For years, China has been the manufacturing centre of the world. Now the Chinese are trying to export that most difficult of products - manufactured pop.
Handsome Respectful Boy Conglomerate are on first glance a fairly formulaic boy band with five members. But they are perhaps the first boy band ever assembled by a government committee. Most industry in China is run by the state, and HRBC are no exception. The musical venture is an attempt by the country to diversify its economic base, as well as a way of delivering pro-Chinese propaganda to people in China and around the world.
The five members all have distinct personalities meant to represent different aspects of Chinese society. Maths Boy studies hard and always gets an 'A'. Peasant Farmer toils in the fields all day to provide rice for his elderly grandparents. Bureaucrat is an efficient organiser and supposedly arranges the band's transport and accommodation while they are on tour. Conformist always listens to government announcements and does what he is told. Genuine is a cool young man who always has the latest cloned Chinese gadgets such as the jPhone and jPad. He also drives a Qorsche.
The band were formed from contestants who took part in a singing competition on state television. Although such contests have begun to appear in China in the last few years, they are significantly different from their Western counterparts. For one thing public voting is not allowed - to prevent viewers from getting any ideas about democracy.
HRBC are currently at number one in China with their song, "I Buy Chinese Export Goods". Like most of their songs, it is in English to try to widen their international appeal. The band is unlikely to make much money from selling records in China though. Partly because the state takes all their revenue, but also because there is no copyright law in the country.
The announcement of their global tour has been greeted with bemusement in the West. Ticket sales are said to be poor, with most being bought by holidaying Chinese tourists. It appears that China still has much to learn about the subtle art of global music industry capitalism.
Handsome Respectful Boy Conglomerate's first single, "Sexy Foreign International Song", will be released throughout Europe next week.