Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Gay Market in China

By b brian topaz @ http://www.sfgam.com/

Over the past few years, governments and companies all over the world have been scrambling to find the right strategy for getting into the Chinese marketWhy? Because since the late 1970s, China has slowly but surely been transforming a stagnant economy centrally planned by the Communist government into freer open markets.Companies with the right product and strategy may potentially be able to access the largest market in the world with over 1.3 Billion consumers compared with the United States market of under 300 million consumers.The general barriers against entering the Chinese market include language, culture, and government intervention (The US-China trade deficit is over 200 billion dollars. China continues to undervalue its currency to continually boost exports and slow imports. The politicians and diplomats are working on it.)What if someone wanted to tap into the gay market in China? If the generally accepted “Western” statistic of 10% gay can be applied to most populations, this means that the gay market in China is potentially about 130 million consumers. More conservative numbers have been suggested by surveys and educational studies that place the numbers of gays in China at somewhere between 15 and 30 million. Whichever is the case, the potential for high volume revenue is staggering.

However, the barriers for tapping into this niche market are significant and specific to how homosexuals have been treated once the Communist Party since took over mainland China in 1949. The party was controlled by Mao Zedong for decades and his mandate for the conduct of the Chinese people was one of Puritanism. This meant only traditional relationships that led to procreation were allowed with an outright ban on homosexual activity. It was only in 1997 that sodomy was decriminalized as well as “hooliganism” (seeking homosexual sex in public.) And it was only five years ago that homosexuality was removed from the official Chinese list of mental disorders.

Consequently, China has lagged sorely behind in gay civil rights in comparison to countries such as the United States, Canada and those in Europe. China is also different from a few countries in the Pacific region that, if not officially, are unofficially much more tolerant of gay lifestyles such as in the Philippines, Japan, Thailand, and Singapore. Of course there are certain areas in China that are more tolerant than others. As in most cases, urban areas such as Beijing and Shanghai are generally more tolerant than rural areas. This is even truer in Western colonial areas that until recently were previously not under the control by the Community Party such as Macao and Hong Kong.

The good news for gays in China is the onset of information technology. Today, the number one way that gays are informed and communicate with each other as well as the outside world is through the internet. For the majority of gays, the internet is the only way of expressing their homosexuality. However, in recent years, the Chinese government has realized this and has periodically and sometimes permanently shut down many gay-oriented sites on charges of indecency. Also, while this means of communication and information is fine for urban and suburban Chinese gays with moderate to high incomes, millions of poor rural gays are still literally left in the dark.

Another development that could be seen as encouraging to gays in China is the recent official concern of the Chinese government about AIDS. As recently as last week, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a report describing a recent survey of Chinese gays. At the same time, the government has announced a Five-Year plan to address this very important health concern with campaigns specifically targeting gay men.
The Chinese government has acted in large part because of the United Nations mandate on educating the world on issues of HIV/AIDS identification, prevention and treatment. The UN lists China as a country whose progress is slow but moving with the existence of civil involvement.

So, because of UN involvement in HIV/AIDS as a very real threat to China’s health (particularly because many Chinese gay men have been “forced” into straight marriages thus widening the scope of the disease) and China realizing that it is also a threat to the country’s economic well-being, there is a new chance for gays to be recognized as victims of this epidemic, as well as a social reality that needs to be humanely addressed.

While we are waiting for the government to slowly recognize gays in China, how would a company tap into the gay market?

Right now, it seems the best way is to get them where they live. And where they live right now is on the websites. The Chinese government would be more apt to support gay rights if it translates into gay commerce from which the government can get a piece of the action. Once more of these sites transition from purely information and communication to commercial transactions that generate taxable revenue, it will behoove the government to lend any support possible to these gay sites.

What an entrepreneurial company could do is study these sites in detail and ferret out a handle of them with the most potential as far as accessibility, the number of users, format and content. The next step would be to communicate effectively with the website owners or operators and present a products and/or services that would either optimize the functions of the website itself or would be separate consumer items for the website’s users. The best approach would probably be in that order, so that a company offers help and solutions before it offers products or services for sale.The approach that should be utilized in unison to the above is information exchange and networking (meaning people) expansion.

What gays in China need more than anything are resources – to figure out who and what they are, to know it’s okay to be gay, to find others like them, to join others like them in meetings and planned events, and to create a safe and friendly environment in which they can enjoy their lives. Right now, most gays in China do not have any of this.

So, it is incumbent upon those of us on the outside to help gays in China and elsewhere to eventually get where we are, in terms of tolerance and acceptance. In the process, we may be able to offer products and services that they may need or want – and this is a matter of strategic initiative.

If gays in China are reflective of gays in other parts of the world, they are generally better educated and have better incomes than other minorities and thus have more buying power. For example, in the United States, the African-American and Latino-American communities are larger than the Gay-American community. However, the buying power of gays (per capita) is much larger.

Some potential markets that have traditionally been big with gays include gay literature (fiction and non-fiction), gay movies, gay travel (cruises, sight-seeing), music and fashion and accessories, just to name a few.

Once the social and commercial infrastructure is in place, the possibilities of mutual betterment are endless. Progress for gays in China is at the end of the tunnel. Gay-Asian Males have the opportunity to facilitate it through information-sharing as well as commerce.

[The irony of the plight of gays in China is that before the Communist Cultural Revolution, gay lifestyles were generally tolerated, depending on which dynasty was in power, as long as provisions for procreation were involved.]

For more information check out “Homosexuality in China” on Wikipedia.com

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