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The Evolution of Leisure In China


Today Chinese society is in a flux. Both the economic growth as well as the pace of growth of the past 35 odd years has had a massive impact on not just on the economic wellbeing of the Chinese people but also on the society in general. With the increasing affluence levels, higher disposable incomes, access to new product categories and increasing integration into the wider world, has meant not only have the people’s lives changed but also the way they relax, unwind and spend their leisure time.

Unlike in the past where the favorite pastime of most Chinese people was confined to what was acceptable within the social realm, now the same has evolved with the changes in the society. What is acceptable and not acceptable is now more a domain of the individual with the focus firmly on more balanced, engaging and diversified lifestyle.

Consequently we observe evolution of leisure options beyond traditional restaurants, stroll and activities in the neighborhood parks and KTVs to leisure travel, health & beauty, shopping and even online indulgences. This evolution signifies a move away from more basic motivations of safety, nutrition (health) and tradition to more mature-exploration, experience, authenticity, and value proposition.

The Chinese government too has had a hand in this evolution. The government has pushed to increase domestic consumption by providing more days off for Chinese people to spend on leisure activities. In 1995, the government introduced 5-working-day week, providing people with 2 days a week of leisure and rest. In 1997, the golden week and the national day were introduced as additional measures to boost domestic spends. Finally, the new labor law in 2008 was enacted to provide yearly 5 days of paid leave to make Chinese people to connect more with their families and in the process boost the economy.

Explore and Experience

Traditionally for Chinese people, food (a major leisure indulgence) used to be more about nutrition and health. With increasing affluence and consequently travel becoming more common, food is becoming more about experience, authenticity and exploration. Cheese and regional wine are riding high on this wave. 94% of Chinese consumers say they have tried French cheese and were likely to eat some again. Definitely, times are evolving.

While travel on the other hand was previously considered as a leisure activity with a focus on destinations (been there, seen that), it has now shifted more to qualitative and “out-of-time” experience where people want to live the present moment, enjoy  the experience, explore and exchange.

A study conducted by IFOP has shown that Chinese people save for difficult times, for their children’s education and… for travel. In first tier-cities (Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou) travel even emerges as the primary motivation for saving.

Travelling agencies noticed this shift and have tried to seize this new market by offering for instance journeys focused on particular themes such as gastronomy, relaxation (cruise), or sport (hiking) and in the process work on people’s motivation of experience and explore.

Other emerging trends

The younger travelers focus more on independence when it comes to travel and we also see solo or non-tour group travelers on the increase. They are no longer interested just in running from one scenic/tourist spot to other and endure endless bus rides in the process. They now want to experience and live the moment.

Travel aside, we observe rise of health and beauty based leisure avenues. There is a common Chinese belief that to be successful in life, one needs to look good (and of course healthy). This belief is leading to increasing focus on keeping fit and also quick fixing perceived bodily negatives. This aspect is also seen part of leisure and Chinese people are going all for benefiting from options that cater to these needs. While the elderly have the gym and dance in public parks, most young people are hooked to the gym.

People are also opting to go abroad to seek medical attention. It may be for more serious medical conditions or for cosmetic surgeries. This trend has given rise to new travel trends such as medical tourism (e.g. plastic surgery). Countries like Korea, Thailand are hot destinations for Chinese people to travel to get medical attention and also in the process enjoy visiting the country.

Kings of Shopping

Shopping is considered an integral part of leisure activities of Chinese people. To them it’s more than buying. It’s an experience and a social activity. Rise of malls is an example of this trend that caters to these requirements. Chinese people spend a lot of time living the experience of shopping. For instance, when they want to buy a premium beauty product, it all starts with talking to each other (social occasion). It’s followed by an online search for information (personal engagement and involvement) and actual buying of the product in physical stores in China or abroad (experience). It’s not surprising that online channels are now trying to replicate the physical store experience on the website to engage more consumers.

At the same time, shopping malls are becoming a lifestyle and provide a wide range of services to enhance the shopping experience: game rooms, restaurants, beauty salons, and cinemas are much more numerous than in our malls.

Even when it comes to travel, shopping in the world’s biggest cities remain the top motivation irrespective of age or gender. The voracious appetite for shopping can be seen in duty free stores in the world’s major airports as well as high streets.


