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Dama dames: China's secret weapon

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2013-11-30 00:33

<EM>Dama</EM> dames: China's secret weapon

<EM>Dama</EM> dames: China's secret weapon

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<EM>Dama</EM> dames: China's secret weapon

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<EM>Dama</EM> dames: China's secret weapon

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Middle-class matrons do not make big money, but to a large extent they control the nation’s spending. Now, they are even influencing global financial markets.

In the mid-1980s, before I enrolled in a US business school, I noticed a print ad in the Chinese press. It was from United Airlines, if I'm not mistaken, and featured a middle-aged Chinese lady in the center of the design. She was not a fashionable woman, mind you, just someone average.

"Gee, this is not the kind of person who can make this kind of purchase," I told myself. At that time, flying to the US was miles too expensive for most Chinese. Even if a family was sending a kid to the States for graduate study, it would probably be the price — and price alone — that was the determining factor.

At Haas School of Business, I used this ad as an example of a US company using American logic to sell to a Chinese clientele. Yes, the image was of a quintessential Chinese woman, but Chinese with money at the time did not want to be identified with a typical Chinese woman of little glamour. It would have been so much more natural and attractive to feature a young American woman, a supermodel type, in the ad, as I suggested in my international marketing class.

It has turned out that UA was 20 years ahead of their time in that advertising detail. The typical Chinese lady — middle-aged and middle-class — has of late been making waves in world financial markets. The group is called Chinese dama and for the lack of an accurate English equivalent even the mainstream Western press has been using the easily pronounceable dama.

Dama literally means "big mama", but one should refrain from adding an African-American accent to it. It is an affectionate term in the vein of "aunty", which can be addressed to any middle-aged woman whether you are related to her or not. The male equivalent is dashu (uncle, not "big daddy"). And it has nothing to do with the person's physique.

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