Flaunting It On The Inside: China’s Corruption Crackdown Boosts Sales of Expensive Lingerie

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Sales Increase for Pricey Undergarments as Government Discourages Conspicuous Consumption

Laurie Burkitt and Alyssa Abkowitz report: Call it inconspicuous consumption. Lingerie stores in China are seeing strong sales of $300 bras and other pricey skivvies, defying a broad drop in luxury sales in the vast Chinese market. Italian lingerie maker La Perla—which once struggled to sell $2,000 strapless bustiers and other high-end undergarments in the region—saw sales at its 14 stores in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan jump 42% last year. Last month, La Perla opened a Shanghai men’s boutique, selling $200 silk boxers and $3,000 silk robes.

“I don’t want to overdress. But I don’t mind spending more than 1,000 yuan for a bra.”

— Ms. Zu, who works in pharmaceutical sourcing

Agent Provocateur, a London high-end lingerie company, said sales at the company’s four China boutiques are at least 25% above expectations. An Agent Provocateur saleswoman in a high-end Beijing mall said best sellers include a sheer bra with white-scallop details priced at 1,475 yuan, or about $240, and a 1,940 yuan lacy black bra.

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Consumers like Zu Yujing, a 30-year-old from the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, say spending on luxury clothing for the office or leisure is too ostentatious. But Ms. Zu splurges on custom-made pieces at a Beijing-based lingerie shop called Pillowbook, where she spent about 4,000 yuan on her last shopping spree.

“I don’t want to overdress,” said Ms. Zu, who works in pharmaceutical sourcing. “But I don’t mind spending more than 1,000 yuan for a bra.”

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Chinese consumers—famous for their appetite for designer bags and gold-plated iPhone cases—are now shying away from flashy logos and displays of wealth as a government austerity campaign shames officials who buy them. Sales of luxury goods, which include glitzy jewelry and couture, were down 1% last year in China, according to consulting firm Bain & Co.

But many Chinese appear to be flaunting their wealth under their clothes. Read the rest of this entry »


Taboo in Mainland Schools, Hong Kong Liberal Studies Make Beijing Officials Uneasy

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Officials in Hong Kong and Beijing fear that the unfettered freedom to discuss such topics in Hong Kong’s classrooms has helped breed a generation of unruly and unpatriotic youths

HONG KONG—Isabella Steger writes: High-school students in this city’s mandatory liberal studies class tackle issues that are strictly taboo in mainland Chinese schools—press freedom, civil disobedience and the rule of law.

“The biggest impact of liberal studies is that it encourages students to be much more aware of current affairs,” said Lo Yat-ko, a 30-year-old liberal studies teacher.

“In Hong Kong, we teach critical thinking, not like in China where they teach by indoctrination and memorizing”

— Ng Shun-wing, Hong Kong Institute of Education

That has become a big problem for some officials in Hong Kong and Beijing, who fear that the unfettered freedom to discuss such topics in Hong Kong’s classrooms has helped breed a generation of unruly and unpatriotic youths, and helped inspire the so-called Occupy pro-democracy protests that shook this semiautonomous Chinese city for 10 weeks late last year.

Excerpt: Lessons in Liberal Studies

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An excerpt from a liberal studies textbook explores the merits of street protests in Hong Kong. Photo: Longman New Senior Liberal Studies textbook

In the aftermath of those student-led protests, an education debate is once again brewing in Hong Kong. In November, the city’s Education Bureau launched a three-month review of the city’s school curriculum, the results of which will be announced in July.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in his annual policy address last month that the government would change the current high-school curriculum, with an aim to “reinforce students’ interest in and understanding of Chinese history and culture.” Mr. Leung said the government will also subsidize students to participate in exchange programs with schools on the mainland.

His comments come two years after the Hong Kong government, at Beijing’s behest, attempted to introduce mandatory patriotic education in the city’s schools, drawing accusations of indoctrination and sparking widespread demonstrations that forced the government to back down.

The latest curriculum review risks reigniting a new round of protests, but the government’s resolve for an overhaul appears to have deepened. Hong Kong and Beijing officials have grown more outspoken over school subjects, such as liberal studies, that address controversial topics and emphasize critical analysis.

Excerpt 2: Lessons in Liberal Studies

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An excerpt from a liberal studies textbook discusses the differences between life in Hong Kong and mainland China. Photo: Longman New Senior Liberal Studies textbook

Such topics and teaching methods are off-limits in mainland Chinese schools, which place a more traditional emphasis on rote learning and shun current events that are sensitive to the Communist Party.

Chen Zuoer, former deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said last month that Hong Kong youth needed to have their thinking “repaired” as they have been “brainwashed.”

The problems in Hong Kong’s education system “have now become the seeds of bitter melons and poisonous beans,” said Mr. Chen at a seminar held by a think tank in Beijing, adding that some protesters who were “babies during the handover were…waving the British flag.”

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and has since operated under a separate political system that grants residents far greater freedoms than their mainland counterparts. But some people in the city worry that those freedoms are eroding. Read the rest of this entry »