Talking about online, the digital revolution especially the rise of social media and e-commerce has had deep impact on the way Chinese people conduct their lives and also their leisure habits. Nowadays, it’s very common for Chinese people to explore leisure ideas, discuss travel plans, look out for promotions for hotels, book tours, all using just their smart phones. Smart phones have made information accessible in a magical way and the Chinese people are using it like no other people elsewhere. As a consequence, possibilities are endless and spend time on wechat or weibo is now considered as leisure.

In conclusion, undertaking leisure activities is becoming more and more commonplace among Chinese people. We can fairly say that Chinese people have truly come off age when it comes to their leisure activities and are now looking to further their experience by spending on numerous avenues that offer them such indulgences.    

Article written by Manohar Balivada, Vice President, Ifop, Shanghai. Published in Connexions magazine N.77  


Have Chinese Women Started to Look Beyond Beauty Products?



In China, the importance of beauty can’t be overemphasized especially for women. The concept of beauty which is traditionally dictated by fair and pale skin (boiled egg complexion and tone) is now morphing into emphasis also on sharper and fuller facial and bodily features. The belief that skin care products can only do so much to make one look beautiful is taking roots with women looking for quick fixes such as micro or cosmetic surgeries to achieve perfection in their quest to look beautiful.

According to current market estimates, until 2013 only approximately 5 million Chinese women did one or the other form of cosmetic surgery.  By 2015 this figure rose to over 7 million and by 2018, it’s likely to touch 11 million. Although the figures are minuscule compared to the size of the population, but the growth is estimated to be stronger going forward despite government regulations and societal constraints.

To contextualize, it’s estimated that between 80 to 90% of Chinese women use skincare products and up to 40% use color cosmetics. Assuming the latter group is more into beauty, and as a consequence more likely to undertake cosmetic surgery, the full potential of this market becomes more obvious. A study by Chinese lifestyle magazine SELF and IFOP Asia estimates that approximately 15% of Chinese women are considering doing micro/cosmetic surgery in the future. Considering this figure of 15% who intend to undertake a surgery in the future, the size of the category skyrockets to nearly 40 million potential consumers in the next 5 to 10 years. (15% intenders among 40% color cosmetic users of the total Chinese women population).

In fact, in comparison to their counter parts in more mature neighboring markets, Chinese women undertake such surgeries on a greater scale than even their Japanese counterparts across all treatments/procedures. However the Chinese women get trumped by Korean women although in terms of interest and intent to undertake these treatments/procedures in the future, they in turn trump the latter.

This category predominantly attracts younger females although in recent years Chinese men too have started going under the knife. This is only likely to add to the huge potential of this category. The acceptance of more comprehensive and multiple surgeries are also on the increase. As of now, the popular surgeries are double eye lid  as well as nose job. In the next few years with wider acceptance of the practice, surgeries on other parts of the body too could be commonplace.

The macro reasons for this staggering growth among others, are the increased competition in the job market, the changing societal values, increasing disposable incomes, integration into the wider world and ever more emphasis on personal looks.

According to the SELF & IFOP Asia study, compared to last few years, micro/cosmetic surgeries have become more popular, acceptable and even admired. The study states that micro reasons are multi fold but mostly to do with the continuous propagation of the message in public media, increasing acceptance in the society, open mindedness to having a surgery & the ever increasing desire to look more beautiful and having more youthful skin, both of which are never fully satisfied in spite of increasing spends on beauty care products.

Women of different ages consider these surgeries for different reasons. Fresh graduates, who account for lion’s share of the surgeries undertaken in China, do it predominantly for enhancing their career prospects by building their self esteem (through appearance). A study done by JAMA facial plastic surgery also alludes to this and also suggests that such women also observe an increased level of self efficacy (confidence in ones abilities) compared to before.

The middle aged consumers (25-30 yrs) do it mostly for anti-aging and whitening purposes whilst those who are little older do it for not only anti-aging but also to remove wrinkles, freckles, pigments and bags under their eyes .

Another trend that is also catching up is undergoing cosmetic surgeries abroad. Chinese consumers are also seeking these types of surgeries more and more abroad for both costs as well as safety considerations. According to the Korean Healthcare development institute, in 2012 Chinese consumers accounted for 20% of foreign patients who went to Korea for any medical service and 36% of them sought cosmetic surgery with an average spending of US$1,600. This proportion is only likely to increase given the trends we observe in this market.

