Quality Life Week so much more than material consumption

Wang Yong
Shanghai's weeklong campaign focused on quality life ended yesterday with brisk sales, and the chance for people to experience the city's unique attractions.
Wang Yong

Shanghai’s weeklong campaign focused on quality life ended yesterday with brisk sales, attesting to the city’s business dynamics despite COVID-19’s lingering impact.

The Quality Life Week from May 30 to June 5 featured livestreaming programs covering Shanghai’s special attractions ranging from commercial brands to creative designs to cozy lanes. 

Yesterday’s official estimates put livestreaming sales throughout the week at about 5 billion yuan (US$714 million), boosted by such measures as coupons and on-the-spot celebrity promotions. Of all the products sold, the most popular were cosmetics, clothes, food, home furniture and cultural goods. Hotel and tourism businesses both staged a comeback as well, reaching more than 70 percent of the consumption level for the same period last year.

A sales volume of about 5 billion yuan, though not a small feat for livestreaming programs, isn’t really that big, given about 250 billion yuan of sales last month, which would translate into 63 billion yuan per week. It was about the same for May last year.

But the Quality Life Week went beyond mere material consumption. It boosted the city’s overall image as a place worth coming to, and coming to again, either for its high-quality products, high-caliber services or highly diversified landscapes from modern high-rise buildings to ancient low-lying towns. On the leading short-video platform Douyin alone, videos about the Quality Life Week were broadcast more than 200 million times.

Knews, a local news portal, reported that around 10,000 livestreaming events had been held, spreading the city’s image far and wide.

“It was less about hawking stuff you would usually expect from livestreaming promotions before,” said Knews. “It was more about sharing a host’s experience at a bookstore, a gallery, or a boutique store, completed with instant exchanges with the audience.”

For example, a livestreaming host did not simply sell qipao or cheongsams to the audience. Instead, the host invited a number of women models with different body sizes or shapes to have a try of qipao. All looked nice. The idea was thus spread that everyone could fit into qipao neatly and wear it in daily life.

In another example, a livestreaming host introduced a traditional Chinese musical instrument, without giving any hint for the audience to buy it. The program only aimed at promoting traditional music. According to Shanghai Observer, a local news portal, sales of that instrument did eventually go up on Tmall.com, but the livestreaming host did not nudge anyone to buy.

Qiao Yangliu, a manager of Shanghai No. 1 National Musical Instruments Factory, told Shanghai Observer that livestreaming promotion in the cultural field serves to promote a certain culture, like traditional music, instead of selling just a few products like instruments.

“Only when the cake (of culture) is bigger can we have better expectations in  future,” he said. “Cultural livestream is less about sowing a seed and reaping a fruit than about watering a prairie with a gurgling spring.”

So, what are some of Shanghai's best attractions? What’s your favorite iconic product beyond White Rabbit candies or Dunhuang musical instruments? What is that “thing” that enamors you to the city as a visitor or as a resident?

During the Quality Life Week, the Shanghai Observer randomly asked people about what they thought “quality life” is, and what they spent most on to live up to that “quality life.”

People gave different answers, like “quality life means economic independence” and “I spent most on music study.” 

Thoughtful questions and answers indeed, but the interview did not engage in a discussion of what Shanghai means to everyone as a place of a well-lived life.

Perhaps the words of a retired sportswoman can help shed light on what makes one remember Shanghai. On June 3, former world table tennis champion Deng Yaping visited Shanghai and bought a long-sleeve silk suit for her mother and mother-in-law, respectively. 

“The shopping assistants were very hospitable and professional,” she said in an interview with Xinmin Evening News. “They recognized me but none stopped their work to become an onlooker, even less pushed for sales. They treated every customer with honest, high-caliber service.”

Another thing that impressed Deng was a saleswoman’s practical suggestion as to what size of a silk suit might fit her mother. Xinmin Evening News quoted the sales lady as saying: “Hey, Deng Yaping, I follow your moments on Douyin quite often and have seen you upload your mother’s pictures. I would suggest you buy a larger one for her. The moment we see someone’s figure, we can give an exact size for him or her.”

Such was a typical Shanghai salesperson in the eye of Deng Yaping: honest, hospitable, professional.

Not all salespersons are honest, hospitable or professional, for sure. But, with my limited shopping experience in the city, I would share Deng’s feeling about the general quality of service here.

Shanghai is more than shopping for Deng. It’s part of Jiangnan – regions south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River – that partake a special flavor of nature.

As it was raining harder and harder, Deng suddenly spotted an old man peddling white orchids. She selected a few white orchids, had them ringed with a thin wire, and wore them on her clothes.

It was a flavor of her childhood. It was the fragrance of her mother, who is from Wuxi City, also part of Jiangnan, about two hours’ drive from Shanghai. About one month ago, she thought to buy some white orchids but could not find any in Beijing where she lives. She does not wear jewelry, nor does she do her nails, but she likes white orchids the most. It’s a flavor of home, of family, of love.

As the Yangtze River Delta region becomes increasingly integrated – linked by ever more and speedier trains – Shanghai will likely find herself attracting more and more homesick people – not necessarily because Shanghai is their hometown, but because it makes them feel at home.

Deng’s short visit to Shanghai coincided with the Quality Life Week. For those who missed the event offline, do come next time to see for yourself what the city’s like – its people, its flavor.

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