Shaun Rein

The magazine Slate investigated what is cool worldwide. Our business analyst Shaun Rein explained for them what is ku or cool in China, and how it is influenced by South-Korea.


A recent study on China’s “Red Cool” by TBWA/China, an international ad agency, found that “zheng neng liang” (meaning “positive energy”) is a popular notion among Chinese youth today. TBWA/China’s research suggests that being positive and aspirational are considered cool traits among youth. “Real ‘cool’ is to bring [your] dreams to reality and make them perfect,” one young adult explains in the study. “No one should compromise on the way to realizing a dream.”

To a perhaps unsurprising extent, in China the monoculture still exists, so being different is often not seen as ku. The things that are cool—or at least highly consumed—include Starbucks (“an indication that they’ve reached a certain status,” says Shaun Rein, managing director of China Market Research Group) and Adidas’ NEO line. On the home front, Rein reports that the Chinese-made JDB, an herbal tea, outsells Coke and Pepsi in many parts of the country whileFeiyue shoes have been a hit for hip urban types. The iPhone isn’t cool, apparently; Apple’s phone has lost sway with mainstream Chinese consumers as of late. (This may in part have to do with there being only eight store locations in the entire country, according to Rein.)

Interestingly, Chinese coolness is heavily influenced by South Korea: It can be found in nearly every form of Chinese consumerism—movies, TV, fashion, and especially pop music. Long before Psy introduced K-pop to the Western world, South Korean culture was dominant across Asia, thanks to Korea’s realization that it could find success by exporting culture and investing millions of dollars in arts and entertainment.

More in Slate.

Shaun Rein is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

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