This piece was inspired by a recent visit to China Joy in Shanghai, the biggest gaming expo in China. Over the course of the expo, a vast hoarde of gaming fans (over 100,000 in 2013) descended on the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC) to check out the latest innovations in computer tech, new game releases, and of course, cosplay shows. Hordes of young men gathered around stages where scantily-clad models stood, sometimes presenting new products, other times simply doing nothing. They wore clothing sporting their favourite gaming characters, carried gaming paraphernalia including swords, gauntlets and collectibles, and feverishly tapped at the various interfaces – whether they be consoles, desktop computers, mobiles or tablets.


You can be almost sure that many of the visitors would align themselves with the common Chinese Internet meme ‘diaosi’ (屌丝). Here we take a look at this subsection of Chinese youths; at what connotations the term diaosi carries, and how these informed Strawberry Festival 2014’s marketing strategy.


Introducing the Diaosi

Whilst there are many articles documenting the rise of the term diaosi, the best we’ve read so far is a study by Marcella Szablewicz (2014). As she details, the diaosi as a term originated as a by-product of ‘trash talking’ between members of the Baidu Li Yi Bulletin boards system (BBS) and the members of the Leiting Sanjutou (雷霆三巨头) BBS.  To quote the original study:

“Fans of the Chinese footballer Li Yi (李毅 ) became the target of ridicule, and they mockingly called themselves yi si bu gua (一丝不挂 ), a phrase meaning ‘stark naked’. This eventually morphed into Yi si bu gua, Yi si (毅丝 ), meaning fans of Yi, and, finally into the nickname diaosi.”

The original subject matter is of little importance. The real significance lies in the response to the term. Rather than taking offence, these fans began openly proclaiming their diaosi status online, adopting the label as a marker of some aspect of their identity (much like some would openly call themselves geeks to align with a certain community). The term soon went viral, and even appeared in the popular press, further legitimizing it.

The reason for openly adopting the term goes beyond the scope of this article, but in essence, the term provides a sense of solidarity between a subsection of youths who were brought up to believe they were little emperors destined to become China’s next generation of CEOs. These youths quickly found themselves disillusioned, with the realization that the wealth and opportunities afforded by China’s economic boom are in reality not afforded to all. Unfair parental expectations, structural limitations created by the size of China’s population, selective college entrance exams, and a competitive job market have meant that the majority of youths are part of a subordinated social group which must settle with a humbler existence.

Diaosi as Being

What exactly constitutes a diaosi? The term is dynamic and continues to evolve alongside its appearance in popular cultural forms. We would argue it is more of a mode of living for this reason. However, Szablewicz quotes the talk show Qiangqiang san ren xing (锵锵三人行 ), which gives us a more tangible idea of what the diaosi male is, as follows:

1. Does not have more than RMB 1,000 on his person.

2. Wears knock-off brand shoes or shoes that cost less than RMB 800.

3. Has not had more than three girlfriends before marrying.

4. Smokes cigarettes that cost less than RMB 20.

5. Only drinks beer or cheap liquor.

6. Has benefits amounting to less than RMB 10,000.

7. Does not have a car or, if he does, it costs less than RMB 100,000.

8. Rarely takes long-distance trips.

9. Has no one of wealth and influence in his social circle.

10. Spends less than RMB 2,000 on his cell phone and spends a lot of time on microblogs.

Tries to act ‘cool’ with his phone.

There is a separate list for the female diaosi, which is notably more superficial:

1. Has never bought a bikini.

2. Does not wear brightly coloured nail polish.

3. Has never worn heels higher than 5 cm.

4. Does not have matching sets of lingerie.

5. Spends five or more months dieting in one year.

6. Does not dare to show her teeth when she laughs or smiles in public.

7. Likes to walk behind men.

8. Does not like to look in the mirror or looks in the mirror too much.

9. Has not changed her hairstyle in more than six months.

diao 3

[We think these lists are appalling, unnecessarily gendered, and illustrate how tightly notions of success are tied to acquisitive materialism. Nevertheless our job here is simply to bring attention to these cultural artifacts].

In summary, a diaosi is a person (often male) who is perceived as being unattractive, unsociable, having achieved limited success (in the eyes of the popular rhetoric) and has limited scope for future socio-economic mobility. He/she falls outside the stereotype of the desirable man (高富帅 tall, rich and handsome) or woman (白富美 white, rich and beautiful).

Getting Diaosi Offline

Expos such as China Joy and Internet Bar culture in general (which has been in decline since the emergence of affordable smartphones and computers see this post) prove that there is a large sub-section of the youth demographic that is staying in. They realize their own mobility by jacking in to information flows that enable participation in an exciting narrative to which their offline lives pale in comparison. In the words of Szablewicz:

“The Internet has provided the platform on which a sense of group solidarity is established; it is a visual medium that gives individuals a visceral sense of the vast number of people who identify with their situation. This group affect, in turn, becomes a rallying point for the [diaosi] movement.”

It was only a matter of time before the term became co-opted by brands. The most notable example within the live music sector came from Strawberry Festival 2014. The tag line “SNS life is rubbish, get a real life” is a clear call-to-action leveled at the diaosi community. Ironically the festival was heavily sponsored by popular social networks and online media platforms including Letv(乐视)、Momo(陌陌)、Gaode(高德)and Yixin(易信), effectively ensuring that the offline would still to an extent, remain connected.

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Festivals allow attendees to suspend time and play in a way that simply isn’t permitted in day-to-day life. Friends can dance, dress up, discover, and be something else. It’s difficult to make crude value judgments at festivals, meaning everyone is safe and unguarded. Getting this message across is key to event organizers, and this is why it’s particularly important for sponsoring brands to ensure their messages align. Brands should further enable self-discovery and play, whilst avoiding popular rhetorics that envisage ‘the hero’s journey’, where individuals are pressured into trying to be something special, unique, or outstanding. As youths become less naïve they will cease pursuing unrealistic dreams, and simply look for ways to enjoy the lives they and their families have built for themselves. They won’t need or want to be 高富帅 or 白富美.

Getting diaosi out is about understanding why these people align themselves with the term in the first place. Once you understand the background, you can dig for the motivators.


Szablewicz, M. 2014. The ‘losers’ of China’s Internet: Memes as ‘structures of feeling’ for disillusioned young netizens. China Information (Online) July. 28: 259-275.