5 Chinese brands that have crept into your life and are flipping the narrative on Chinese-made goods

Tech installations in Shanghai.

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Some Chinese brands have managed to make it big overseas despite geopolitical sensitivities.
Such brands have even upset previous industry leaders to creep into the mainstream.
TikTok, Lenovo, and DJI are a few Chinese brands that have thrived outside China.

Some Chinese brands have upset previous market leaders in their fields.Teachers and students use a plant-protection drone to spray insecticides on rice plants in Chongqing, China, on July 5.

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Chinese brands are going global, and some have already crept into the mainstream.

Some brands, such as Lenovo and Tencent, have even upset previous industry leaders and are now major players in their respective fields. 

The phenomenon is perhaps best exemplified by the short-form-video app TikTok, which is leading cultural trends and widely used among younger generations, despite geopolitical tensions between the US and China over user-data privacy.

While there may be some inherent bias about “made in China” products because of the country’s reputation as a low-cost manufacturer, a few companies have slain the image.

“These are companies which are generating very good value for the customers from a technology standpoint, and it’s unlikely that their position as a Chinese entity has anything to do with people’s perception,” Nirgunan Tiruchelvam, the head of consumer and internet equity research at Aletheia Capital, told Insider.

Chinese companies that have made it globally, Tiruchelvam added, are generally viewed positively as international companies.

But this status comes with huge investments into marketing and branding to overcome political sensitivities that may come with their Chinese ownership, he added. 

From social-media platforms to PC makers, here are five Chinese companies that have made it big outside China.

TikTok is at the forefront of cultural trends.TikTok is subsidiary of Beijing’s ByteDance.

Mike Kemp

Company founded in: 2012; the TikTok app was launched globally in September 2017

Market share in 2022: 26% (US app revenue)

Competitors: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat

A wildly popular social-media platform, TikTok needs little introduction.

The short-video app has catapulted to the top of popularity charts in just a few years and is known for leading cultural trends.

In fact, Douyin — the Chinese version of TikTok — came in fourth in a ranking of China’s most valuable brands in 2022 from the analytics firm Kantar. It estimated Douyin’s value at $43.5 billion, up 12% from a year earlier.

In the US, Facebook still rules, with about 180 million users in 2022, Insider Intelligence wrote in a report published in April. However, Facebook’s user base has been relatively steady in the past few years as compared with TikTok’s explosive growth.

The number of US TikTok users rose from 35.7 million in 2019 to nearly 96 million in 2022 — far outpacing the 16% growth in the user base of Instagram — the second-fastest growing social-media platform, according to Insider Intelligence.

Both Douyin and TikTok are owned by Beijing’s ByteDance. TikTok’s main US office is in Los Angeles. 

Since the incredibly popular TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, it has come under scrutiny from American lawmakers in recent years over privacy concerns.

Despite this, there’s little doubt about the app’s cultural relevance, as it’s sparked trends from “bougie broke” to “lazy-girl jobs.”

Lenovo’s IBM acquisition is a case study in successful international mergers.Lenovo bought IBM’s PC business in 2005.

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Company founded in: 1984

Market share: 24% in 2022 (global)

Competitors: HP, Dell, Apple

The world’s largest PC maker isn’t American — it’s China’s tech brand Lenovo.

In 2022, Lenovo shipped nearly 69 million PC units, cornering 24% of the global market share, according to Gartner, a research firm.

Lenovo overtook the US tech giant HP in overall PC shipments about 10 years ago and is now firmly in the top spot.

Founded in 1984 with quick growth in China, Lenovo bought IBM’s PC unit, the ThinkPad laptop, and the ThinkCentre desktop lines for $1.25 billion in 2004.

While there was some skepticism over the deal in 2005, with a JPMorgan Chase analyst calling it a “bold but risky move,” Lenovo made the merger work.

The Chinese leadership took a hands-off approach to the US company, and that kept the company moving forward, wrote Tim Bajarin, a tech consultant for Time magazine in 2015 .

Lenovo’s IBM acquisition is a case study in successful international mergers involving different cultures.

