Editorial - Feeling nostalgic for the good old days?
Nostalgic feelings are the expression of a longing for the past. Such longing is not necessarily directed towards one’s past. Actually, it appears that a considerable amount of nostalgia is plainly transposed to a cultural and historical imaginary.
There are several reasons why such a feeling would rise. Daily sensorial experiences with movies, places, music, smells, and objects, in general, can easily trigger nostalgic feelings. A core reason for such feeling to arise appears to be dissatisfaction with the living present. Consequently, different generations, with their own unique framework, appear to be bound to crave different (mostly) imaginary pasts.
Woody Allen, in his movie Midnight in Paris (2011) depicted how such a situation tends to lead to a “golden age thinking”. Nostalgia for the past is a phenomenon that continuously repeats itself, generation after generation: as the present differs, so it appears that the imagination of the desired past also changes. A Chinese woman in 2022 may be craving the stability of a planned economy with affordable state-housing policies, but a Chinese woman in 1960 might long for an even more remote past.
However, it appears that such a longing for the past is particularly strong in societies where contemporary dissatisfaction with one’s life is overwhelming. In the case of China, several studies conclude that the market economy and consumerist society, which inevitably led to growing individualism, is particularly propitious to nostalgia.
As expected, marketing itself is not overlooking such phenomenon, and for sure is determined to profit the most out of it. Daxue Consulting, a consulting company based in China, funded qualitative and quantitative research in Chinese society to understand the particular factors that can trigger nostalgic feelings. Such an endeavor was prompted by the rising of “nostalgic marketing,” a marketing strategy that is particularly targeting young Chinese adults:
“this generation has the strongest spending power. They live a faster-paced and more urbanized life than their parents. The pressure of their lifestyles brings certain pressures, insecurities, and anxieties. In a capitalist society people often consume goods to make themselves feel better. Nostalgia takes us to a simpler place where we experience life as a child again, a time in our lives where we knew we were loved and felt more secure.”1
According to the same report, young adults posting on social media their photos wearing old high school uniforms are a rising trend. An increase in sales of childhood animated figures (Chinese and foreigners alike) follows the trend. Other studies claim that the increment in Chinese series and movies, based on Chinese Classical and Imperial times share the nostalgic framework. And from time to time, traditional clothing (汉服 hanfu) and hairstyles transcend social media platforms and are seen in the Shanghai subway too.
We do not have an interest in contributing to marketing strategies. However, as a social phenomenon, nostalgia should not be overestimated. Accordingly, the topic of “nostalgia” will be the cornerstone of the research in our April Issue.
From nostalgia in fashion trends and photography, passing through Chinese Spring Festival Gala and Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book in antique stores, towards the touristic water “old” towns, April brings a rainy Chinese nostalgia to ChinaNauts.
References / To go further
“Market Tidbits transcript #6: Nostalgia marketing in China,” Daxue Consulting, last modified January 18, 2021, https://daxueconsulting.com/market-tidbits-transcript-nostalgia-marketing-in-china/.