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Is the Barbie movie popular in China?

As men are recorded walking out of the cinema during screenings of Barbie in China, Chinese women continue to debate feminism despite it being a prickly topic – and sales of pink clothes have skyrocketed

by Robynne Tindall
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Chinese cinema-goers might not have flocked to see Barbie in the same numbers as in the UK and US, but the film has been much more successful than other recent Hollywood releases and has sparked some interesting consumer trends

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie film starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling has been a massive hit with audiences around the world – including China.

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After a fairly slow opening weekend, as of the end of July, Barbie has made $25.5 million at the box office in China – not a huge figure but certainly better than other recent Hollywood releases like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. However, the film has achieved excellent ratings on China’s most influential movie apps, reaching 9.4/10 on Maoyan and 8.6/10 on Douban, and crucially, has penetrated the country’s internet discourse.

The film’s approach to issues of feminism, patriarchy and masculinity (which surprisingly snuck past China’s stringent censors) has struck a chord with Chinese women, many of whom are finding it increasingly difficult to balance traditional societal pressures. China’s feminist movement has seen significant expansion in recent years amid several high-profile #MeToo campaigns, but the subject remains contentious and discussions on social media are often censored.

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Sixth Tone reported that some Chinese women have taken to using the film as a test of their boyfriends’ attitudes to feminism, after men were recorded walking out of some showings of the film.

The film also comes at a time when women are as poorly represented in China’s leadership as they have been in decades, with no women on the country’s top decision-making body, the Politburo.

Away from online discourse, Barbie has also become an e-commerce phenomenon, with shoppers scouring online platforms for Barbie-pink outfits and Barbie dolls.

Users of platforms like Xiaohongshu and Weibo recorded themselves seeing Barbie in themed outfits

Taobao reported that its average daily search volume for Barbie-related terms jumped by over 760% between July 21 and July 26. Among the phrases people were looking for on Taobao, searches for “Barbie-style outfits” increased by 1,146% over the same time frame.

Analysts at Taobao have suggested that the popularity of Barbie-styled clothes signifies a shift away from the casual wear and athleisure that became popular during Covid-induced lockdowns towards a more effervescent and happy mood created by Barbie’s favoured hot pink. Users also searched for traditional Chinese clothing styles like cheongsam and hanfu in Barbie pink, representing the ongoing love for local Chinese styles (a trend known as guochao” or China Chic)  among the younger Chinese generations.

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