Accepted paper:

Peony and the rose: social change and fragrance marketing in China bath market


Chow Wah Chan

Paper short abstract:

With data on the Chinese bath market, I present the relationship between social change and fragrance preference in China challenging the linear history of fragrance common in the fragrance industry.

Paper long abstract:

Smell is one of the senses to understand the world around us. Despite its importance, it is the least understood of our senses and one of the least researched in anthropology. I present how European centric fragrance profiles were able to dominate the market not only in China but the rest of Asia Pacific as evidenced by the market share of Lux the leading beauty bath brand in China and Asia Pacific. This is despite the fact that the sensory culture of the west has shifted in favor of a vision centric culture at the expense of other sensory modes including that of the smell. (Classen Constance, 1993) It is thus remarkable that western fragrance preferences have been able to exert itself via bath products in Asia especially when cultures such as in China have a long unbroken tradition of fragrance appreciation as shown in poetry, arts and even tea appreciation. In 2007, a Chinese brand Liushen defeated Lux to become the most popular beauty bath product brand in China. This, I proposed is a result of social capital accumulated from preceding decades of economic and social development. The data challenges the linear history of fragrances commonly used in the fragrance industry that sees the west as the center diffusing and export trends to the rest. I propose a parallel history of fragrances and understanding the ways in which social forces propel these non-western profiles into products and public consciousness.

panel P26
Anthropology in the material world