghai two years ago, the American toy maker seems to have learned a thing or two about the Chinese market.

Its newly launched “Violin Soloist” Barbie aims to target Chinese parents who want their daughters to be “geniuses,”  just like any self-respecting tiger mom would. The doll has a traditional Barbie look – blonde, blue eyes and dressed in glamorous hot pink. In addition to her five-inch high heels, she even has a violin!

At first glance, it’s hard to imagine that a Barbie like this would appeal to Chinese girls. Don’t they want dolls that would look more like them – black hair, brown eyes and round face? Continue reading

The Wall Street Journal Interview: The Barbie Story in China

Recently, I was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal about how American toy-maker Mattel misread feminism in China. As the result, it had to close its flagship store, the House of Barbie, in Shanghai, and threw away over $30 million investment.

Since then, Mattel seemed to have learn a thing or two about the Chinese market. The Wall Street Journal article indicates that the company is making new efforts in China.

The Chinese toy and games market has been growing at 14% in the last five years. The demand will continue to be strong as growing Chinese middle class families want to give their children the best. And, they have the disposable incomes to do that.

There are still opportunities for Mattel to get it right in China. I will soon have an article on Forbes.com to comment on Mattel’s newly launched Barbie “Violin Soloist.” Stay tuned!

Book Review: Living the Chinese Dream

Nearly three years after my book The Chinese Dream was first published, a book review by Samir Jaluria, a management consultant and blogger, shed new light on the importance of understanding the growing impact of the Chinese middle class. I am glad to see people find the book informative. Below is the review:

Helen Wang’s The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World’s Largest Middle Class and What It Means To You is an informative, well-written book about China’s growing middle class. Wang, an independent consultant who assists companies doing business in China, artfully breaks down the book into a series of themes and interweaves them with a succession of personal experiences and fascinating interactions (including one with a PR manager doing “religion shopping” and another with Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba). The Chinese Dream’s principal argument is that the rise of a large Chinese middle class is beneficial for both China as well as the rest of the world. Furthermore, Wang believes that middle class Chinese and Westerners have a similar set of core values and share many of the same aspirations and dreams and can thus learn from each other.

To me, the biggest takeaway is how communism and capitalism can co-exist side-by-side in China. Continue reading

The 1990 Institute: China’s Growing Global Impact

I was honored to speak at The 1990 Institute’s Teachers Workshop on Monday in San Mateo, California. The two-day workshop, titled China’s Growing Global Impact, was designed to help high school teachers understand what’s happening in China and prepare our students for a future that will be very different from their parents’.

My presentation, of course, is on the subject of the rise of China’s middle class. Here are the slides I presented at the workshop:

The 1990 Institute is an organization that fosters better understanding between the U.S. and China. Other people on the panel include Dr. Tom Gold, professor of sociology of UK Berkeley, Dr. Mark Henderson, program head of Environmental Studies at Mills College, and John Kamm from Dui Hua Foundation. It was a real honor to be in such a distinguished company.

China’s Middle Class: New Global Travelers

Recently, I was interviewed by Travel Weekly, a national newspaper of travel industry, on increasing Chinese travelers and how they affect the travel industry in the U. S. Below is an excerpt of my conversation with Diane Merlino, editor in chief of Travel Weekly PLUS:

Merlino: How do you define the Chinese middle class?
Wang: Chinese middle class households earn between $10,000 and $60,000 a year, but those figures can be misleading because the cost of living in China is very different from what it is the West. In the U.S. you can’t even get by on $10,000, but in China $10,000 is the beginning of having a lot of purchasing power in certain areas, especially in smaller cities. In Shanghai, the cost of living is quite high; that’s why there is that range in income.

So, the rule of thumb I use is a family is considered middle class in China if the household has a third of its income available for discretionary spending.

Merlino: Give us an idea of the size of the Chinese middle class and the growth rate of that demographic.
Wang: Five years ago, when my book first came out, the Chinese middle class was estimated at 250 million to 300 million people. Today, the middle class has reached an estimated 450 million people, and we’re projected to reach 800 million middle-class Chinese by 2025.

….

Merlino: How important is travel to the Chinese middle class?
Wang: 
A lot of Chinese have a desire to travel because China was closed 30 or 40 years ago. Very few people traveled during that time, but now that China is opening travel, to go see the world is a life goal for a lot of people. The younger generation, those in their 20s and 30s, are traveling a lot. If they have less money, they travel within China, but now when I travel around the world I see so many younger Chinese. It’s amazing. Continue reading