Chinese Designers: Beware of “Guochao Fatigue”
If you’ve been on the Chinese Internet over the last few years, chances are you’ve come across the term “Guochao.” When the cookie-cutter Chinese sports brand Li Ning debuted a streetwear-infused line of clothing at Paris Fashion Week in 2018, netizens coined the term “Guochao” to describe a rising group of local designers who were making Chinese nationalism trendy. Since then, almost every millennial-savvy brand has rushed to launch Guochao-inspired collabs in support of Chinese culture. But as repetitive China-proud narratives continue to flood the market, consumer fatigue has followed. Now, to obtain serious cultural reach, Chinese designers must go beyond a basic “proudly made in China” concept.
Guochao is linked to the concept of “cultural confidence (文化自信),” which is another buzzword in China that refers to the country’s rising cultural self-esteem. Meanwhile, domestic e-commerce giants like Alibaba, JD.com, and NetEase have quickly produced Guochao shopping festivals to attract younger consumers. Alibaba’s premium branch, Tmall, has even introduced a Guochao incubation center to help support homegrown fashion brands through a related algorithm and other measures.
As a type of “soft power” that encourages young people to take pride in their national identity, the Chinese government has approved of the Guochao movement. In a propaganda video, the state-owned CCTV channel described Guochao by saying that brands are “exporting China’s culture and aesthetic, which is bound to make a lasting difference.” As such, producing Guochao pieces or anything that puts forth a China-proud narrative has become both commercially viable and politically correct.
Xiaojing Huang, a Chinese trend expert and founder of design consultancy Yang Design, said this brand of nationalistic sentiment is likely to prevail over the coming decades. “China has been in a strong nationalist mood since the 2008 Beijing Olympics,” she said, “and this ideology is likely to prevail for the next 30 years as China’s economy grows slowly but steadily.” She also emphasized that the Guochao craze is particularly relevant to the post-90s generation, which was raised during a period of heightened nationalism. Because of this, few of those younger consumers equate “Made in China” with cheap knock offs as their parents do.