With the increasing acceptance and popularity of cosmetic surgery, this industry is only likely to explode in the coming few years with implications for both cosmetic surgeons as well as beauty brands. The need for ‘quick fix beauty’ is increasingly becoming commonplace and more importantly being accepted especially by the younger generations. Beauty brands would do well to think and act on this likely surge of the need for quick fixes. Depending on how they react, this trend would either be a boon or a bane for them.


Article written by Manohar Balivada, Vice President, Ifop, Shanghai  


The rising attractiveness of local brands

The new aspirations of China’s middle class (part 4 out of 4)


Faced with the rising position of China on the world stage and the success of high profile local companies such as Tencent, Alibaba or Xiaomi, the Chinese middle class expresses growing pride and trust in the leadership capabilities of its country in terms of economics and lifestyle, which translates into an increased interest for local brands. These are perceived as much more price competitive and often better distributed across the country than their Western counterparts, faster at taking positions (launching new products, opening points of sales in new places), efficient at adopting communication codes that appeal to the locals and also more and more often innovating. This is what makes the success of Herborist or Inoherb in the field of cosmetics, Haier or Midea in household equipment, BYD in automotive.

As a matter of fact, the middle class emerging in peripheral cities has been less exposed to foreign brands, usually concentrated in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities, than the previous waves of rising middle class. It turns more naturally to local brands in its daily life, even in categories traditionally dominated by foreign players such as beauty products or sports goods.

This growing competition from local brands has become a major issue for international brands in China. Its impact is probably stronger than the slowing growth of GDP on which Western media tend to focus but which does not yet impact the propensity of consumers to get richer. Local brands eat up foreign brands market shares and develop an intimate relationship with consumers, a factor of lasting success. In front of this, the reaction of large international groups sometimes consists in acquiring these new competitors, like when L’Oréal purchased the Chinese leader of beauty masks Magic Holdings, or to develop alliances like Danone with Mengniu in the field of dairy products. But the key trend is there: local brands are progressively developing the attributes of genuine brands, Chinese consumers aspire to consume them and this is changing the rule of the game in the China market.


Article written by Christophe Jourdain, Ifop International Director.

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Beyond present into the future

The new aspirations of China’s middle class (part 3 out of 4)


Access to a higher standard of living allows the Chinese middle class to look further than the present to anticipate and secure the future. Within all population strata keeping healthy is considered the first factor of happiness in life and the share of wallet dedicated to the family’s health increases regularly. Besides, the Chinese middle class has a high tendency to save: in a recent Ifop survey 79% of Chinese declare they save money on a regular basis, and the way they allocate this money is directed in priority towards long term projects such as housing, education of child and retirement. These aspirations carry the upcoming shift of the country towards an economy of services.

Simultaneously, the Chinese middle class is more and more sensitive to some of the negative effects of the consumption society, pollution and food safety in particular. The former has become a major worry in Tier 1 and 2 cities, and the latter is sensitive everywhere but more particularly in Tier 4 cities were the level of supervision by local authorities is perceived as lower and safety equipment more limited. On these matters, the willingness to act at the individual level, notably via more sustainable consumption behavior, is developing essentially in Tier 1 cities and within the younger and culturally more open strata of population. But it will expand further and brands increasingly need to deliver messages and proof of socially responsible actions if they want to stay in touch with the expectations of the rising middle class.


Article written by Christophe Jourdain, Ifop International Director.


A particular relation to health

Boosted by improved standards of living and the development of medical infrastructures, Chinese citizens’ health and life expectancy improved drastically over the last thirty years. But the relationship the population developed to health is complex and has been impacted by repeated incidents in the fields of food safety and access to health services. This article presents some of the main specifics of the Chinese relation to health as observed in recent market research studies conducted among citizens and doctors in large urban areas of the country.


A vision of health deeply rooted in local culture and tradition

How health is approached is a central element of the Chinese culture and way of life. It is greatly influenced by the Taoist philosophy which encourages respecting nature’s life cycles and a nutrition approach that balances yin and yang. But what is really different from what can be observed in most other countries, Western ones in particular, is a holistic, enlarged, inclusive vision of health.

In this vision, mental health and physical health are deeply intertwined, much more associated to one another in people’s mind than elsewhere. The body is approached « outside in » but also « inside out » with the notion that what feeds external signs is before all the inside. In this way, physical appearance, for example skin tone, is handled as much via nutrition and lifestyle (sleep, no sun exposure..) than via cosmetic products applied to the surface of the skin.

