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Must-watch China fashion and urban culture trends in the Year of the Rabbit–or at least a holy trinity we think will dominate the hashtags. In general, the Middle Kingdom now has a practically palpable sense of excitement flowing through it, with most of society ready to live life at full throttle following the dismantling of the zero-COVID policy late last year. High Temper time to hop right in!

china trends

Wuhan City hosts a guochao-inspired lantern festival in celebration of the Year of the Rabbit. Some visitors, like the one captured in this screenshot from Douyin (China’s TikTok), jump at the opportunity to attend this type of event dressed to the nines in hanfu (the traditional dress of the Han Chinese). As they cater mostly to dernier-cri-driving millennials and Gen Zs, Chinese social media platforms like Douyin and lifestyle slash e-commerce platform 小红书 (xiǎohóngshū or “Little Red Book”) are incubators for many of the nation’s fashion slash urban culture must-watch trends.

1. Coated in Guochao

The guochao (国朝| guócháo or “national wave” in Chinese) trend is not going away like most crazes that surface and then subside. Au contraire, this movement is here to stay and make, well, waves in the Year of the Rabbit (this January 22-February 9, 2024).

This vogue was born from the observation by young Chinese generations that their country had the potential to become a leader in innovation. Whereas millennials have seen their country evolve into a global force to be reckoned with, Gen Zs have only known a China that rivals the West on an economic level. With the rise of economic power eventually came cultural power and the power to look oneself in the mirror and recite some cultural affirmations. For many, the guochao movement represents the revival of Chinese culture.

Neo-Chinese style (新中式| xīn zhōng shì or “new Chinese style”) as seen on Little Red Book. FYI: The character 万 (wàn), right next to the heart emoji, means 10k. That’s a nice number of likes.

Chinese fashion brands, both bona fide and budding ones, are set to keep taking cues from their innate legacy. In other words, the guochao movement is bound to keep broadening its horizons. Just think about one of last year’s trending newbies: Neo-Chinese style (新中式| xīn zhōng shì or “new Chinese style”). Like guochao, this trend features traditional Chinese fashions mixed with modern elements but does so in a more boldfaced way by adopting more flashy subcultural aesthetics–think cyberpunk and Y2K (referring to the 2000s-era styles in the West, from low-rise jeans to scarf tops). The Year of the Rabbit will surely generate a few new spin-offs.

 
FYI
Subcultures, whether we’re talking cyberpunk, the coy hanfu (汉服|  hànfú or the traditional dress of the Han Chinese) or the more coarse yabi(亚逼| yàbī–the first character meaning “inferior” and the second character a highly derogatory one– a style meshing punky, Asian Baby Girl, Neo-Chinese, Y2K and many mooore elements), matter because they give (young) people a sense of individuality and belonging. Especially in a country of 1.4 billion. This whole “you be you” attitude is another prevailing sentiment coursing through the veins of China’s (young) urbanite in the Roaring Twenties 2.0. We just thought we oughta mention that.

But the guochao influence isn’t limited to fashion. Over the past few years, it has fanned out to include the realms of art, food and beverage, and cultural tourism–to name a few. The Year of the Rabbit will surely see those sectors throwing a few more traditional ingredients into the mix to goose that traveler gusto. Take tourism, for example. Chinese consumers have been actively embracing domestic cultural tourism during the holidays, taking special interest in sites with historical significance. “Visits to cultural destinations help satisfy the need for spiritual gain,” Song Rui, director of the Tourism Research Center under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told state-owned China Daily in December 2021. Song added tourism at that point had already seen a shift from a primary stage of natural beauty to a new phase powered by cultural values–a trend that continued throughout 2022. And though boosted since 2020 by an inability to travel abroad courtesy of COVID-19, we have a feeling China’s local cultural wanderlust won’t ebb.

Plus, China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s14th Five-Year (2021-25) Plan clearly shows the powers-that-be aren’t willing to let it slip away either. Tourism products are receiving an upgrade throughout this period, with new offerings, such as national cultural parks, red tourism routes and ice and snow tourism attractions, featuring high on the agenda, according to the ministry.

