Marketing Death: Culture and the Making of a Life Insurance Market in China
Cheris Shun-ching Chan
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How do companies sell life insurance in a country where death is a taboo subject? In Marketing Death, Cheris S.C. Chan explores both how and why the life insurance industry has managed to emerge in China, a country with an entrenched cultural stigma against the very topic of death. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork and engaging with current scholarship, Chan explores the processes and micro-politics by which foreign and domestic companies have negotiated local cultural resistance and created a market in spite of it. In doing so, she asks larger questions about how different societies view and value life and death, what is meant by "cultural values," how they interact with a set of fragmented cultural tools to compellingly organize individuals' practical daily lives, and how the market is influenced by them. Chan tells a story not just of the emergence of the Chinese life insurance industry, but of the dynamic relationships between culture and markets, local norms and foreign influences in one of the world's fastest-growing economies.
Marketing Death is the first book to offer a sociological analysis of the emergence of a life insurance market outside of a European or American context. Through in-depth study of the expansion of an industry whose unique "product" - gambling on one's own sudden death - has always met with a measure of resistance, but never more so than in China, Chan provides a new lens for understanding how modern capitalist enterprises are diffused to regions with disparate cultural traditions.
Underwriters Insurance Company (AIU), were the first foreign insurers granted licenses to operate in the PRC. AIA specialized in life insurance and AIU in general insurance. Since the second half of the 1990s, a number of foreign life insurers have arrived to form joint ventures. The Manulife Group from Canada, Prudential from the United Kingdom, the Allianz Group of Germany, American-based Aetna Life Insurance, and the AXA Group of France were among them. Between 1993 and 2000, six joint
profit-oriented principle, it is in the best interest of insurers to define life insurance primarily as risk management for a specific market niche, and secondarily as money management for diversification purposes. In China, it was even more important from the insurance providers’ perspective to define life insurance as a risk management tool, because the local regulatory and investment conditions were unfavorable to the development of money management insurance products. As commercial life
work on their own. The individualistic ethos of the AIA agents was expressed not only in their apathetic attitude toward each other but also in their low attendance at the morning assembly. In the agency office that I visited regularly, the morning assembly was held every Monday at 9:15 a.m. Yet, normally less than half of the agents attended, among which one-fourth were late. Even those who showed up were not particularly engaged. For instance, during the assembly some agents were filling out
Age 20–29 30–39 40–49 40 64 52 22 18 30 27 4 11 Annual Income (RMB) < 18,000 18,000– 36,000 36,000– 84,000 > 84,000 50 58 32 8 4 22 4 8 11 3 28 31 57 23 17 0 3 29 33 33 25 0 8 11 Education High School 2-year College University 42 30 14 2 12 38 59 22 14 4 2 49 40 20 25 10 5 18 Marital Status Single Married w/o child Married w/ child 48 52 20 19 20 29 10 0 3 0 37 21 49 26 9 4 11 48 0 6 17 Work Unit SOE/ Collective 69 19 6 (continued)
transmutations of cultural forms: from the concepts of life and death, to values, moralities, and perceptions, and to preferences and choices. At the macrolevel, culture may not shape action directly. Nonetheless, through transmuting its forms, it can travel from historically distant worldviews to more immediate perceptions and norms that more directly organize actors’ strategies. The role of culture in shaping a market, therefore, is not as remote as Hamilton and Biggart propose. Furthermore,