In the posture of the Chinese, the notions of prevention, anticipation and harmony are more prevalent than the notion of curing what is not going well. Rhythm of life, nutrition, traditional medicine, feng shui, etc. all contribute to this approach. The population is therefore naturally in a position of anticipated management of one’s health, more than Western people who tend to approach health via a curative angle.

The impact of China’s development model

The rapid growth and opening of China to the outside these past thirty years have had a significant impact on the way citizens approach heath. Pollution and the effects of the environment on one’s organism have become major preoccupations for the Chinese who have become the world’s most worried population about the state of the environment. 53% of them even consider that « the effects of society on environment are so great that it is not possible for people to have an impact at the individual level » (GlobeScan 2012). One simple reason to that: large Chinese cities are amongst the most polluted of the planet and their inhabitants experience the consequences in their daily life. For them, the degradation of the environment is not a theoretical concept but rather an experienced reality with very concrete consequences: micro-particles concentration in the air forcing people to wear masks, water improper for consumption, developing allergies, etc.

The relation of the general public to health is also confronted to Western influence and a lifestyle model – individualized food portions, high in meat, the development of leisure activities, motorized commute, etc. – which impacts local habits. This is considered by the population as both a danger – perturbing ancient habits that have proven benefits – and the opportunity to solve or bypass certain problems specific to the Chinese society, for example in the field of food safety.

This vision is confirmed by doctors who see in two typical signs of the developing consumption society – the rise in pollution and in stress levels – the factors which consequences on citizens’ health will most rise over the next 10 years.

Food safety is a very sensitive issue

Following a number of crisis associated to contaminated food products over the past few years, Chinese consumers show more and more distrust towards the quality of what they eat. They are particularly careful about meat, seafood, fruits and vegetable. And a survey by the Chinese Association for Sciences and Technology shows that 70% of them think genetically modified food is dangerous for heath.

In sensitive segments such as baby food and dairy products, consumer from major cities turn more and more to foreign brands whom they associate to safer production processes and ingredients. Local brands keep an edge when it comes to proximity with consumers and having products that fit local taste.

Here again, the vision of health professionals echoes that of consumers. A very large majority of doctors (77%) consider that the presence of harmful ingredients in food will represent a serious threat to the people’s health in the years to come. This level of concern makes China stand out among 9 countries spread over 3 continents in which Ifop conducted a survey on health concerns.

Tensions about the national health system

Cases of medical staff being physically attacked by patients appear regularly in the news and are being discussed abundantly on social media. As a matter of fact a certain tension has developed between patients and doctors over the past few years, primarily associated to the opacity of the health system, which reforms are badly communicated, as well as to hectic schedules in hospitals.

As a typical example a patient with skin infection recently interviewed by Ifop in Shanghai described: « I don’t think the doctor paid enough attention to my condition. I waited an hour and a half to meet him, we had a 5 minute discussion, he barely checked me out and he handed me a prescription without explaining it. »

Even if the Chinese go to a family doctor on a day-to-day basis, hospitals are the place of choice when one is really ill. Over-attendance of these combined with limited resources contribute to growing tensions.

An evolution towards digital health

In order to take control of their health and alleviate their worries consumers search for information on internet. They share their experiences on numerous discussion platforms or interact directly with local or foreign doctors on dedicated sites such as

The Chinese are very much advanced when it comes to digital habits: very active on social media they are among the world leaders when it comes to e-commerce and mobile application usage. This affinity with digital tools translates in the field of health into the development of online purchases such as on the dedicated Tmall site and growing usage of personal health applications such as Lifesense.

Major healthcare players now ought to take this aspect into consideration to optimize how they communicate with their audience and develop services that bring substantial value to consumers.

Opportunities for French players

In this Chinese health landscape, French companies, especially those in the food industry, services to patients and connected devices have great opportunities to meet the local public. They should not hesitate to display the guarantees of harmlessness and efficacy to which the Chinese are very sensitive. And as always in China, a very diverse country geographically and socio-economically, they should design a segmented approach to their market if they want to be really successful.

Article written by Christophe Jourdain and Chunxiao Huo – Originally published in French in CCIFC’s magazine Connexions