China embraces Christmas with opening of world's biggest Hamleys toy store

Neil Connor
Children play in the new Hamleys store in Nanjing. China - Xinhua

China is set to open the world’s largest toy store in time for Christmas Day, as the secular country begins to embrace the Christian holiday - and the commercial opportunities it can provide.

The new Hamleys store in Beijing, with 10,700 sqm floor space, is double the size of the London flagship and the third opened in China.

Bosses at footwear retailer C.Banner International, which acquired Hamleys in 2015, are seeking to exploit the obvious opportunities in their home market since after the one-child policy was abolished two years ago.

Rising incomes and an increase in toddlers obsessed with Peppa Pig and Thomas the Tank Engine are seen as a major impetus for growth in the Chinese toy market.

Performers dressed as children's toys and characters from television shows, including the Teletubbies, prepare to participate in the Hamleys Christmas Toy Parade on Regent Street in London Credit: AFP

Parents in China usually give their children toys as awards, rather than gifts, but retailers say they have seen shoppers embracing the spirit of the Western festive season.

Most Chinese are unaware of the traditional sentiments of Christmas or its religious roots.

But while Jesus has little relevance with Christmas in officially atheist Communist China, many Chinese are quickly grasping the commercial opportunities that the festivities offer.

“This is why we opened before Christmas,” said Jason Ji, chief marketing manager of Hamleys China. “Because we wanted to get the Western holiday atmosphere.

“We want the parents to get the feeling of how we celebrate Christmas in the UK and in other countries. We want to bring that culture to Beijing.”

Toy retailer Hamleys moves into the Chinese market  Credit: Getty

Hamleys new megastore is located yards from Tiananmen Square and the mausoleum of Communist revolutionary leader Mao Tse-Tung.

Five floors of Western commercial favourites - fidget spinners, Barbie dolls and yo-yos - attracted hordes of families when The Telegraph visited the store after its soft launch this week.

And while shoppers may have appeared oblivious to the seasonal soundscape of Shakin’ Stevens and Wizzard, Beijing-based author Sara Jane Ho, said Chinese consumers enjoy a “busy and lively” Christmas atmosphere.

“But just as expected from any country that adopts another country’s festivities,” added Ms Ho, an expert in China’s wealthy elite.

“There will be a gap in the meaning.” But as Hamleys Beijing exploits the commercialism of Christmas, bosses say they are also introducing the festive season's ‘goodwill to all men’ ethos to the Chinese consumer.

“We are trying to tell families and kids to care about friends and family by giving out - not just enjoying things by themselves,” Mr Ji said.

Additional reporting by Christine Wei

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