Diaosi Economy coupled with vulgar internet culture

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Xiaomi is tech smart, but cultural silly” has become one of my favorite piquant topics to entertain those foreigners who have limited knowledge about China. This home-grown smart phone brand, leveraging the image of “China’s Apple at cheaper prices”, has successfully spread its fame all the over the world. In 2015, MIT Technology Review ranked Xiaomi No.2 on its annual list of 50 smartest companies. In fact most foreigners I encountered, if new to the country, especially men, often told me how much they are impressed by the tech reputation of Xiaomi and even hope to purchase a Xiaomi phone.

I concurred with them, then suddenly changed my tone with a twist and said:

Do you know the cultural silly side of Xiaomi?

Most of them looked rather nonplussed, so I continued my expatiation:

In China, internet culture has categorized men into two camps: “Tall, Handsome, Rich” as opposed to “Short, Ugly, Poor”. The “Tall, Handsome, Rich” group usually would prefer to own “Apple” phone whereas the other camp men “short, Ugly, Poor”, who happen to be Xiaomi‘s targeted consumers, are proudly choosing Xiaomi as their status symbol. There is even an internet slang for the “Short, Ugly, Poor”, which is “Diaosi”. So Xiaomi is the ultimate “Diaosi Phone”. Nothing wrong with that, but if you carry a Xiaomi phone to a bar in China, just be warned you might not be able to pick up the girls who simply dismiss you as “Foreign Diaosi Man”…

Well, these foreigners instantly gave me this “Oh, I see” look and their decision of buying a Xiaomi phone started to slightly waver. “Not getting the girl and fall into the profile of “short, ugly, poor” sounds like a powerful message to deter them; or at least have a second thought on Xiaomi phone. Meanwhile I grinned in smug that my little trick worked again.

Naughty joking aside, few seriously inquisitive foreigners would keep digging the true meaning behind “Diaosi”. They asked me:

What does Diaosi exactly mean, just abbreviation for “Short, Ugly, Poor?

Then I blushed; nodded my head incessantly and tried to avoid further discussion as it would appear indecent and inappropriate to reveal the original meaning of “Diaosi” in front of their face. In Chinese language context, “Diaosi” literally refers to the pubic hair in male frontal genital area . Back in 2011, this obscene term was initially concocted during a vehement online bickering between two forum groups. Somehow it took off, got accepted, and its popularity burned like wild fire across Chinese internet.

Fairly speaking, men, regardless “Tall, Handsome, Rich” or “Short, Ugly, Poor”, all grow pubic hair, that is Diaosi, but why this slang should contain such descriptive immensity to encapsulate all characteristics of grass-root, unprivileged Chinese male, and finally become the most sought after internet label, this has remained a peculiar enigma to many. Nevertheless, the rise of “Diaosi” phenomenon officially marked a new era of China internet culture of vulgarism, and has catapulted the development of “Diaosi Economy”.

China economy has been progressing; yet society’s predilection of extreme materialism suggests that wealth evaluation is the predominant factor to determine the watershed between “Diaosi” and “Elite“. Although public media has been saturated with stories of rich Chinese parvenus flaunting their wealth in the most extravagant manner, in a strict sense, vast majority of the ordinary citizens might just be labeled as “Diaosi” at this stage. According to BCG, “94% of the household in China should be considered as lower-wealth households (those with investable household financial assets of less than USD100,000). They are usually unable to meet RMB50,000 investment threshold for wealth management services offered by banks”.


Before long commercial world in China already realized the potency of “Diaosi” as the driving force of economy. The success of Yuebao, the money market fund product launched by Alibaba offers another paradigm about how profitable business can be achieved by tapping into the pocket of “Diaosi“. “Yuebao serves nearly 200 million customers with a high acceptance of digital finance, and the majority have a monthly household income less than RMB10,000” said by BCG. “Monthly household income less than RMB10,000 (USD1,612)” again BCG is pinpointing to the “Diaosi” market.

How brands and companies can create empathy with Diaosi? It does require the consummate skills of understanding Diaosi psychology and playing the “low culture” drama in this nation. Just browsing the China internet, you would see an increasingly confused array of grass-roots Diaosi attempt to seize the attention of mass, not through their cultivation of taste or insistence on refinement but with vulgar splendor and even more bizarre forms of crudeness, for example lewd jokes, toilet humor, chicken-soup for the fool, uncouth self-deprecation, bawdy viral videos, in order to keep the online crowd constantly amused. Beneath Diaosi shallow and vulgar gaity actually expressed the frustrated overtone of disillusionment with themselves and the exasperated cry at the impotence of the kind of the life that went on around them, often the thirst or aspiration of social climb and wealth accumulation without being fulfilled. Instead of seeking self-improvement, Diaosi indulge themselves in the addictive online whim of wanton idiocy and ludicrousness.

But in the end, we have to ask ourselves, can China bring the local Diaosi culture beyond its border? If Apple today still captivates the heart of global consumers by empowering its high-end image, how Xiaomi can translate its Diaosi branding culture into the rest of the world? Does the universal law of brand popularity hinge on refined sophistication, or tasteless simplicity? For a nation ingrained with Diaosi mindset and vulgar internet culture, are we still able to create cultivated ideals and grand visions? Time to think about.

Cecilia Wu

A witty, nutty and frosty writer who hopes to jot down moments of inspiration from her daily life

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