From local to global we go, then… Over the past years, savvy foreign brands, some more successfully than others, have tried to incorporate guochao as they develop China-oriented products. We can expect more international brands to embrace guochao this year because reality holds that even as Chinese consumers progressively embrace local aesthetics, foreign brands still enjoy a reputational advantage in sectors where product prestige or quality is a top consideration. But hold your zodiac animals, all you intercontinental peeps wanting to get a slice of the Chinese consumer pie… These savvy domestic customers can spot a desperate “let’s throw in a hint of red and a rabbit” bid to enter their nation’s market in a bunny hop… #justsayin’

On an Unsolicited Educational Note
It was the eponymous sportswear label founded by Olympic gymnast and entrepreneur Li Ning that, in 2018, was one of the first to combine Chinese tradition and modernity in an attempt to resuscitate the brand’s rapidly dwindling sales numbers. The label, popular in the 1980s and 90s, had been overtaken by the arrival of Nike and Adidas. But boy did that heartrate go up again in the late 2010s. During New York Fashion Week’s TMall China Day in February 2018, before this author’s very own eyes, the brand took a gamble that turned out to be a gigantic hit.  The collection it presented, inspired by Taoism and other elements of Chinese culture, became the topic du jour among Chinese netizens and helped popularize the then-budding guochao drift. Nevertheless, it was in 2020, during the pandemic, when the guochao appeal blossomed. This was due on the one hand to the uncertainties of China’s international relationships and the surge of national pride on the other. #TemperTeachings
china trends

Working out at home, cycling, hiking, ultimate frisbee-ing…. People across China now have New Year’s resolutions centered on health, wellness and putting themselves out there–literally. Image: screenshot from Little Red Book’s most popular content under the “wellness” tag. Top left you can see  singer and composer Liu Genghong, who took Douyin by storm last April with his fitness livestreams. His daily routines inspired of tens of millions of people in lockdown at the time to break a sweat.

2. Hiking Hashtags

China Central Television’s annual Spring Festival Gala (commonly known as 春晚| chūnwǎn) on January 21 had a skit starring actors in cycling gear. Good old-fashioned cycling has made quite the comeback in China in the past few years and really switched gears in 2022 as ubiquitous lockdowns and working-from-home stints held the nation in their grasp and inspired residents, usually urbanites, to venture outside for some fresh air as much as they could. Cycling combines exercise with being outdoors, both of which Chinese people care about now more than ever. The pandemic and all that came with saw people expand their urban panoramas, with just being outside and staying healthy basically reaching whole new appreciation levels.

And speaking of outdoor trends…

From the urban jungle to the great outdoors, hip China’s 2022 lust for layers is here to stay in 2023. China’s individualistic young consumers are increasingly focused on paying for things that enhance their lifestyles, i.e., things that help them acquire new skills, access new experiences, and become healthier.

must-watch trends

Behold: behind the gorpcore穿搭 (chuāndā| literally “outfit”) hashtag on Little Red Book… Image: screenshot courtesy of the author

Earthy-tone safari jackets, multi-pocket vests, and drawstring bucket hats. This was the typical mood board of last fall’s mainland mode. Referred to as 山系穿搭 (shān xì chuāndā| literally “mountain outfit”) or mountaincore, this look weaving together camping-inspired utility wear with urban chic was one of fall’s displays of the outdoor boom in young, happening China. Gorpcore—think mountaincore on one too many matchas–described the 2022 rise in popularity of functional gear normally only seen on hikers and mountain climbers. The gorpcore穿搭 and 山系穿搭 hashtags on lifestyle slash e-commerce platform 小红书 (xiǎohóngshū or “Little Red Book”) had a combined 51,000 notes as of January 22. Then there’s the ongoing winter season of chic shenanigans in the snow, with Beijing’s suburban ski slopes opening to the public again on December 6 last year, which has already demonstrated how the passion for skiing pizzazz, too, is back in town. We’ll circle back to that ice and snow fun in a jiffy.

