Intercultural Lovers: Valentine’s Day in China

While not wanting to overlook the current health crisis in China, we thought we would focus on something a little more joyful by discussing Valentine’s Day and romance in China. While February 14th is traditionally a festival with various roots in Christian and Roman tradition, it also sits well as a celebration of love and, of course, a consumer festival in China. Celebrating romance is universal and Chinese tradition has its own festival of lovers, albeit with very different roots.

The Qixi (七夕), or “double seven” festival falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month on the Chinese calendar, usually August. The festival originates from the legend of the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl. The cowherd, Niulang (牛郎), is said to have once saved a sick ox, who introduces him to a weaver fairy, Zhinü (织女), daughter of the goddess of heaven. They fall in love, marry, and have children but Zhinü is soon taken back to heaven when her mother finds out she has wedded a mere mortal. The legend recounts Niulang’s efforts to be reunited with Zhinü in heaven, which touch the magpies of the world so much that they fly to heaven to form a bridge, reuniting the lovers. Even Zhinü’s mother is moved enough to let them meet once a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month.

The easy cultural translation of Valentine’s Day is evident. In cosmopolitan parts of China today, February 14th is a day of celebration for lovers much like in many Western countries. Compounded with this traditional common ground is the commodification of love: While Chinese society has changed drastically over the past few decades, traditional pressures on young people to find a partner and marry remain prevalent. No wonder then, that in a marketised age, celebrations of love are often expressed through consumer practices and gamified in popular culture.

China’s wedding industry is expected to be worth RMB 3 trillion by 2021 (around £330bn), with pre-wedding photos taking up a large chunk of value. Wealthier couples spend huge sums at special wedding photo studios, on travelling to iconic locations, or even floating underwater for that perfect picture. The most popular dating show at the moment, Dating with the Parents (新相亲时代, literally “New Dating Age”) does what it says on the tin. Contestants have to narrow down which potential partners they would like to meet based on interacting with panels of family members before seeing the actual son or daughter.

Promotional photo by Only Photo studio

While pressures to marry and familial expectations may seem intense to some Western observers, nobody can deny that love sells. Meanwhile, it has to be remembered that China is as dynamic as any other society and there is no single approach to lifestyles and relationships. Pressures to marry affect women disproportionately but are challenged by activists and marketers alike. In 2016, cosmetics brand SK-II ran a very poignant and successful campaign challenging the notion of “leftover women” (剩女, unmarried women over thirty).

Brands need the correct cultural insight to understand the wants and needs of young consumers and their attitudes to relationships. Seeking the right advice on what matters, and what is changing, is crucial to developing strategies for the Chinese market.

Here at Verb China, we provide full service digital marketing support for luxury brands. Our multi-lingual branding experts, steeped in luxury and schooled in intercultural communication, help brands to grow in the Chinese market with confidence and sophistication.