Underdogs Find Success in ‘Diaosi’ Identity

Originally an insult, the term diaosi (屌丝) has been appropriated by legions of tech-savvy Chinese youth to describe their experience living in a rapidly changing and often unjust society. After explaining the term’s evolution from scornful origins to a word that proudly unites the downtrodden, the South China Morning Post introduces a few successful diaosi and the hope that their success inspires:

Diaosi, which has a crude translation, was originally used to curse someone as a loser. But the phrase has gone mainstream since 2011 and is widely used by young Chinese as a trendy way to describe and poke fun at their own low status.

An estimated 526 million identify with the term, or 40 per cent of the Chinese population, said a survey recently released by online game developer Giant Interactive Group and yiguan.cn, an IT market analysis website.

The survey reflects the rise of a particular generation mostly born in the post-1980s and just starting their careers. They largely live on online, where they are able to unleash their frustrations and play out fantasy scenarios. In real life, their diaosi identity is worn as a badge of honour, especially for those who have made it big.

Linhai Tingtao, from fantasy to fame

“I’m one of the diaosi,” said Lin Hai. “We are common Chinese who are fighting for our dreams.”[…]


Last month, the empowering profanity loomed high over Times Square, advertising a new Chinese online game. Want China Times reports on the incident and the meaning of the term:

An advertisement for a Chinese online game, The Mythical Realm, was pulled from digital billboards in New York’s Times Square due to use of the Chinese word “diaosi,” a self-deprecating term for young Chinese internet users, because the character “diao” refers to the male reproductive organ.

Young internet users in China refer to themselves as diaosi because they feel marginalized in society, without the ability to communicate effectively or affect changes in their lifestyle, feeling lost in an ever-changing environment which seems to be leaving them behind, according to our Chinese-language sister paper Want Daily.

The ad was removed because the slogan violates US regulations which prohibit broadcasting indecent language. As a result, Times Square authorities have halted all Chinese-language advertisements in order to re-examine their contents.


More on the cultural significance of diaosi can be found in Tech In Asia’s coverage of the now-removed ad:

“Dick strings” — diaosi in Chinese — is a term that originated several years ago on Baidu’s Tieba forums. As you might expect given its literal meaning, diaosi was not a term of endearment, it referred to people who were: “poor, short, ugly, fat, stupid, excessively-masturbating failures.” ChinaSmack suggests “loser” and “douchebag” as more succinct translations of the term’s official meaning, and both of those seem apt enough.

Over time, though, the usage of the word has changed dramatically. Although it still means “loser”, it has been co-opted by a particular subset of the online community and used as a sort of self-definition. Perhaps similar to the term “geek” in the US or otaku in Japan, diaosibegan as an insult but has become something that many Chinese gamers and internet users self-identify as. These days, the term has real appeal to many who see themselves as perhaps not blessed with wealth or beauty, but still passionate about gaming and the internet. It’s a rallying cry and a way of relating to one another that’s self-deprecating but (some would say) also empowering.

[…] In a lengthy analytical piece, Sina Tech argues that the term doesn’t really mean “dick strings,” and points out that other Chinese terms like niubi (“badass”) have rather disgusting literal meanings but have become fairly normalized and acceptable in everyday speech nevertheless. It even (without irony as far as I can tell) points to the controversy surrounding George Bernard Shaw’s use of the term “bloody” in the play Pygmalion as a similar example of a controversy over “vulgar” language that ultimately became rather non-controversial as time passed and people got used to it.


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