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The Zen effect in China: Three Buddhism-inspired consumer trends
How does Buddhism, the mental therapist for modern Chinese, fuel consumption and impact investment landscape?
Amid the sluggish economic environment in China, temple visits have emerged as an unexpected haven for young individuals seeking solace and tranquility. Beyond their traditional religious significance, these sacred spaces have evolved into centers of spiritual respite, attracting a diverse range of visitors, including young urbanites, weary professionals, and curious travelers. As the allure of temple visits grows, so does their impact on consumer behavior and investment landscapes.
How Buddhism soothes the anxious hearts of Chinese youth?
Amidst the staggering challenges of high youth unemployment rates, Chinese youngsters are navigating a tumultuous path to secure their future. They strive to secure positions in the public sector through highly competitive entrance exams (the National Civil Service Examination had a record 2.597 million candidates in 2023 but a recruitment ratio of 70:1), while some intentionally delay graduation to maintain their "fresh graduate" status, making it easier to find jobs with lower recruitment criteria. Others choose to apply for master's degrees at universities ranked lower than their undergrad schools to maximize their chances of getting admitted.
The popular phrase "Getting ashore (上岸)" gains momentum on social media, representing the triumphant moment of conquering challenges and achieving their goals. Yet, the journey to success is filled with uncertainties.
In this climate of uncertainty, Buddhism becomes a comforting placebo for the anxious souls. Crowded among temple-goers, they face the Buddha statue, closing their eyes in devotion, making heartfelt wishes amidst the hazy incense smoke. As they open their eyes, they find solace within their hearts despite the perplexing fate and fierce competition. Social media sentiment about anxiety and temple visits intertwines, reflecting the growing desire for peace and tranquility, according to BigOne Lab.
The influence of Buddhism extends far beyond the confines of temples. On Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, @释慧海, the abbot of Pu Zhao Chan Temple in Zhejiang, has become a comforting presence for many with his encouraging and reassuring posts and tranquil temple surroundings in the videos. With an astounding 12.28 million followers and 230 million likes (as of August 1, 2023), he serves as a spiritual guide for the restless hearts of his audience.
Among his posts, one message resonates strongly with 740,000 likes: "Don't complain that studying is arduous, for it is the very path that unveils the world to you.", which evidently targets students. In this harmonious blend of ancient tradition and modernity, Buddhism provides a beacon of hope to soothe the souls of anxious Chinese youth.
In this article, we will explore three consumer trends boosted by the temple-visit:
On-site consumptions at temples: creative souvenirs, surprise box draws, buddhism-inspired coffee…
Secrets behind Mount Emei (00888.SZ), one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains in China, with its share price outperforming the A-share market and tourism thematic index
Guess which are the top brands adored by temple-goers (one of which is Disney - astonishing at first glance!) and the listed companies riding the waves of temple-visit derivatives.
How temple visits boost consumption?
No. 1: On-site consumptions at temples: combining spirituality with creativity
Temples, rooted in ancient Chinese society, have ingeniously woven themselves into modern culture and consumption, giving rise to fresh and enticing consumer experiences and products that seamlessly blend tradition with the contemporary world.
Lingyin Temple’s "Eighteen Seeds (十八籽)bracelet”, Yonghegong Temple's "Incense Ash Luster Bead Bracelet (香灰琉璃手串)" , and Da Bao'en Temple's "Cyberpunk" Buddha statue are among the popular items frequently featured in the "Internet-famous check-in" trend. Moreover, various new marketing tactics, such as cultural integration, creative souvenirs, and surprise box draws, have been creatively adopted by major temples. These items are so popular that people often need to wait in line for hours to purchase them.
Inside Hangzhou's Yongfu Temple, Sn Sn relishes her "Purify Troubles Americano" while seizing the moment with photos for her check-in. It's intriguing that despite coffee being an emblem of Western culture, Yongfu Temple has tastefully integrated it into their offerings, featuring not only the "Purify Troubles Americano" but also options like "Listen to the Mountain Matcha Latte" and the enticing "Karmic Coffee Surprise Box." The Zen-inspired names of these coffee choices infuse them with a profound meaning, attracting countless young people to embrace the soothing idea.
