Speaking at Carlsberg Global Leadership Conference

I had the honor to speak at Carlsberg global leadership conference in Chongqing recently. The Danish brewing company has made heavy investments in Western China, betting on the growing Chinese middle class.

Every other year, the company brings its top CEOs and senior executives from around the world in a two-day meeting to re-focus its growth strategy. This is the first time that Carlsberg held its global leadership conference in China, or in Asia for that matter. This shows how important the China market is for multinationals such as Carlsberg.

As part of the two-day program, Carlsberg had a banquet party “China Night” on May 14th, where Chinese singers and dancers performed various traditional shows. My favorite is always the “face-changing” performance. In a Tibetan ethnic dance, I was pulled on the stage along with other Carlsberg executives and was dancing with the performers. That was a lot of fun!

Previously, I had an opportunity to speak at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati on a similar subject as well.

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?
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

Tom Friedman: China Needs Its Own Dream

Last month, I was honored to be invited to a private dinner with Tom Friedman in Shanghai. The dinner was hosted by Peggy Liu, founder of US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy (JUCCCE) to help Friedman get an insider’s view on China.

At the dinner, we (about twelve of us) discussed many challenges as well as opportunities China faces. Some cited the low trust in the Chinese society, others talked about entrepreneurial activities on the ground. I had a chance to give Friedman a copy of my book The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World’s Largest Middle Class and What It Means to You.

In his recent column “China Needs Its Own Dream,” Friedman pointed out that China needs to define its own dream rather than blindly follow American’s  “We all need to be rethinking how we sustain rising middle classes with rising incomes in a warming world, otherwise the convergence of warming, consuming and crowding will mean we grow ourselves to death.”

I am glad he used the size of the Chinese middle class from my book – 300 million people expected to grow to 800 million by 2025.

Five Things Starbucks Did to Get China Right

If there is one company that should have failed in China, it would be Starbucks. China has thousands of years of history drinking tea and a strong culture associated with it. No one could have guessed that Chinese would ever drink coffee instead of tea.

Yet, Starbucks has successfully opened more than 570 stores in 48 cities since it first entered China twelve years ago. Building on this momentum, it plans to open 1,500 stores by 2015. What did the Seattle-based coffee company do right in China? Here are five lessons from Starbucks’ success.

Think Different

When Starbucks entered China in 1999, many were skeptical that Starbucks had a chance. Given the fact that Chinese people have traditionally favored tea, it seemed impossible that Starbucks would be able to break into this market.

However, Starbucks did not let this skepticism stop it. A careful market study revealed that as the Chinese middle class emerged, there existed an opportunity for Starbucks to introduce a Western coffee experience, where people could meet with their friends while drinking their favorite beverages.

Starbucks literally created that demand. Now you can find a Starbucks almost on every major street of the coastal cities in China. Even my 90-year old father in China began to tell me how he drank coffee after meals, rather than tea, to help his digestion. Starbucks has revolutionized how Chinese view and drink coffee.

Position Smart

Once Starbucks decided to enter China, it implemented a smart market entry strategy. It did not use any advertising and promotions that could be perceived by the Chinese as a threat to their tea-drinking culture. Instead, it focused on selecting high-visibility and high-traffic locations to project its brand image.

The next thing Starbucks did was to capitalize on the tea-drinking culture of Chinese consumers by introducing beverages using popular local ingredients such as green tea. This strategy has effectively turned potential obstacles into Starbucks’ favor. Chinese consumers quickly developed a taste for Starbucks’ coffee, which was essential to Starbucks’ success in China. Continue reading

Why Home Depot Struggles and IKEA Thrives in China?

Forbes: Helen H. Wang

At a time when China’s home furnishings market surged 17 percent, the largest U.S. home improvement company Home Depot has been struggling and closed five stores since it entered the China market in 2006.

The Home Depot (9/365) (9/29/08)

Image by detbuzzsaw via Flickr

Analysts pointed to the fact that a “do it yourself” culture does not exist in China. True.  Because labor costs are relatively low, many homeowners would rather hire someone to do the work than do it themselves. Apparently, Home Depot made the same mistake as some other companies that entered China without understanding the local market, which is often dramatically different from their home market.

Unlike consumers in the West, Chinese consumers have no role model from older generations. Home ownership was non-existent about fifteen years ago. It was then very common for a family, sometimes three generations, to share a 300-square-feet room that they used for sleeping, eating and daily activities. A kitchen was not even a necessity as many people simply cooked in a common area outside their room. Continue reading

The Growth of the Chinese Middle Class

There are a number of predictions for the future growth of the Chinese middle class from Goldman Sacks, the Boston Consulting Group, and McKinsey Global Institute. The numbers are more or less the same.

In my forthcoming book The Chinese Dream, I mainly cite predictions from the McKinsey report From ‘Made in China’ to ‘Sold in China’: The Rise of the Chinese Urban Consumer. (For the definition of the Chinese middle class, please see my previous post).
Continue reading

China’s Victoria Secret

Today, I received an email from a friend of mine from Beijing, announcing his new online start-up La miu (www.lamiu.com) – a China’s Victoria Secret to be. This is at least the second “China’s Victoria Secret” I have heard among my circles of friends. The other one is Herbella (www.herbella.cn) in Shanghai. Who knows how many more are out there?

Photo credit: be Lamiu girl

The message is clear, though, that the consumer market in China is booming. Continue reading


I arrived in Chongqing in the late afternoon of May 12th, without knowing about the devastating earthquake in Wenchuan, which is about 200 miles northwest of Chongqing. The taxi driver told me that even people in Beijing and Shanghai felt the quake. I knew the situation was pretty severe.

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More on Demystify China’s Middle Class

Since my last post about the definition of the Chinese middle class was considered “all too simple,” I dug out a comprehensive study: Emergence of the Chinese middle class and its implications. It’s a well-researched and well-documented research paper by He Li. The paper approaches the definition of the Chinese middle class from different angles such as lifestyle, income classification, occupation, and self-perception, and here is what it says:

Economists and sociologists have defined what they believe will compose the Chinese “middle class” of the future. They suggest that five categories of people will represent the middle class: scientific development entrepreneurs, Chinese managerial staff working in foreign firms in China, middle level managerial staff in state-owned financial intuitions, professional technicians in various fields, especially in intermediary firms, and some self-employed private entrepreneurs.  Continue reading

Demystify China’s Middle Class

People often ask me about the definition of the Chinese middle class. To me, it’s simple: the middle class are people who are not poor or rich, who have disposable incomes to consume, and who can follow their own dreams and pursue their own futures.

Yet there are many debates about the Chinese middle class. Some said China has only the new rich and the very poor; others argued that the middle class is an American concept and it doesn’t apply to China.

To make things simple, here is a definition from China’s National Bureau of Statistics: the households with an annual income ranging from 60,000 yuan ($7,250) to 500,000 yuan ($62,500) should be categorized as middle class. Continue reading