China Daily reported this morning that thirteen American Harley riders rolled into Tai’an last week. Tai’an is a city of about 5.5 million people in Western China south of Beijing. The riders are participants in the “Ride to Confucius” tour, which is arranged by a suburban Philadelphia company named Knighthawk Tours LLC.
It is the second Ride to Confucius Tour. The first was five years ago. Later this year Knighthawk will sponsor two equivalent Harley tours for Chinese riders to Americana destinations like Nashville.
The American riders now in China are travelling with a police escort arranged by the Shandong Tourism Bureau because it is technically illegal to ride an electric motorcycle, horse, bicycle or a motorcycle with an engine larger than 250 cc on a highway in the People’s Republic. The last stop on the tour is Jinan, capital of Shandong province which was the philosopher Confucius’ home.
Despite the legal restrictions, there are now eight Harley dealerships and six Harley Owner’s Group chapters in China. The Motor Company sells 14 models as well as apparel and general merchandise there.
Earlier this month a reported one thousand Chinese HOG members rode, shipped or trailered their bikes to Qian Dao Lake, in Zhejiang Province to celebrate Harley’s 110th birthday. A Reuters News Service photographer named Carlos Barria took an interesting series of shots of the rally and you can view them here.
Harley is drooling over China. Lifted mostly by an unsustainable and doomed real estate bubble, the world’s most populous nation is currently the world’s second largest economy.
Last month Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker spent a week in the People’s Republic pushing Harleys and Oskosh trucks. He attended the opening of a Harley dealership in Tianjian and, according to multiple news reports, he attended a “Harley Party” in Shanghai in black leather costume. Walker also shared an hour with Xi Jinping, who is China’s President, General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. “I have seen tremendous achievements in urban development, a vibrant economy and fabulous people in pursuit of personal freedom,” the Governor told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also said Chinese are drawn “to the leisure motorcycling lifestyle.”
Nobody commutes to work on a Harley in China, although the country has millions of motorcycle commuters. Motorcycle license plates are difficult to get there. China bans all motorcycles that are more than nine-years-old. And the average cost of a Harley in Shanghai or Beijing is $32,500 which is about four times the average annual salary.
Harleys in China are marketed as symbols of “freedom.” Harley is selling a jacket in China that has “freedom” printed on the sleeves. China’s Vogue called it the “freedom jacket” in a story published in February. It is an ironic marketing campaign for the world’s largest totalitarian state but it seems to be working.
Harley isn’t the only consumer products company in China that is using “freedom” in its marketing.
The marketing is working because “freedom” means something different in Chinese than in English. Volvo, Hyundai, Audi, Lenovo, and Adidas all brag to Chinese that buying their products symbolizes freedom. A current Chinese ad campaign for iced tea features Avril Lavigne who explains that the beverage can make you free. But freedom there doesn’t mean voting for who you want or coming and going as you please. The marketing concept of “freedom” in China means “joining the leisure class.”