What’s behind the Country Bumpkin trend in China?
Jing Daily’s monthly Chinese Collabs column examines China-related collabs and drops that are transforming the retail landscape. From local fashion brands to C-beauty, virtual idols to NFTs, and KOLS to lifestyle and gaming, Jing Daily offers a curated selection of what’s hot and the trends behind them. The column also features in Jing Daily’s bi-weekly newsletter Collabs and Drops – a 360-degree portrayal of the world of collaboration.
The success of Alexander Wang’s latest campaign proves, once again, that understanding the nuances of Chinese culture can really pay off. In it, Wang cleverly tapped into the country’s growing fascination with the “tuwei” or “rube” trend known in Mandarin as “土潮,which is at the center of this month’s CChinese Collabs column.
The ability of niche styles to rock never fails to surprise, but the rollout of mainland China’s “country bumpkin” style, with local characteristics, of course, will raise more than an eyebrow. The buzzword Internet has a multitude of definitions and interpretations; from something that is considered tacky or very tacky to something that is outdated or out of trend. Add to that, it can evoke feelings of nostalgia, a fact that plays particularly well with millennial and older Gen Zers.
For these reasons, it has a lot of flexibility for the interpretation of luxury houses as well as the potential to send products, campaigns and businesses viral. Adam Knight, co-founder of cross-cultural agency, Tong recounts Daily Jing“If I had to pinpoint why it resonates, I’d say the way these aesthetically pleasing jars make consumers feel like they’re subverting the mainstream, while paying homage to their favorite logos.”
The collaboration between Lucky coffee x Yeshu Coconut Group, who has taken the country by storm, offers a glimpse of the craze more generally. The first is known for its high-end branding, but the latter is known for its extremely rustic, ruby, and vulgar visual style. It is therefore not surprising that a game in which citizens combine packaging characters into humorous phrases is trending on Weibo and Xiaohongshu.
Its co-branded product, Yeyun Latte (coconut milk latte), sold over 660,000 cups on its first day and sparked heated discussions on social media. With three unique hashtags and countless organic hashtags, some with hashtags, some without hashtags, some with only pictures, many chatter around the campaign focused on the line between being too “tu” or “chao” (fashionable).
When it comes to luxury, Xiaolei Gu, director of innovation consulting at global innovation agency Fabernovel, says that “being rube” works when it comes to creating contrast as to how that label or product is perceived. This means that one name has emerged as an undisputed leader in “tuwei” culture – Balenciaga.
“If we want to see rube campaigns, then I think Balenciaga is the king in the minds of Chinese consumers,” Gu says. In fact, the ruby symbol (土) is actually like that of Balenciaga (土). Even so, it didn’t always work out for the provocative house – it was the Valentine’s Day (Qixi Festival) campaign in 2020 that received floods of negative feedback.
Maybe it’s worth collaborating with a local name then for safer results. For a Chinese designer, there’s the football-inspired campaign of Kappa x Xander Zhou, which plays on the nostalgia associated with the rube style. “Football is hugely popular in China and associated with this golden age of the Italian football team,” Gu continues. “This is what we call 时代的印记 or the mark of a generation.”
Kappa has smartly pursued its mission of harnessing young local names, as explained in a recent WeChat comment – which ironically shows how rube style can elevate a product: “Kappa should thank Xander Zhou for making his sportswear more upscale.”
An integral part of that popularity, Gu reminds us, is its power to unlock “collective childhood memories,” which were mostly formed during a consumer explosion many witnessed in the late 80s and 90s. in China.
A collaboration that reactivates this is the fortuitous IP link between the national makeup brand Girlcult x Sesame Street, the popular American children’s television show. Although the packaging shows off the cute characters, the product name also alludes to the rudeness and discordant quality that rube thrives on: in Chinese, “口吐芬芳” originally means “the fragrance that comes out of his month” as a compliment, but now it’s also meant to “curse someone” on social media. And, aside from various compliments, there’s also been a bit of backlash that Girlcut is simply “pursuing traffic.”
The rube, or country bumpin, trend is not without its challenges, but today it permeates the consciousness of Chinese consumers, especially in lower-tier cities and among consumers with low to medium purchasing power. And, as Knight reminds us, this demographic has always been hard to reach. As first-tier cities begin to outgrow market saturation, their importance will only grow. Therefore: “Luxury should be open to whatever works.”