I have been in China for the past few months and I have been witnessing the silver and gold demand first hand at ground zero. Let me tell you. At first, I was quite stunned to see the small silver and gold shops that sell everything but the bullion rounds we are used to seeing back in the states like ASEs, Maples, Krugerrands, and even Chinese Pandas (these are only legally sold at the National Chinese Banks like Bank of China, ICBC, etc).
The reason I was stunned is that I did not witness the typical scene described back in Western websites about the massive PM demand in China when I first arrived in October. Of course there is a lot of retail demand in China for silver and gold but the bulk of this retail demand appears to comes around the Chinese new year (which is Feb 9 this year). The typical scene at a silver/gold store did not impress me. This changed very quickly as the Chinese buying habits according to a Western mind (me) are not very predictable and appear to be lemming like or Giffen-good esque. In other words, if they see that something will increase their prestige or esteem and people are catching on, then all of a sudden like a tidal wave, everyone will start buying it, wearing it, or doing whatever “it” is. This is a common trait in South Korea, where 1 product or musician can become very popular out of no where. One has to keep in mind that in general, Asia, which is not based on Judeo-Christian norms, is an area all about perception, prestige, and not losing face.