It's the shoes

For people who have read Sherman Cochran it is not news that Chinese merchants developed brand names and consumers developed brand loyalty. Cochran mostly focuses on an earlier period (and the medicine business) but Lang Jing looks at the athletic shoe industry.1 Lang is looking at the development of modern athletics in Shanghai. One issue he looks at is how widespread interest in modern athletics was outside of schools and national competitions and such. This is always a hard thing to find out about, but he does show that there must have been some market for Western-style sports in China, as Shanghai had a number of manufacturers of ping-pong equipment, basketballs (basketball assimilated quickly in China) and of course athletic shoes. It was in the shoe industry of course that you see advertising wars. 金刚 (jin gang)2 brand shoes ran ads in the 1940s urging consumers ”勿相信牌子,相信你自己的眼睛“ (don’t trust brand names trust your own eyes) Presumably meaning they should not be taken in by advertising hype. The target of these adds was of course 回力 (Hui Li, Returning Strength), the kingpin of the Chinese shoe industry. The campaign seems to have worked, as 金刚 became a major player in athletic shoes. Perhaps it did not work well enough, however, since 回力 is still around and they are not. 回力has an interesting logo, as you can see below. I don’t think Nike can sue them however, since 回力 has been fighting sneaker wars far longer than Nike has even existed.

Hui Li

  1. 郎淨 “近代體育在上海(1840-1937)” 上海社會 2006 p.361 

  2. Golden Exactly? its hard to translate. It’s also the word used for King Kong 


  1. 金刚 is the translation of “vajra,” adamantine, and would probably have been more familiar to consumers in the name of the Diamond Sutra, 金刚经, than as a transliteration of King Kong.

  2. 金剛, as well as being an adjective meaning what zhwj said, is also a noun, meaning something like “warrior”. That is how it is used in the Chinese title of Transformers: 变形金刚。

  3. It’s funny that you mention athletic shoes because it struck me how most of the university students that I taught at Shanghai University played pick-up basketball in penny loafer-style shoes and jeans. This was in ’02-’05. I wouldn’t be surprised if this has changed significantly. Everything is changing so quickly there.

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