With Chinese consumers taking their post-zero-COVID flexibility from the ski slopes to the hiking trails and onto the glamping sites, all these hardcore, outdoorsy attitudes and related styles will reach new altitudes throughout 2023. The country’s current consumption is less about enhancing one’s status in the eyes of others and more about living a fulfilling life. Our somewhat educated guess is that any category related to self-expression, wellness and leisure will keep raking in the devotees and dough in 2023.

The young urbanite opinion holds that outdoor culture is in.

china trends

“What you need to know when skiing for the first time.” A Culture Opinion Leader, pioneering the ice and snow niche, on Little Red Book shares the deets, and what to wear on the slopes, with her followers. Image: screenshot from Little Red Book

3. Cultural Opinions

China’s Cultural Consumers (CCC) are made up of young, highly educated and digitally oriented Chinese, generally millennials and Gen Zs. They have been exposed to the globalized world from an early age on and have a thorough grasp of it but were born in a world where China was a global economic power. And so, they show a bigger interest in and appreciation for Chinese culture and are often seen as the most patriotic generation.

Leading this culture-seeking crew, we find a new generation of influencers, aka the “Cultural Opinion Leaders” (COL) aka China’s self-declared pioneers of culture-related refinement. They favor local businesses and followers place their trust in them because they are authentic and credible—and like to celebrate their country. These influencers hold real cultural authority in their own domain and have gained substantial followings over the past year or so. Somehow we figure this ties in nicely with the aforementioned guochao evolution to keep an eye on over the upcoming 12 months–might just be us, though.

Less interested in showing a manicured representation of their lifestyles, the COLs are more driven by fostering communities around specific topics, niches, and aesthetics that interest them. In the second half of 2022, the subjects and sub-genres of, you guessed it, health, wellness, outdoor relaxation and related styles started popping up and spurring on some serious online traction. These COL-led communities are set to climb to new heights this year.

FYI
For more about the humble beginnings of China’s COL, check out this 2021 whitepaper from Highsnobiety titled The New Key Opinion Leader Is Here: Long Live the Cultural Opinion Leader–on influencer marketing and digital commerce shifts in China.

The COLs are also further boosting the growth of smaller online podia. Though China’s omnipresent super app WeChat and the country’s Twitter-esque platform Weibo still play major roles in daily life, they are not where young consumers look for like-minded communities. Instead, they embrace smaller platforms like Little Red Book and e-commerce platform Pin Duoduo (拼多多| pīn duō duō) for that, especially those active users under the age of 24.

must-watch trends

January 18, minus 17 degrees Celsius. The author finds herself at the annual ice lantern festival in Longqingxia, a scenic area at a two-hour drive north from Beijing. The ice lantern is an art form which has been handed down for generations in northern China. This festival is considered a staple Spring Festival holiday visit by residents of the region. This light fest is one example of a Cultural Opinion Leader-approved event. ‘Twas buzzing and freezing–you’ll have to take this writer’s word for that.

must-watch trends

We call this… Frozen–Behind the Scenes. Anyway, Longqingxia’s ice lantern extravaganza, take two–courtesy of the author.

Ice and snow culture has been on fiyaaah in China, especially since the Beijing 2022 Olympics, and many young consumers want to experience it firsthand—whether it be by taking to the slopes or by visiting a traditional ice lantern festival in north China. This is where curated COL content comes in handy. For example, the “what to wear for skiing” (滑雪穿什么衣服| huáxuě chuān shénme yīfu) hashtag on Little Red Book featured over 284,000 notes, tips and tricks to cut the most fab figure that will leave everybody in your powder as of January 22.

In sum, the guochao swell, outdoorsy pursuits and curated cultural enrichment: these are the must-watch trends, aka the holy trinity, ready to zip up a ski ramp and launch themselves in the Year of the Rabbit.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FEATURED IMAGE:  COLLAGE OF MUST-WATCH TRENDS AND HASHTAGS for the year of the rabbit ON LITTLE RED BOOK and DOUYIN–but the bottom right picture comes via Highsnobiety
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Elsbeth van Paridon
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