Coolhunting in China
Cool hunting doesn’t come easy to my Chinese students. Selecting Cool trend signals means trusting your own guts – and showing with pride your independent and original outlook on this world. That is simply is not part of the Chinese DNA. Chinese are raised to melt in, not to stand out. To conform not to shout out an individual perspective.
In order to put them at ease their first Coolhunting assignment is an easy one. Go into Shanghai’s leading shopping streets and make ten pics of whatever strikes you as Cool – people, gear, shop-windows. I join them and put a continuous effort into being utterly stimulating. Nevertheless, after thirty minutes of Coolhunting not one photo was taken. (To compare, when we do this with European or American students, they hunt at least ten pics within this time slot – per person.) At a certain moment I myself saw a Li-ning sneaker – Li-ning aims to be China’s Nike – and as my son is interested in this gear, I made a pic for him. All, of a sudden twenty of my students, clicking from my back, took exactly the same pic. When the professor thinks it is Cool, it must be Cool and okay to collect. Skipping, unfortunately, all creative crotchety out of the hunt.
A year later I brought some Western European students with me. That worked. Chinese students hesitate to talk spontaneously to an older international professor. They save that for their visiting Western peers. Then, actually they love chatting up. I had found my bridge to really communicate to my Chinese students, be it indirectly, to start with.
In the evening the emails flocked in from my Chinese students. Safely virtual. With question about the details of proper Cool-hunting. About studying in the West. One students even asked me how I estimated sex appeal of Chinese males in the eyes of Western girls. That was a rough one. The student knew I would leave early the next Morning – and that he wouldn’t meet me anymore. That gave his guts & wings. I wish him a bright international future.
This column was originally published in Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad. Read the column in Dutch here.