DJI is the world’s largest drone makerDJI is headquartered in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Adrees Latif/Reuters

Company founded in: 2006

Market share in 2022: Over 70% (global) 

Competitors: Parrot, Skydio, XAG

Founded in 2006 out of a university dorm, DJI is the world’s largest drone maker, with offices in the US, Europe, and Japan.

It released its first ready-to-fly drone, the Phantom 1, in 2013 and has gone on to produce drones for a variety of purposes, including filmmaking, agricultural seeding, and search-and-rescue operations.

In 2021, the company had a 76% market share of the global consumer- and commercial-drone market, according to Statista.

It’s so dominant in the toy-drone market that it has squeezed out its older competition — the French drone maker Parrot, founded in 1994.

In 2019, Parrot said it was exiting the toy-drone market to focus on commercial drones — a move observers attributed to stiff competition from DJI.

DJI is a private company, so it doesn’t publish its financial statements.

As a Chinese drone maker, DJI has come under scrutiny from US authorities amid tensions between Washington and Beijing. Customers include the everyday consumer and governments.

In 2020, the Commerce Department added DJI to an entity list that restricted US companies from exporting products to the drone maker.

The Treasury also placed investment restrictions on DJI in 2021, alleging that its drone technology was used to surveil Uyghur Muslims in China.

However, consumers in the US can continue to buy and use DJI drones. 

Tencent is the developer of “Honor of Kings” and “PUBG Mobile” video games.Tencent is the world’s top video-game company by revenue.

Xing Yun / Costfoto/Future Publishing/Getty Images

Company founded in: 1998

Market share: 13.2% in 2021 (global, by revenue)

Competitors: Sony, Microsoft, NetEase

Forget Japan’s Sony and the US’s Microsoft. The biggest gaming company in the world is from China.

Tencent ranks among the behemoths in China’s tech scene. The trio of companies is so big that it has its own acronym — BAT: Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent.

Outside China, Tencent may not be a household name, but gamers would be familiar with its hit titles.

Tencent is the world’s largest video-game company by revenue and has been boosted by its games “Honor of Kings” and “PUBG Mobile.”  Both blockbusters are played by millions around the world.

In the first half of 2023, “Honor of Kings” raked in $766 million in mobile-game revenue, while its “PUBG Mobile” game brought in $344 million, according to data from Apptica, an analytics firm.

Other than games, Tencent’s businesses include the WeChat platform, which is ubiquitous in China. WeChat is a messaging app, a social-media platform, and a payments “superapp” that Elon Musk is trying to emulate with his X social-media platform, formerly known as Twitter.

Xiaomi is the third-largest smartphone maker, after Samsung and Apple.Xiaomi is the third-largest smartphone maker.

Sajjad Hussain/AFp/Getty Images

Company founded in: 2010

Market share: 13% in the second quarter of 2023 (global)

Competitors: Samsung, Apple

The tech companies Apple and Samsung may be household names for most Americans, but the Chinese firm Xiaomi is in the third spot for global smartphone shipments, showing that Chinese tech has been increasingly going mainstream.

While Samsung is in the first spot, with 21% of the global market share in terms of smartphone shipments in the second quarter of 2023, and Apple is in the second spot, with a 17% share, Xiaomi is not that far behind in the third spot, with a 13% market share in the second quarter of 2023, according to Canalys, a tech-marketing company.

In fact, Xiaomi which is best known for its budget-friendly phones overtook the Silicon Valley giant Apple as the second-largest smartphone maker in the second quarter of 2021, according to a Canalys analysis at the time.

Xiaomi may be relatively obscure in the US, but it has a large market share of nearly 15% in India — one of the world’s most up-and-coming market, according to high-profile investors including Ray Dalio and Mark Mobius. Samsung and its Chinese smartphone peer Vivo have an 18% and a 17% slice of the pie, respectively, in the second quarter of 2023, per Counterpoint Research.

Other than mobile phones, Xiaomi is known for its robot vacuum cleaners and smart-home products.

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