In recent years city branding seems to have reached new heights in China, with prestigious events such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 2010 Shanghai EXPO and recent 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games paving the way.
City branding strategies aim at improving reputation and making a city appear more interesting and attractive. It is often based on a function that the city is famous for or services it provides. Likewise it is also used when a city needs to change its image, reduce negative prejudice held against it etc. As China has fast-forwarded evolution within the last three decades it is more than eager to get the recognition from the so-called ‘West’. It is not only about showing how prosperous of a modern society the country has become, but influenced by the western view and opinion, also how ‘civilized’ China is. Just to make it clear, China is very proud of being Chinese, and there is a strong national pride, however the national pride becomes shaken when dealing with peculiarities about the society, which are special and sometimes appear a bit strange or funny for the outsider. To keep face and escape western arrogance China has in periods chosen to act as it is not China, situations where image is more important than reality.
During the EXPO 2010 Shanghai tried to do its best to appear as a globalised world city. In order to make the streetscape appear ‘clean’ much of the local flavor was either banned or forced away. A custom that can be seen in Shanghai are people wearing pajamas outdoors on the streets. This is a tradition showing that one is local to the community. You wear your day-pajama in your neighborhood, and would not consider wearing it across town. Well before EXPO this custom was banned. It was not considered to be good branding when local customs amused tourists.
Another implementation was to keep informal street vendors away from the Bund area, the city’s waterfront banking district. Street vendors apparently do not fit within the image of the modern city, as they are a strong reference to aspects of developing countries.
There are numerous examples how image is more important than reflecting actual condition. Some of the more absurd images being distributed around the web are from Guangzhou 2010 Asian Games where walkways for blind have been painted on the ground, instead of implemented so they could be tangible detected, and where fake balconies have been mounted and windows have been painted on a building in order to make it more appealing.
Since EXPO is over the street vendors around the Bund are back. It seems like people are enjoying their services, and that it does not bother anyone that they are present in the streetscape.
I have heard the notion ‘Chinatownation’ used for the view upon how foreigners picture China. A view based on experiences with Chinese only from how a China Town in the West appears. Is globalization dictating a worldview that is streamlined to fit a Western culture? Are we through our attitude in the ‘West’ influencing the rest of the world with our way of life to such extend where local cultures are feeling humiliated by keeping their own identity?