The “Diaosi” social class: presage of impending social changes in China
Outside China, people are buzzing about Peking pound, the hot money from China that drives up prices or drains supplies of a wide range of things from property to baby formula, from gold to oil, as if a sneeze from the rising Chinese middle class could truly freeze the entire world. But at home, what seems really a formidable collective force are China’s underdog ‘diaosi’ class, consisting of five hundred million people.
The literal English translation of the Chinese buzzword ‘diaosi’, ‘a fan of the penis’ is unsuitable for print in China. It first appeared in the online fan club of Li Yi, a ridiculously narcissistic and yet mediocre Chinese soccer player, where Li’s critics disparaged his admirers as ‘diaosi’.
Chinese netizens created a diaosi-themed poster featuring Li Yi, somewhat “the father of the diaosi class”.
Surprisingly, far from being ashamed of the epithet, those who love Li Yi took great pride in it, and the vulgar neologism soon came into wide adoption in 2012 by the self-proclaimed Chinese underdogs who wallow in self-pity and self-mockery. The crass word was even acknowledged by the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, which, in a November-2012 editorial, warned against ‘Diaosi mentality,’ and thereafter entered the official lexicon.
“Diaosi” adopted by People’s Daily
Today, the most acceptable English translation for the word is “unprivileged loser”. By original definition, he is trapped in poverty and hardly scrapes by on paltry wages. He is mostly likely a rural migrant working as a street vendor, a construction worker, who has no property, no car or no girlfriend and spends most of his spare time in wet dreams in front of a crappy desktop at an underground internet cafe.
But in reality, countless white-collar workers, IT professionals and bank employees have jumped on the poor-mouthing wagon. A survey recently released by Giant Interactive Group, an online game developer and yiguan.cn, an IT market analysis website, finds that 529 million Chinese identify themselves as an unprivileged loser. Most of them were born after 1980. In Shanghai, 76 percent of those surveyed believe they are underdogs. Even Han Han, the most popular Chinese blogger and publisher who boasts 10 million followers, quipped that he is “an authentic ‘diaosi’ on the rural outskirts of Shanghai who started from scratch with no power or connection.”
Belonging to the upper or even the middle class may run the risk of being alienated by the mainstream and even coming in for social hostility now that the wealth gap is wider than ever. And people line up with the diaosi class also to indirectly protest the ‘privileged class’ and the rigidly stratified Chinese society, where one’s success has too much to do with his pedigree and too little with his hard work. The Red nobility, the second generation of the rich, the famous or powerful have paths full of roses readily available in front of them, but one with humble upbringing will be too disadvantaged to be financially successful, regardless of how hard they try.
Moreover, the underdog feeling stems more from insecurity and frustration than from a real lack of wealth, and the disparaging term offers them an emotional outlet. 42 percent of self-labeled ‘losers’ do own a property. Nine percent of them owned even more. But life is nevertheless a perennial struggle. With rising costs of living, static income, treacherous government economic policies, flawed social safety net and without the political umbrella, one’s hard-earned money can easily evaporate. In addition, to breathe clean air and eat safe food, one either has to be well-connected enough to have those carefully filtered and specially supplied, or rich enough to emigrate.
But the unprivileged losers are not really quitting on themselves or idling away their life bellyaching. The sheer size of the group and their relentless pursuit of happiness make them a force to be reckoned with.
Feng Xiaogang, a well-known film director, drew great ire for attacking the diaosi class as self-loathing brainless bunch. Li Yi, the father of ‘diaosi’, rebutted, “ ‘Diaosi’ are humans as well. They also have dreams and are capable of counterattack through their own effort!” Which got 20,000 upvotes.
A recent People’s Daily editorial criticizing the post-1980 generation as languid non-achievers immediately created a backlash on the Internet. One blog post on Sina Weibo stormed, “Baby formula is poisoned by you guys. Rivers stink terribly. The air is filled with apocalytic despair. Housing prices rise faster than anything. Bad realtors and evil landlords make even renting a place like a battle… Now, you teach me how to stop being languid as a post-80? I am damn fortunate to be alive!”
His post was shared over 274,000 times.
And once they become too impatient or too unhappy, they may wake up from trance and start to push for real social changes.