Welcome to Tea Time Chat, a real-time discussion between Tea Leaf Nation writers about the issues that matter to them.
Last month, TLN‘s Claire Zhang had this to say about China’s growing ranks of so-called “Diaosi”:
“Diaosi” originated as an insult for a poor, unattractive young person who stayed at home all day playing video games, with dim prospects for the future – a “loser.” Yet as the term went viral on the Internet, Chinese youth from all backgrounds began to embrace it. It has become a self-deprecating counter to the “gaofushuai,” or the “tall-rich-handsome,” those with status, success, and bright futures.
But how deep does “Diaosi” self-identification go in China, really? TLN queried some of its Chinese-born writers to find out.
I am undoubtedly a diaosi. To me, the term is both an acknowledgement of and a subtle rebellion against a set of powerful societal values that are at once discriminating, distasteful and dispiriting.
When people ask me why I don’t want to go back to China after college, I often answer, “I wouldn’t be able to buy a house, and therefore I wouldn’t be able to get married.” And I’m not even really joking.
A recent college graduate in China, even from a top university like Peking University or Tsinghua, would never be able to purchase an apartment on his or her own. Yet society insists on defining one’s worth by materialistic standards, of which one’s ownership of property is of central importance.
Once you realize the ludicrousness of similar societal expectations — so much of which is blatantly misogynistic — you find yourself between a rock and a hard place: either you scramble to satisfy those expectations and become an unwilling accomplice of the system, or you denounce the ridiculousness of it all and risk turning into a social outcast.
That is already leaving out what is perhaps the worst option and the true depths of diaosi-hood: failure to do either.
Against societal values that often seem flat-out insane, the vast majority of people find themselves helpless. Some consider themselves diaosi because they are lacking financially. Others identify as diaosi because even though they might have reached society’s ever-rising bar of success, they are left yearning for a measuring stick that is not quite as ruthless and destructive.
The powerlessness and discomfort that I feel when I read about gender norms and societal verdicts of success in China is what makes me a diaosi. And I guess everything I’ve written above is what makes me a fenqing [angry youth] as well.
I am not a diaosi.
The simplest reason is that diaosi is a strongly gendered term. Leaving aside its etymology, one of the chief aspects of diaosi-hood is its attitude towards women: I am poor. No woman wants me. Therefore they must all be materialistic gold-diggers. In this aspect, the diaosi is marked by a simultaneous desire, objectification, insecurity, and contempt towards women.
Let us imagine a stereotypical diaosi. He is a recent graduate, perhaps an engineer, working for a pittance in a dead-end position in an unexciting industry. He lives simply. He has few vices and fewer virtues. He’s not particularly talkative. He spends most of his free time playing online games. He thinks that he would maybe like a girlfriend.
Perhaps a female co-worker likes him. Perhaps she stops by to chat to him. Our diaosi has gone to middle school and high school in an environment where cross-gender friendships are suspect. He has never learned how to talk to women. He misses the signals. Exasperated, she eventually asks him out. He hesitates. He thinks her unattractive because she is not tall and slender and pale. He turns her down.
Our diaosi is attracted to a good-looking woman who lives next door to him. He tries to contact her and make overtures. She isn’t interested. She says to him that he should maybe consider dressing more fashionably and making himself more attractive. Besides, she says, he doesn’t have a house and a car, and she can do better – why should she date him?
The diaosi is offended – how can she be so materialistic as to reject him just because of his looks and his lack of money? Doesn’t she know he’s a good guy? He conveniently forgets that he is interested in her because of her appearance. It’s all for the best, he thinks. She’s probably had lovers before, and he can’t stand the thought of his future spouse having been with anyone but him. What if she finds him less attractive than whoever she used to be with?
The diaosi meets a girl in the library. She’s grown up overseas, and went to university in Europe. She has a masters in philosophy. She likes to talk about Nietzsche and Bertrand Russell. She thinks he’s nice because he doesn’t talk to her while she’s reading. She asks him if they should date each other.
The diaosi is hesitant. He usually can’t understand a word of what she’s saying once she gets into academics. He pretends to understand, and sometimes interjects just so he doesn’t seem stupid. But the thought of his girlfriend being better educated than him bothers him. Besides, although she’s pretty, she’s older than him. What would people think of him if he was with a woman who’s already thirty-one? He turns her down.
The diaosi goes home and goes back to playing his online games, occasionally pausing to post on an online forum wondering why women won’t date him. Maybe if he got a raise. Maybe if he had a house and car. Maybe if he finds a girl who’s just graduated from college, she’ll give him the appropriate regard. It’s a shame women are so materialistic.
I am not a diaosi. But I am limited by the diaosi and the mainstream values of diaosi-hood. I am troubled knowing that if I decide to search for a significant other back home, he would most likely come from the diaosi crowd. And if I were to successfully date a diaosi, I may well need to make myself seem smaller, less interesting, less threatening. I might have to stop talking about social justice and fantasy novels and World War I memoirs. I might have to stop worrying about my writing and start worrying about my makeup. I might have to learn to sajiao [throw temper tantrums].
It might be too high a price to pay.