China may never embrace democracy, but American flag products rule on Taobao

July 4, 2014
July 4, 2014

What would China’s Communist Party have made of America’s fight for independence from Britain if it was around in the late 1700s? Probably not much, given China’s state-owned media outlets recent denunciation of any political movement that challenges the status quo, from Hong Kong’s protests to the Thai military coup to Ukraine’s ousting of its pro-Russia president.

But there is plenty of demand in China for products that sport the American stars and stripes, that famous symbol of US freedom and democracy. There are tens of thousands of flag-inspired items on Taobao, the Alibaba-owned online shopping mall, including a dizzying array of clothing. In fact, there is more merchandise on Taobao featuring the US flag than any other nation, including China:

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(And yes, most of these products appear to be made in China.)

One popular American flag product, according to a Taobao search for the phrase “American flag” in English, is somewhat puzzling—an imported copy of “The American Flag,” a children’s book from a Minneapolis publisher. The book details the history of the flag, and a list of rules that flag-owners should follow, like “The flag should never touch anything below it” and “The flag should never be used as clothing.” At 106 RMB, or about $17, the book is about the same price on Taobao as it is on Amazon in the US.

Despite its popularity, China’s manufacturers and shoppers don’t seem to have embraced the book’s rules—most of what’s for sale is wearable. (Wearable American flag items, once scandalous in the US, are now worn so regularly that they’re considered “patriotic clothing.“)

For 69 RMB ($11), China’s shoppers can get the “Chris Brown Popular American flag tank.” That’s about a quarter of the price of the original tank in the US:

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Then there’s this even cheaper “American Flag Scarfs Shawl Wrap” for women:

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If you search Taobao for “American flag” in Chinese (美國國旗), you’ll find even more variety, particularly in clothing—like this flag inspired t-shirt that nearly 3,000 people have purchased (no wonder—it costs less than $2):

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…and many more shirts of varying subtlety:

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… and this little straw handbag:

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… and, last but not least, these amazing leggings for about $3:

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