May 25, 2012

Are Chinese Youth “Diao Si” 吊丝 – Underprivileged Losers?

Nation, People, Rituals Post by

A new Internet buzzword in China for 2012, is diao si 吊丝. Originally it was used to describe underprivileged people who lacked many of the societal gifts that one must possess (good appearance, family background, a promising career or high social status).

Today, many young people have started using diao si to describe themselves, even though they are actually not as underprivileged as the original term is meant to suggest. However in claiming a diao si identity, we can see it being used as a way to deal with inequalities.

A Reflection of Anxiety and Resentment

Anxiety rests in the minds of many of today’s youth. A realization is continually setting in that social hierarchy is increasingly formed by family power, and will not change easily. Fu er dai or second generation wealthy youth enjoy easy and prosperous lives whereas ordinary folks struggle for limited resources. Calling oneself diao si is a way to express collective resentment and disappointment.

A Way to Step Back and Release

Diao si is also a reflection of youth taking themselves (and their situation) less seriously. They laugh at themselves as a way to distort their gloomy reality. They openly admit they are trivial, insignificant and live meaningless lives. Though active and competitive in everyday life, this self-deprecating mind-set helps to release disappointment and cheers them up.

More interestingly, young people that are quite well off and even celebrities are starting to claim a diao si identity.

There are obvious reasons why young Chinese prefer to be associated with a diao si identity instead of being a “privileged elite”. In claiming to be diao si, these people are affirming the hard work it takes to achieve personal progress. It’s a celebration of the downs, not only the ups.

In this, we see practical implications that may be helpful for brands targeting Chinese youth.

Highlight Experience / Journey Stories

Youth value the experience and the journey because it affirms hard work and provides hope that anyone can achieve success. Pride is taken in hardship and struggle. People want to be seen as resilient, having really lived and having rich emotion. This will eventually lead to wisdom and life appreciation rather than leading a life of superficial consumption – particularly by those born with a silver spoon.

In this, we’re also seeing a departure of young people (Post-80s and Post-90s) being depicted as only interested in instant gratification and hedonism (even if these stereotypes are rigidly formed in their youth).

Brands like Pepsi are starting to recognize the fallacy of these stereotypes and that success is sweeter with delayed gratification because it implies overcoming unfavorable circumstances. A recent ad campaign of Pepsi shows a group of young people going through a long process to finally set up a successful on-line shop.

Help Youth Savor Small Triumphs

Diao si youth do not just live for big triumphs, i.e. career achievement and wedding. Instead, they celebrate every moment that they have really lived, For example, one diao si youth posted his joyful budget bicycle journey on the Internet. Along the way he amused himself and the audience by making great jokes about the ordinary things he met on the road. His posts became really popular, encouraging, inspiring and amusing people along the way.

There are also movies and ads celebrating “ordinary dreams of ordinary people” in life. For example, the movie Old Boys shows how a hairdresser and a taxi driver fulfill their dream of performing a Michael Jackson dance on the contest show, My Idol. Chinese dairy brand, Yili is also launching a new Olympics campaign featuring ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

We find that diao si people are actually more “human” and optimistic. To them, joy and meaning of life is not only about the extraordinary triumphs, but also about life’s ordinary moments.

Written by Vivienne Wang


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5 Responses to “Are Chinese Youth “Diao Si” 吊丝 – Underprivileged Losers?”

  1. [...] From these past Olympic games and perhaps bubbling under the radar over the last two years, we’ve started to see a marked shift. The ‘markers’ are still there, but young adults are starting to celebrate different life narratives and beginning to have different things to admire – a topic we discussed in our recent diao si article. [...]

  2. [...] position in society. It sparked numerous threads of conversation and topics (Read our analysis here and here). A similar word, “逆袭” / “Nixi” or “winning in a less [...]

  3. Abby G says:

    Diao si … sans-culottes?

  4. [...] diao si (屌丝), un termine auto-ironico che descrive i “perdenti diseredati” che mancano di qualità vantaggiose (bell’aspetto, buona famiglia o stato sociale elevato) e che si vedono condurre vite ai limiti della morte, con gli alti costi di vita e tutti i generi di competizione e pressione dalla società; [...]

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