Yan Feng, President of Beijing BeiMug

When a Spanish Mac user wonders (and in general, European Users) about what’s going on in China, all he can think of is old topics. But the emerging chinese economy in these past years has favoured new generations of people using computers, and, specially, has allowed a new generation of Mac Users.

Today we have invited Mr. Yan Feng to www.faq-mac.com. Mr Feng is the Founder and President of the BeiMac, The Beijing Macintosh User Group.

Introduction

My name is Yan Feng. I’m a Swiss citizen with Chinese background born in Beijing. (I know this might not make sense, but that’s reality!). I was educated in Switzerland and am now mastering in International Finance in a local university. I founded BeiMac since 2 March 2002.

Feel free to browse more about me at http://www.yan.feng.name – my private quarter of the Web!

Yang Feng

GUM Logo

Interview

Faq-Mac: First of all, we thank you very much for allowing us to know a little bit more about your country and how the people that lives in it is doing. We really apologise if we make any mistake, and kindly ask you to forgive our little knowledge of your country.

Yan Feng: No problem. I admit that China, despite all this recent opening up, still remains a little “inaccessible” to some in the World. All of you are excuse from any misconceptions about the nation – I’m pretty much an “open source” kind of guy, and don’t jump at the slightest criticism.

F-M: When and in which way did Apple approach to China? When did Apple enter the Chinese Market?

Feng: This is a really tough question. To be frank, I’ve never been really involved in the Mac market in China until very late in 2001. I’ve been back from twelve years of Swiss education in my “native” Switzerland (I’m a Swiss citizen with Chinese background) since mid-2000, but didn’t really “care

much” about Apple in China until later in 2001.

As far as I’m concerned, though, signs of Apple have been emerging since the early 1990s. The first time I bit into Apple’s affairs in China is when I spotted a Mac dealer in the northwestern region of Zhongguancun back at around 1994, back when I was about twelve. I’m guessing they were there for

a few years already. I also have fond memories about a year earlier, when I was able to touch a demo Mac Performa in an affluent shopping centre.

F-M: How is Apple, in relation with the other computer vendors?

Feng: This is a bit of a tragedy. People have little or no recognition of the Apple brand as in computers. People know the fruit but not the computer.

Far worse, there are some companies in the area whose legitimacy is placed under my personal doubt. These companies use “Apple” in their nomencleature. We have “Apple” jeans, “Green Apple Texwood” clothes, “Apple” magazine – none of these are in relation to Apple Computer, Incorporated. I just hope these illegitimate businesses went bust.

F-M: Today, Apple is fighting tight to open new markets and win market share worldwide. Do you think China can be the new Macintosh opportunity? Is Apple late (again) in your market? Are the people pro-active to Apple?

Feng: Well, I most certainly hope China can be the new Macintosh opportunity. Apple already has a heck of a following in neighbouring Japan. All they need to do is to “spread the fever” across the East China Sea, and before soon, there’ll be a Mac on everyone’s desktops.

Apple’s certainly late in some aspects. I heard from friends that the Apple of the mid-1990s was just “crap”, with support nearing nought (that’s zero in British English, my kind of tongue), interaction nearing nought, basically life nearing nought. But not all is lost for Apple China.

F-M: Is Apple investing in advertising in China?

Feng: Yes! Apple’s doing some marketing. I saw the opening of the AppleCentre being advertised in “City Weekend” magazine. I hear there’s going to be an Apple billboard on the third Orbital (ring road). (Historians note: there once was an Apple ad which stood for about a year or more in the mid-1990s outside of the eastern second Orbital, next to a famous shopping centre. Too bad it went the way of T-Rex. ).

F-M: Does Apple help in someway to take the computers to the children, so they can learn how to use them?

Feng: In some aspects, yes. The new AppleCentre has a lot of things catering to kids, and there’s even an area (I guess) modelled on the U.S. Apple Store’s “kids area”. Some affluent private educational institutions even have Macs.

F-M: Are the Macs expensive or they are at the same prices of the rest of the vendors?

Feng: Expensive. This is where Apple’s REALLY losing out. While the average Chinese on the road is getting richer faster than Starbucks joints are popping up in the city, the price gap between Macs and ordinary PCs is still nothing short of big. (I had wanted to use “gargantuan”, but that would have

overdone it.)

In China, a fairly decent, new, and fast gigahertz Pentium 4 can be had for around CNY 8,000, tops. (This works out to approximately EUR 1,200 or something – I flunked maths horribly.) Compare that to a low-end iMac G4, which won’t be yours until you hand over around CNY 12,000, or around EUR 1,500.

It’s an “Apple global trend” to charge more for Macs (I’m guessing its His Jobsness at work). But really, this has been overdone in China.

F-M: How many Mac users do you think there are in China? What are the Macintosh mainly used for? Are they for professional tasks, or to be used at home?

Feng: I’d say in the low hundred-thousand range, of which around a couple thousand are really active Mac users. If there’s a place in China where Apple Macs have sought and won domination, it’s in the DV and DTP areas.

F-M: Is the Mac market concentrated in Beijing or there are more Mac users all over China?

Feng: Actually, they’re spread out like peanut butter all over the territory. The five hot points within China are the capital Beijing, as well as Shanghai, Canton (Guangzhou), Taipei and Hong Kong. These are the strongest areas. The Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong areas have a particularly strong following.

