China

China Reframed: Wellness in Unexpected Places

[Modern Sky Lab in Shanghai has swapped the dance floor for beds. Source: Xiaohongshu] 

 A nightclub with beds isn’t an entirely new concept, but in Shanghai, it reflects a way of people normalising pleasure in unexpected places in China today. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a gradual but significant shift of how Chinese youth think about life, achievement and wellbeing. From the “involated” (内卷) generation, lying flat and opting out of the seemingly endless rat race; to the rise and fall of the “996 work culture”; and most recently, this evolved to a more pragmatic “45-degree life”, a middle ground that balances working hard and letting ourselves relax. 

It’s more than work-life balance – it’s a bigger shift of how people in China define “a good life” and how we aspire to lead our lives. People are moving from hardcore work or fitness routines, highly restrictive diets to treating health & wellbeing as a lifelong pursuit. The approach is to make these behaviours sustainable and enjoyable over time.  

From chasing achievement to finding everyday balance 

In China, it can feel radical to prioritise pleasure, but increasingly it is like an act of self-actualisation and expression of freedom. Indulgent moments are often thought of as something that is special or something that should be limited. But this is getting reframed in China as something that is essential for our health and wellbeing, in the every day.  

An early cultural signal of this shift in mindset, came with the term “punk health” back in 2017, a seemingly oxymoronic concept that became widely adopted by urban youth in China. But it signifies a practical shortcut to a balanced lifestyle, expressed by pairing a vice with a healthy ingredient: goji berries in beer, ginseng infused coffee, staying up all night but eating royal jelly or bird’s nest soup would make us feel better. 

Five years into “punk health”, the erstwhile trendy term may be fading but the idea of taking life more casually and acknowledging the human body’s physical limits has become more relevant. Pleasure is normalised and we are leaning into experiences that slow us down, fortifying our daily life.  

What does this mean for brands? 

Needs are shifting from extreme compartmentalised healthy behaviours to solutions that empower, feed the mind, body and soul.  People are seeking a new balance in pleasure, energy and nourishment that can stay on as a lifestyle, as opposed to a fad. Food & beverage brands have been quick to deliver this need by offseting “bad behaviours” and encouraging the consumption of more holistic, tasty food that doesn’t deprive the soul of the joy of eating / drinking. Many such products take cues from traditional Chinese medicine, but with sleek and contemporary   branding.  

[(From left) Chocoday, Buff, Ye Yu Cha] 

But this insight does not just apply to F&B category. At Space Doctors, we advise businesses in China to take this shift in cultural approach into account while thinking of planning for this new aspiration via brand purpose, communication, product or experience you offer:  

  • How can brands empower consumers in their quest for a more balanced, sustainable and healthy lifestyle that embraces the need to work hard, but also search for empowering solutions that bring in balance?  
  • With benefits and claims, it isn’t just about fortification or removal of nasties, the language of 2x or ‘anti-x’. Claims are moving towards a more proactive improvement of health, addressing a more systemic approach. 
  • Multi-sensorial experiences that enable more active stimulation, pampering, pleasure, rest, rejuvenation are sought after virtually and
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