Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

China firms splurge on year-end parties [Straits Times]


Prosperity in China over austerity elsewhere in the global climate?

Chinese New Year parties have been a traditional part of business life, but they have arguably like many facets of Chinese-ness, changed with the times.

China’s wealthy firms are now seen milking more mileage with from their corporate year-end parties (nianhui). Evidenced by a growing number of increasingly wealthy companies as platforms to boost their public image and relations with government officials and suppliers, perhaps it is only natural some of them try to push the envelope to outdo one another.

In the spotlight: we start to see porn stars despite pornography being banned in the country (A quick VANCL: Porn star Sora Aoi pops by clothing seller’s AGM, Want China Times, Jan 18 2012). China’s top search engine Baidu notably held their European-themed party at a Beijing stadium on Jan 7 with 15,000 staff from across the country in attendance. Veteran rock singer Chyi Chin also appeared.

– – –

China firms splurge on year-end parties
But controversial guests, obligatory performances attract rising criticism
By Kor Kian Beng
Source – Straits Times, published Jan 25, 2012

Baidu co-founder and chairman Robin Li (centre), dressed in European court attire, performing with employees at the Chinese online search giant’s year-end party recently. — PHOTO: CHINA DAILY

WHEN China’s top search engine Baidu started holding Chinese New Year parties after its launch in 2000, they were cosy banquets for its staff to mingle and have some fun, much like the dinner-and-dance events in Singapore.

But this year, the company’s party was anything but simple. Held at a Beijing stadium on Jan 7, the glitzy affair was attended by 15,000 staff from across the country, and featured performances by Taiwanese singer Chyi Chin.

Such transformations of China’s corporate annual year-end parties – called nianhui in Mandarin – are becoming common, as a growing number of increasingly wealthy companies turn these events into platforms to boost their image.

These days, it is common for companies to offer expensive sports cars or substantial stock options as lucky draw prizes, or compel their staff to perform elaborate song-and-dance items.

But some of these parties, which are held usually in the lead-up to Chinese New Year, have in recent years appeared overly extravagant, ludicrous – and plain vulgar.

Online fashion retailer Vancl found itself embroiled in controversy when it invited Japanese porn actress Sora Aoi to its Chinese New Year party last week.

As she stepped onto the stage at the China National Convention Centre to scribble some Chinese calligraphy, the voluptuous starlet was hugged by several corporate honchos, including Vancl’s chief executive Chen Nian, and Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi’s chief executive Lei Jun.

The photos and video footage went viral online, drawing heavy criticism and causing a huge stir in a society where most still regard pornography as a taboo subject.

‘I was speechless when I saw the pictures,’ wrote Shanghai commercial consultant Xu Li on his Sina Weibo microblog. ‘With what Aoi represents, will people connect her with the host? Did the company do any market research before carrying out such a public stunt?’

Other parties have drawn flak for controversial performances.

Ms Liu Dong, 23, a human resources employee at Baidu, became an overnight celebrity after photos of the busty beauty taking part in a fashion parade at its party this year were posted online.

Smitten netizens heaped praise on Ms Liu, who looks like Taiwanese model Lin Chi-ling, and offers were reportedly made by advertisers, prompting Baidu to come out to say it is helping her cope with the sudden fame.

For most employees, however, having to perform at a nianhui – or to organise one – is the worst part.

Some find the burden extremely stressful, especially if they are obliged or pressured to pay top money for costumes, props and ideas to impress their bosses.

Indeed, two-thirds of some 2,200 people polled by the China Youth Daily recently said they feared the year-end parties. One of the biggest sources of stress was having to perform: Many just did not want to, or felt they were being forced into it.

Ms Wang Yan, a manager at the Bank of China, said she was one of the lucky ones. Her company’s parties are usually uncomplicated affairs: A sit-down dinner, some simple games and a lucky draw.

But she recounted to The Straits Times an anecdote of a friend whose insurance company laid down a rule that only staff clad in tight, black tops could enter the venue.

Said Ms Wang, who is in her mid-20s: ‘I found it hilarious. How are you going to enjoy yourself at the party if you are forced to wear something you don’t like?’

At least the lucky draw prizes at many of the nianhui are usually lavish, if not altogether extravagant. The Web is replete with accounts of companies giving away Porsches and BMWs, or cash prizes of up to 100,000 yuan (S$20,000).

Observers say many companies are going wilder with their nianhui because bosses want to milk more mileage from the parties – either to spot talent among their staff, or to boost their public image and relations with government officials and suppliers.

Some employers also probably believe that a good party and generous lucky draw prizes could win their staff’s loyalty – and make up for poor wages and bad management.

Some critics decry the trend as a threat to morality. Others warn that an overly wild party could run afoul of public morals and even backfire on a company’s reputation and business.

Said Professor Hu Xingdou of the Beijing Institute of Technology: ‘Companies could consider holding themed parties that would also fulfil their social obligations, such as in environmental protection, charity and intellectual property.’

But there are also a few, like Renmin University sociologist Zhou Xiaozheng, who say people should let their hair down and see these parties are pure, harmless fun.

He said: ‘It’s fine as long as what they do does not violate the law or go against economic development and social stability.’

Background Story //

‘With what Aoi represents, will people connect her with the host? Did the company do any market research before carrying out such a public stunt?’ asked Shanghai commercial consultant Xu Li on his Sina Weibo microblog. He was referring to online fashion retailer Vancl’s year-end party last week, during which Japanese porn star Sora Aoi (far right) appeared on stage and was hugged by several corporate honchos, including (from left) Vancl’s chief executive Chen Nian and Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi’s CEO Lei Jun.

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Filed under: Chinese Model, Culture, Domestic Growth, Lifestyle, Modernisation, Social, Straits Times, The Chinese Identity

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