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Chinese social networks are not only about the skillful use of promotion tools, but about a deep understanding of local culture

This year for the first time Prof. Chelnokova-Siejka worked with HSE students in frame of the “SMM marketing in China” course. We decided to find out her opinion about students and the learning process.

Chinese social networks are not only about the skillful use of promotion tools, but about a deep understanding of local culture

Chelnokova-Siejka A.V.

Prof. Chelnokova-Siejka, you received your Ph.D. degree. in China. Why did you decide to study graduate school in China and not in Russia? What were the main benefits of education there?
I began to research Chinese youth, youth culture and the transformation of values before leaving for China, and even then I noticed that there was very little material on this topic in Russian and foreign sources. This motivated me to find opportunities and go to China. I applied to participate in the cooperation program “新汉学计划” (New Sinology program) and won a grant. During my first year of study, I realized that there were a lot of things that I didn’t know, so I decided to completely transfer to study in China and study the issue in depth. I graduated from the Faculty of Chinese History at Beijing Normal University and received my PhD degree in 2018. It was one of the biggest challenges I have gone through in my life, but it was worth it because the knowledge, skills and discoveries I gained during my long stay in China will stay with me forever and I can share them here, in Russia, with his students.

This year you were invited as a guest lecturer at the MA program “International Business in the Asia-Pacific Countries”. What was the most interesting for you?
I think the most interesting part and also the “challenge” was teaching more than twenty students who barely speak Chinese and do not understand Chinese culture. At the end of the course, they were assigned to do creative assignments, in the process of which they demonstrated the knowledge that I taught during lectures. It was the creation of such creative tasks that students without a specific background could do that showed that with the right approach, very good results can be achieved.

Could you tell us about your research interests?
I continue to write articles about value transformations in Chinese culture, youth culture, etc. I have also recently published several articles on city branding or place marketing in China, looking at both from a promotional, tourism and cultural perspective. Another area of my interests is “Russia through the eyes of the Chinese.” Hopefully I'll have more time to do research in this area later.

How has your research influenced your approach to teaching practice?
This year I taught the course “SMM marketing in China”, where the emphasis was primarily on practical experience. However, it cannot always explain the reasons or further trends. Many of my research results help me fill this gap. For example, from the annual reports created by RED (Chinese social platform "小红书" (Little Red Book)), we know that the current trend in China is towards minimalism, but it is not completely clear. where it came from, why it is happening and how it will evolve. In my recent article “From Consumerism to Eco consumption: the Origins and Trends of Transformational Processes in Contemporary Chinese Culture,” I tried to explain this. Everything changes very quickly and constant research into new phenomena and trends is inseparable from teaching, in the process of which I pass on the acquired knowledge.

In addition to teaching, you are very successful in business. Could you say a few words about your business activities?
I am for the practicality and applied nature of science, and the choice of my dissertation topic and further research are aimed at ensuring that this knowledge can be fully applied in business. I see great potential for the development of social media in general marketing in the Chinese media space, both for institutions and companies, but unfortunately many of the clients have only recently begun to understand how important it is to communicate directly with the Chinese consumer, deeply understand and adapt to local “rules of the game”. It is important to tell a story about yourself, share real-life experiences, connect on a cultural level and receive feedback and analysis. Another pain point in the Russian market is that marketing budgets are much lower than in China, so you have to get creative to manage your funds effectively and get the most out of them. At the moment, the tourism industry is actively developing; we are already actively working with Russian restaurants and other facilities, helping them adapt to the Chinese visitor and attract visitors from the Middle Kingdom. I really hope that in the near future I will be able to do even more for the successful branding of Russian organizations, companies and regions.

Is it difficult to combine business and teaching?   
Yes, sometimes it is very difficult and requires strict time management, often having to work on weekends, but I really love both my jobs, I think they complement each other, and thanks to my academic background I can develop very good business strategies. At the same time, thanks to my real-life experience, I understand what is happening in different industries and I share practical experience with my students

What techniques do you use in teaching to increase student engagement and curiosity? 
 I try to implement interactive techniques and try to get students to ask questions and find answers, involving them as much as possible in the process of discovering new things. In the “SMM marketing in China” course, I tried to give very unusual and at the same time practical tasks, for example, one of these was creating posts for real companies on different platforms. It was very interesting to discuss them later.

How do you perceive the challenges students face in their academic and professional journey? 
If we are even talking about those who study Chinese or are generally associated with China, I think that the biggest difficulty is a lack of understanding of the culture, this problem is already reflected in many studies on this topic, I also often talk about this at educational conferences. Students may have a fairly high level of Chinese language proficiency, but may still not understand what the Chinese meant because they are simply not aware of cultural differences and specific ways of thinking. This understanding is essential when working in media marketing. For example, in Russia the main colors of the New Year are blue and white, while in China the color is predominantly red. All this is reflected in the design and graphics. To create a great banner, you need to know how the corresponding holidays are celebrated in China, which is an integral attribute or delicacy that is so important to the Chinese public. It is interesting that for the New Year 2024 in Russia we give many gifts with a dragon, but those created for the Russian market are a product of cultural integration of Slavic folklore. For example, the Serpent Gorynych from Slavic folklore, which could be seen on many New Year's balls, is a bad dragon and in fact it is not very good to use its image as a symbol of the Chinese New Year. For the Russian buyer this is not of particular importance, but for the Chinese it is extremely important and it is very important to avoid such mistakes when working in the Chinese market. There are actually a great many such examples, which is why I will once again emphasize media marketing - this is, first of all, working with digital CULTURE, knowledge and understanding of what is happening in Chinese society.

Do you think social networks have an impact on modern education?
Yes, sure. Firstly, I see a difference in the perception and processing of information among students, this will inevitably affect the human brain and will lead to further changes in teaching methods. Secondly, social media platforms actively support valuable content, and consumers, especially in China, also value practicality that can help them develop knowledge in a field or convey the necessary information in a short format.

How do you personally use social media: for teaching or research purposes?
Social networks are a very good source of information and reflect the ideas of young people on many issues, for example, I like to read on RED, as well as Chinese reviews about Moscow and other places. This is very valuable both for my academic research and for creating strategies. I think that in the near future, Chinese social networks as an object of research will become more firmly entrenched in science and will require the development of methods and tools for detailed research.

Did you enjoy teaching at HSE? 
I really enjoyed my experience working at HSE, it was very comfortable to work. This university has very advanced methods and approaches to education.

How do you think modern Asian studies should develop at the present time?
I think there should be joint research with China and Chinese institutions. It seems to me that today, after many global changes and the emergence of many new phenomena, we need new research methods, approaches and paradigms. I also think that modern sinology needs more interdisciplinary research.

How do you feel about the integration of online education with traditional educational models?
Online education allows you to gain knowledge from anywhere in the world and instantly exchange information. I think integration is very useful, but traditional learning models are still more effective. From my point of view, online learning is a practical solution for students who are in other countries and cannot attend lectures, seminars or are absent due to health reasons. In Russia, this is sometimes a good way to avoid harsh winter temperatures and attend classes from home when it is too cold outside. Therefore, the technical capabilities of integrating these two models make it possible to solve a huge number of problems.

What books would you recommend for students to read?
It depends on what goals they set for themselves. There are not many English-language books about Chinese social networks and everything changes so quickly that as soon as a book is published, it is already out of date. I think I can only recommend the latest books by Ashley Galina Dudarenok. The most practical thing to do would be to read social platforms' reports on the latest trends.