Minor areas include south-western China, Tianjin, central China, Tsingtao, and the Cheng-tu area.

a MUG reunion

F-M: Are there anymore MUGs in China?

Feng: Actually, yes! A huge nationwide “loosely organised” user group, MacFans, is taking the stage in major cities. We’re sure it has a following in Beijing as well, in addition to Shanghai, Tsingtao and Canton.

Shanghai is absolute mainland Mac heaven. We’ve got an old AppleUnion MUG as well as a newer MUG (which just started this June) – MacClub China.

Hong Kong has a massive HKMUG. I heard there was a MUG in Taipei but it was dismantled or something like that. Too bad, I say.

F-M: What do you think Apple users love most: the performance or the styling of the computer?

Feng: I’d say a mix between the both. The average Joe in the road is going to be attracted to Ive’s creations faster than a new beige box is being sold. Few people are really aware of the performance, but if we “coax ’em enough”, we can win this battle.

F-M: Why do people buy Macs?

Feng: I’d say because they’re rich and want an expensive toy. Actually, that’s about four-ninths of the truth. Other valid points are: for work, for the job, for the love, and heaven knows – for the decor.

F-M: What do people miss the most in Apple Computers?

Feng: This is a tough one on me. I don’t think there’s much they miss, mainly because it’s still a Mac, and second of all, seriously, what do you miss in Apple Computers? The blue screen of death? (Note: As I was being interviewed, my iBook started – or is at the end of – exhibiting extremely odd behaviour. This oddity, still, has not changed my look at Apple.)

F-M: Are you an active Mac Community? What activities do you perform? Do you meet regularly?

Feng: We’re about the most active community in terms of local MUGs. We’ve started having more meetings than MacFans Beijing, and we’re engaged in just about anything Apple.

We attend seminars relating to the Mac – mainly those that we’ve been invited to, know, or know that MacFans Beijing is doing.

We’ve three SIGs, we’ve a ListServ System, we provide sophisticated technical support for the unsophisticated price of nought for our members, and we advocate the use of Macs in Beijing.

We used to meet once a month. Recent events, though, mean that we now meet about twice to three times monthly. It’s carving time out of my studies here, but I can still manage it quite well (thanks very much!).

F-M: Though you now have three shops in Beijing… is it easy to find Mac related hardware like scanners, printers,… and software?

Feng: Now it’s a lot easier. The Oriental Plaza AppleCentre is a godsend because it’s ever so well-organised. It’s got all the Mac gear you can dream of. I walked into the shop when it opened on 19 October 2002 and was overwhelmed at the comparatively large selection. I thought my ears went on

hiatus when I heard the manager say that what they show is a mere third of the full inventory.

F-M: Apple has recently changed its price policy outside the USA… do you think these new prices will affect the Mac market in China?

Feng: No idea… but here’s hoping it doesn’t.

F-M: What do you think of the Digital hub? Does it make sense in China?

Feng: It’s a new concept, and I’m guessing it’ll make sense in China. Once the commonfolk has been released from jargon jail, they’re going to like this.

F-M: Do you think Steve Jobs is right on his way running Apple?

Feng: Ideally: half. One half of him is flat-out bonkers and the other half of him is flat-out brilliant. Realistically: yes. Let the Steve go nuts – let him innovate – let him build on the success of Apple. I guess unless we wanted another 1995-1997, we’d be wise to keep the Steve.

F-M: Does Apple China support you as you need, or you feel you are left on your own?

Feng: At first we felt isolated. (Duh: we only had seven members.) But now we’re nearing seventy in membership (as I speak). Apple China helps a lot. It provides us every few months with free use of the huge room in their headquarters. It supplies us with posters. We’re also getting help from the

newly-opened AppleCentre.

Things can’t look any better than this!

F-M: What would you say to someone that wants to switch to Mac? And to someone that is a diehard Wintel user?

Feng: To the Mac user: get yourself a Mac and use it for a day or three. Use a Windows machine for that same amount of time – you can’t! Once you use Mac, you’ll never go back – that’s such an old cliche, but it’s a true one.

(That’s about the first time I’ve ever heard of a true cliche! ).

To the diehard Wintel user: have a nice life. I can’t help you out of your closed-mindedness. You may want to try the Mac, though, before you become permanently sedated in the (what I call) “evil vampire empire of Microsoft and Co.”.

F-M: Apart from running the MUG, do you have another job? Why did you choose Mac? Would you switch to Wintel?

Feng: I’m a foreign student at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing (seriously, I hope they cut the name before they claim my tongue, and find a better abbreviation than “UIBE”). I also teach an English lesson there as well, as well as a few English lessons at the

neighbouring Foreign Trade School – that’s a vocational school.

I chose Mac because that was the machine I was taught back in 1992. I’ve used Wintel from 1997-2001 (the school demanded it, that’s why!), and still occasionally use Windows XP. I won’t switch to Wintel for this and all subsequent lives, because I believe that the original – also the source – is

better than any copied version.

F-M: Is there something you would like to say to Spanish and/or Europeans?

Feng: Look beyond your horizons and explore the world surrounding you. No person, especially a Mac user, is on an island.

F-M: Thanks a lot for taking the time to answer all these questions, and we’ll keep in contact. Good luck.

Feng: It was my pleasure to be interviewed. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did – and believe me, I did!

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