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What's in a name in Yunnan?
Updated: 2005-09-13 09:42

Bye-bye Aladdin - if the name of a housing development sounds too foreign or exotic and not sufficiently Chinese, it could spell trouble for housing developers, at least in Kunming.

The developer of Aladdin Gardens, one of the many housing projects under construction in Panlong District of Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan Province, is having hard times because of his project's "foreign" name.

"Champagne Resort" and "South California-Style Villas," in downtown Kunming - also accused of foreignness - will retain their current exotic names, their developer said, despite the furor over foreign influence in real estate names.

Forced to drop the exotic name Aladdin, the developer renamed the real estate project "Jintong (golden babe) 2nd phase." He is not alone.

Kunming city officials now insist on approving names of developments to ensure they are not too foreign.

Developers of four other housing projects with exotic names in the same district have had to adopt new signs bearing only Chinese connotations.

Some conservative observers suggest Chinese real estate developers reproduce the soul of traditional Chinese architecture with modern materials, instead of blindly borrowing from the West and rejecting the aesthetic profundity of traditional Chinese architecture.

Exotic Western names are ubiquitous.

Real estate developers from many other cities across the country also concoct exotic names for their galaxy of housing projects advertised by white celebrities.

Guan Yuda, a specialist with the Arts College of Yunnan University, said the wide use of exotic names in the real estate market was the result of two factors.

"On the one hand, Chinese citizens take Westernization for modernity and take the Western lifestyle as an ideal. On the other, real estate developers cut down signs suggesting the Western world, to cater to the tastes of some local consumers," said Guan.

He said most Chinese don't have the chance to travel abroad and thus do not understand Western lifestyles.

"Buyers of homes inside real estate blocks bearing fancy exotic names might derive satisfaction, so developers try to attract consumers to buy apartments by promoting an idealized Western-world.

They strive to satisfy the public's fantasy of an exotic life without getting one step away from home," said Guan.

Some real estate projects bearing exotic names are just "fake landscapes," said Guan. "They are just a combination of signs suggesting a foreign country."

However, exotic names are favored by those who seek foreign allure.

"The housing quality is a priority, but the name of the real estate block is important," said a woman at a well-sold real estate project in downtown Kunming.

"If I buy a home inside a block with a nice exotic name, other buyers may think my home should be more grand than theirs," said the woman.

Officials are fed up with exotic names.

One Kunming official described the names as a "flattering of poor taste."

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