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JD.com, the organizer of major Chinese shopping holiday 618, is using the occasion to promote products tied to the country’s intangible cultural heritage products ahead of Cultural and Natural Heritage Day on June 12. 

What is JD.com?

Full name: Jingdong is a Chinese e-commerce giant headquartered in Beijing. Backed by tech titan Tencent, JD.com is a hub for international and domestic brands, and is the main rival to Alibaba which owns Tmall and Taobao. 

What is 618?

An annual shopping bonanza that takes place on June 18th originally launched in 2004 to celebrate the company’s anniversary. It now sprawls across most of June with all of China’s major e-commerce companies vying for consumer attention with deals and promotions. 

What is intangible cultural heritage?

A term promoted by UNESCO that serves as a companion to historic monuments and museum objects, and encompasses inherited traditions including folk songs, embroidery, and ceramic techniques. Protecting, promoting, and seeing intangible cultural heritages officially recognized by UNESCO has been of keen importance to Chinese authorities. According to the Ministry of Culture, the country boasts 1372 “national-level” intangible cultural heritages, 42 of which are recognized by UNESCO.  

Why does it matter?

Lots at the auction include thousands of cultural heritage products ranging from Yixing clay teapots (left) to landscape paintings (right, by Zhao Liuchun). Images: JD.com

As Chinese authorities continue to burnish the country’s cultural heritage as a means of building national pride, its e-commerce companies are leveraging the increased public interest in heritage products to generate revenue.  

In the run up to June 12, JD.com has driven traffic to cultural products through a promotional sale on its auction site focused on more than 2,000 intangible cultural heritage products. This involves livestream sales, flash sales, and group buying — a practice platform Pinduoduo popularized in the late 2010s. Alibaba, the aforementioned Pinduoduo, and short-video platform Douyin have followed suit. 

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What does this mean practically speaking? It means JD.com has devoted an entire section of its platform for selling goods connected to traditional Chinese heritage predominantly created by craft workshops. This ranges from landscape paintings and calligraphy works to furniture and wood carvings. Take Yixing clay teapots (known in Chinese as “Purple Sand Teapots”) as an example. JD.com has worked with 100 master craftsmen from Yixing and is selling around 7,500 local products in auction. The government may tout the virtues of Chinese intangible cultural products to generate pride and improve the fortunes of China’s non-urban artisans, but for the likes of JD.com, promoting them simply makes good business sense.

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