For the celebration of the 50th anniversary of France-China diplomatic relations, a Horse Dragon (龙马) automaton was sent to Beijing, where it took part in a performance with a giant mechanical spider near the Olympic site.
These robots were designed and operated by a French production company based in Nantes.
Longma (horse dragon) is not the first automaton to originate from Nantes. This French city has become the home of similar projects since 1989, when the association Royal de Luxe launched “Le Géant” (the Giant). The Giant’s family has since extended with the creation of a Giant’s daughter and a Giant’s grandma (in 2014). More automatons, including an elephant and some spiders, were born on Nantes’ piers. These structures have become symbols of Nantes and are also city ambassadors traveling to Liverpool, Yokohama, and now Beijing.
Can Chinese cities be branded?
City authorities can no longer aim solely for improving their residents’ living standards, they also need to become attractive to visitors and investors, and so they create their own brands. This branding is necessary because of the increasing competition among cities.
Earlier this year, Per Olof Berg and Emma Björner edited a book on the branding of Chinese mega-cities. This book proposes different perspectives on this phenomenon by comparing Chinese mega-cities (that is to say Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Tianjin, Shenzhen) and other international mega-cities. It studies several aspects of China’s mega-cities, from promotional films (chapter by Marina Svennson) to the emergence of green cities (chapter by Jorgen Delman).
For Berg and Björner, city branding is more complex than corporate branding, because, firstly, cities may have more images than companies; and secondly, unlike companies, the ownership structure is not clear. Who actually owns the city? Who decides on a city brand? This question is clearly linked to governance.
This interesting book is divided into three parts. After looking at the development of mega-cities in China, the contributors offer several case studies of city branding in China, and then analyse Chinese mega-cities’ global competitiveness.
In Chapter 16, Can-Seng Ooi notes that some Chinese cities copy other cities and construct similar brands, but the author also argues that this trend is adopted not only by Chinese cities, but most international mega-cities as well. Although they pretend to offer a unique experience to visitors and investors, most mega-cities are emulating each other. They simply do not want to risk being too different, because they want to be recognisable as world-class mega-cities, so they adopt similar policies.
In a paper published last year, two Swedish scholars from Örebro University, Ulrika Olausson and Ylva Uggla, discussed the implication of nature in place promotion based on the example of Stockholm. Though several studies have highlighted the desirable presence of nature (such as parks) in cities, there has been less research on the use of nature in city marketing.
The authors studied Stockholm’s official visitor guide website, and identified three frames of nature. In the first frame, nature and city are complementary. In the second, nature is considered the “exotic other”. In the last, it is defined as “pristine nature”. All these different aspects of nature are offered in Stockholm. However, according to the authors, these three frames are constructed to answer tourism demand. Nature has thus been transformed into a commodity for commercial purposes.
The authors acknowledged that a promotional website could hardly consider the negative impacts of urbanisation on nature in depth, but were nonetheless disappointed at the predominance of these frames.
These notions of nature-human relations, while useful for promoting cities and tourism, do not meet the criteria for sustainable development.
Although Stockholm is considered one of Europe’s greenest cities, another vision of nature is needed so that it is not considered merely a product made available to visitors.