No. 2: Emei Shan Tourism (00888.SZ): profiting from tourism recovery and temple popularity
Connecting the dots between temple visits and consumer experiences, the flow of crowds into these sacred spaces has sparked a business boom for temple thematic stocks, as exemplified by the impressive performance of Emei Shan Tourism (aka Mount Emei) (00888.SZ). Supported by its infrastructure upgrades (including cableway and highway construction), Mount Emei attracted a great influx of tourists in 2023.
According to Mount Emei‘s disclosure, during the "May Day" holiday, driven by compensatory demand and improved transportation, Mount Emei city received a total of 690,200 tourists, generating tourism revenue of RMB 684million, an increase of 97% and 68%, respectively, vs 2019. Among them, the Mount Emei Scenic Area alone received a total of 187,484 tourists during the "May Day" holiday, a significant increase of 86% vs 2019.
The stock performance of Emei Shan Tourism (00888.SZ) has reflected investors’ higher expectation for its quicker and stronger tourism recovery, out-beating the CSI Tourism Thematic ETF and CSI 300 index.
No. 3: Temple-visit derivatives: Disney, Honor of King and soaring gold jewelry sales
According to BigOne-tracked user profile data on Xiaohongshu, It's intriguing that temple tour enthusiasts also share an affinity for two seemingly distinct brands - Disney and Honor of Kings. While finding emotional solace in temples, they also immerse themselves in the enchanting realm of Disney and the virtual kingdom of Honor of Kings (Tencent, 0700.HK).
A temporary respite from the burdens of life
Lina Bell has been continuously popular over the past two years, and the ticket prices at Shanghai Disneyland have increased fourfold in the last seven years since opening. This enchanting realm of Disney offers young Chinese (not only families and children) a vibrant and captivating playground, filled with imagination and boundless possibilities.
Honor of Kings is Tencent (0700.HK)'s hit mobile MOBA game with real-time battles and a wide selection of legendary heroes. It once set the hearts of elementary school students ablaze with excitement. Its most remarkable trait is the ability to deliver an instant thrill, reaching a satisfying climax within a short span of time (say 20 minutes). It's a perfect fusion of fast-food culture and adrenaline-pumping experiences, offering a fiery combination that captivated young players.
Temples, Disneyland, and Honor of King - they all provide a momentary escape from the mundane realities of life, though in various forms.
Gold sales soaring among the young: daily blessings on the wrist
Gold, traditionally valued by the elderly, has experienced a surge in popularity among the younger generation. Driven by their desire for value protection and good luck, the consumption intention for gold jewelry among Gen Z has risen from 16% in 2016 to an impressive 59% in 2021, making it the age group with the highest potential, according to the "2022 China Gold Jewelry Industry Insight Report" by MobTech. The surge in social media sentiment for gold since 2021 has significantly pushed up retail gold prices.
Beneficiary of gold fashion trend: Chow Sang Sang (0116.HK)
Chow Sang Sang (0116.HK), a jewelry company in Hong Kong, has reaped the benefits of this gold fashion trend. The company recorded a remarkable 46% and 54% YoY growth in 2023Q1 and Q2, respectively, outperforming the overall jewelry category and online consumption. Introducing the Charme product series of bracelet products, symbolizing changing fortune, proved to be a success for the brand, delivering a 124% YoY growth in June 2023.
The first time I pondered the integration of tradition and modern civilization was during my high school days when I read Yu Qiuyu's "Endless Journey," a Chinese writer's travelogue of Europe. In his book, he wrote about a century-old ham factory in Spain, where they carefully preserved the salt used to cure the hams each year and mixed it with new salt for the following year's production. Tradition, he wrote, is not a stagnant relic of the past; it should evolve with the times and cultural changes.
While writing this article, I recalled this story once again, realizing that the Chinese consumer market can both embrace overseas cultures and bloom new inspirations within its classical heritage. Chinese consumers are open to buy into these narratives, intertwining emotions and sentiments into their daily consumption. I could palpably sense a vibrant life force pulsating within it.
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