African selfies and Chinese adaptation

Transsion, a little known Chinese smartphone manufacturer, outsells Samsung and Huawei in Africa by grapping 40 percent of the market with its two brands — Tecno and itel, here. There are two reasons:

“Everyone in the world loves selfie, and African customers are no exception. But it is quite difficult for them to have good pictures, because darker skin makes it difficult for many cameras to recognise their faces.

To solve this problem, Tecno smartphones locate consumers’ face by focusing on their teeth and eyes. It has performed data analysis on African users’ face shapes, colors and their preferences of photo effects to determine how much extra light exposure is needed to lighten up their photos.”

“Due to the poor telecoms infrastructure in Africa, consumers prefer dual SIM cards to ensure effective telecom signals, but most of them can’t afford two handsets. Tecno is one of the first brands to launch dual-SIM-card feature phones there.”

Many African countries have been receiving tons and tons of foods, financial aids and technological assistance from the West after the end of the colonial era. Unfortunately, the economic growth here was disappointing. Some analysts pointed out that one of the problems was probably because the Western instructors imposed their standard or expectation on the African nations, rather than adjust their modules to the extent that they could fit into the various tribes’ customs and biological characteristics. In other words, it is the minor details or micro issues that determine the final outcome.

In the 3rd edition of his book “Globalization and Culture” (2015), Jan N. Pieterse still believes that there are only three paradigms, namely, ‘Clash of Civilizations’, ‘McDonalization’ and ‘Hybridization: Rhizomes of Culture’ [Note 1]. He obviously missed the possibility of Third World’s independent self-development without clash, nor Americanization, nor hybridization. This paradigm means that the external assistance or factors respect and follow the unique features of an indigenous physiological or conceptual feature so that such a feature can develop on its own.

During the initial period of China’s development beginning in the 1980s, China was heavily influenced by Hong Kong’s hybrid culture and then McDonalization. However, the Western influence has been diminishing. From pop music to electric vehicles, from fashion to rockets and alike, China has gained more confidence in shaping a non-Western style of metamorphosis. Based on this lesson, Chinese enterprises are doing something similar in other Third World countries, that is, to adapt rather than to impose.

Ulrich Beck has made a good point on it. He suggests that ‘realistic cosmopolitanism’ can be a feasible alternative to the ‘clash of civilizations’ and Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’. “Cosmopolitanism essentially means recognition of otherness, both externally and internally; differences are neither ranged in a hierarchy nor dissolved into universality, but are accepted” [Note 2].

I believe that the Chinese companies would make many mistakes during the process of assisting their Third World peers on all fronts ranging from infrastructure upgrading to market transformation. We make improvement through trials and errors or, in Deng’s words, “crossing the river by touching the stones”. But so long as the attitude is to adapt to your clients’ cultural and physical needs sincerely and respectfully, the outcomes should be much better than those achieved in the past 50 years.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

[Note 1]
See Ch. 3 in Jan Nederveen Pieterse (2015), “Globalization and Culture: Global Melange”, 3rd edition, NY, London: Rowman & Littlefield.

[Note 2]
Ulrich Beck, “Realistic Cosmopolitanism: How do Societies Handle Otherness”, in David Held & Henrietta L Moore (eds) (2008), “Cultural Politics in a Global Age: Uncertainty, Solidarity, and Innovation”, Oxford: Oneworld Book.

Categories: Manufacturing & Industry

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