Carol Chan
Oct 24, 2014

Social media and the Chinese dream

Defined by president Xi Jinping, the 'Chinese dream' encompasses four aspirations, which brands can help citizens realise, writes Carol Chan of Comms8.

Carol Chan
Carol Chan

In 2013, China’s President Xi Jinping introduced the idea of the “Chinese dream”—a dream for the nation as well as every Chinese citizen. Nine out of every 10 people living in China have heard of it and 70 per cent believe realisation of the dream is important. 

However, what is the Chinese dream exactly? What are Chinese people yearning for? And are there opportunities for brands to help achieve it?

In brief, the Chinese dream has four distinguishing aspirations: access, knowledge, wealth and doing good.

Social media plays an instrumental role in helping shape and realise each of these. Its influence is inescapable. To illustrate the medium’s scale, if you were to break down different platforms and rank them as nations, China would still be the largest but Tencent (including WeChat, Weibo and QQ) would come in fourth, after China, India and Facebook. 

(1) Access: Social media empowers people to have access to choices  

In China’s past, people living outside of the tier-1 or -2 cities simply had no access to premium or non-Chinese brands. But with the help of social media and e-commerce, people in the rural areas access the world’s top brands even if their local infrastructure doesn’t support it. Rural provinces such as Tibet and Inner Mongolia are among the 10 municipalities with the highest transaction volume on Alipay.

For brands, that means there is a direct route to these active consumers. And social media may be the quickest and most effective way to target the inner area of China, which is like an emerging market itself.

Example: The Smart car brand sold 388 cars in just three minutes on WeChat. Beyond that, people also made 1,751 down payments for Smart cars and sent in 6,677 sales queries. In a later effort, the brand sold another 666 cars in a week.

(2) Knowledge: Social media empowers individuals to have access to information

Government ownership of most mainstream media in China makes many in the country somewhat sceptical of formal institutions and authority overall. As a result, two in three Chinese consumers rely on recommendations from friends and family, compared with only 38 per cent in the US. At the same time, over half of Chinese shoppers consider themselves as opinion leaders, compared to only 20 per cent in the UK.

So it is important for brands to help provide access to information and to empower Chinese consumers to voice opinions and share with their social networks. 

Example: Earlier this year WWF China supported Earth Hour by creating a new “Blue Sky” iPhone app that allowed users to turn their photos of polluted gray skies into clear blue skies with a simple finger wipe. Users could share the before and after pictures on WeChat Moments and Sina Weibo. In addition, the app invited users to pledge against air pollution by signing their phone screens and sending their signatures to the WWF website, where all supporters’ blue signatures would be combined to collectively clear away a gray sky and inspire a movement for cleaner air. Watch the video here to see how it works.

(3) Wealth: Social media helps remove barriers to becoming rich

Thanks to the one-child policy in China, research shows that Chinese place huge demands on themselves to be successful because they are the only child and the only hope in the family.  According to Brand Z, 79 per cent of Chinese agree that they’d be happier with more possessions and wealth, as opposed to only 15 per cent in America and the UK.

So being wealthy is one of the biggest Chinese dreams, and social media plays a big role in removing the barriers for everyone to be rich.  

Example: A New York-based property agent sealed a US$13 million deal with a Chinese tycoon using only WeChat. The deal was all done through Wechat including showcasing the property, contract, attorney, and document exchange. That put incredible power in the hands of anyone with a smartphone (which is almost everyone).

(4) Doing good: Social media helps people show care to others

Once Chinese people have fulfilled their physical and materialistic desires, they want to give back to society. They want to live a meaningful and happy life.

In Chinese social media, there is a popular term ‘求讚’, which means “asking for appreciation or care”. As the only child in the family, isolation is a big fear for many Chinese people. So they are constantly seeking support and appreciation from friends through social media.

Social media not only allows Chinese to show concern for people around them, but also plays a vital role in creating an alternative social ecosystem in the community.

Example: A book publisher partnered with WeChat to run a campaign, The Voice Donor, which encouraged 600 million WeChat users to speak a few words to help create audiobooks for millions who cannot see. It was a simple way to give back to the society. Watch this video to see how it works.


Here are five tips for brands to tap into a dream that is integral to every Chinese consumer:

  1. Think China as a whole, not Tier-1 or -2 cities only. With the power of social media, you can literately reach almost everyone in China.
  2. Provide platform for the Chinese to express their views, concerns and desires.
  3. Treat WeChat as part of your point-of-sales, not merely a messenger.
  4. Doing good and self-fulfilment is the ultimate inner desire. Help people in China show their care with simple approaches. 
  5. Put corporate social responsibility at the heart of your communication and actually do it. Chinese people expect brands to do good.  

Carol Chan is co-founder and director at Comms8, a London-based integrated agency that focuses on helping brands in the UK and Asia build business locally and in one another’s markets.


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