Recently during ethnographic fieldwork in Beijing, I had the pleasure of revisiting the traditional neighborhoods, the famously narrow hutong alleyways. As part of this journey, it was interesting to see the prominence of two modern brands within the daily life amongst these old parts of the city.
Personally, the hutong alleyways of Beijing (that are sadly are always facing the hammer of modern development) are an authentic representation of the ‘life of Beijingers’ – a city culture, that has its own lifestyle, and own dialect of Chinese. Lucky, as a student at Beijing Institute of Technology back in the early 90s, learning this local tongue came as a natural part of ‘growing up in China’ – learnt through one hilarious conversation after another, and part of an genuine desire to understand what made these neighbourhoods tick.
For a fascinating and emotional insight into traditional Beijing life, Zhang Yang’s “Xi Zao” (Shower) is a very worthwhile film, which will enlighten but also bring to a tear to your eye.
Brands who make themselves part of hutong life – JD.com
In the hutongs, moving around is always a skillful process. In ridiculously narrow alleys, you must negotiated moving cars, parked cars, bikes, scooter, three-wheelers, pedestrians and course, the locals who make the hutongs their homes.
As part of the crazy myriad of traffic, JD.com is visually prominent by sponsoring the carriage of the numerous three-wheeler motorbikes that are used to transport goods around the neighbourhood. JD.com is one of the two biggest B2C sites in China alongside Aligroup’s Tmall.com.
This is a very clever from the brand, as if you needed a ‘litmus test’ of your ability to deliver – then the narrowness of the hutongs is surely it. Even for those that do not live in the hutongs – the idea of seeing JD.com in these nooks and crannies, does suggest the brand logistically ‘goes the extra mile to deliver’.
Another brand that is part of hutong life – Nestle
Walking around the hutongs, another brand that was part of local life was Nestle. The brand was the predominant provider of water containers to local houses, where they were used with water dispensers. The loading stations, that were in fact hutong houses, are still a regular sight in these neighbourhoods. This has allowed the brand to gain a unique level of trust, that has created positive local associations to Nestle’s wider range of family and nutritional products.
See below some more photos I took in-between some fascinating ethnographic sessions