In order to appeal to Chinese consumers, Western brands need to better understand their culture. And what better way to distill the culture than through informal common language. To that end, we’ve devised a primer for luxury brands of slang that’s popular in China today replete with their pronunciation, their relevance to brands and sample sentences to show how they’re used. Enjoy! And if you know of any slang that you think we should add to this list, please tell us in the comments section below.
1. Fu’er Dai
Meaning: Usually decked out in logo-covered luxury clothes, the fu’er dai are the second-generation rich. They host over-the-top weddings and cover their cars and digital devices with “Tuhao gold” (think Trump Tower—see below for definition). A fu’er dai is typically grouped with the generation born in the 1980s or early 90s to wealthy Chinese business people. (They’re not to be confused with the guanerdai: the children of rich bureaucrats who are often tinged with the shadow of corruption.)
Relevance: They are often recognized as “the main core group of luxury consumers of the future.” To connect with the new generation buyers of bling, brands are encouraged to flatter their ego. The fu’er dai wish to be recognized as elite and want the red carpet rolled out for them during their shopping experiences. Wang Sicong, the son of Wang Jianlin, is China’s most famous fu’er dai. He made himself a household name by gifting his dog with iPhones and a Fendi bag, and posting pictures of the dog wearing the gifts. The images became the ultimate symbol for this group.
Usage in a sentence: “I had the chance to be a fu’er dai, but my dad didn’t seize it.”—Weibo user
Meaning: Literally translated as “to buy on behalf of” the term refers to someone who buys products overseas for consumers in mainland China. The term also stands for the industry created by these personal shoppers. Many daigou are immigrants or students studying abroad. Daigou becomes their part-time job (or sometimes even their full-time job) while they’re overseas. To start their business, the daigou will take advantage of the price discrepancy between goods in China and those in the city they live in abroad. Their first customers tend to be culled from their circle of friends and family in China. Once they’ve begun their shopping, they can show off their purchases on social media and hope to entice new customers.
Relevance: They are seen as the main player fueling the grey market for China’s online luxury goods. In order to encourage domestic spending, the Chinese government heavily cracked down on the daigou practice by instituting tighter border controls and tariffs. As it becomes increasingly difficult to grow their business, daigou have become more creative. Some will attend fashion shows to prove their value and offer their VIP clients an exclusive channel to access the latest collections. Their role has evolved from being an illegal personal shopper to a buyer, providing their high-spending consumers with the latest trends. Brands have been advised to focus on developing their own e-commerce and unified global pricing to battle with daigou.
Usage in a sentence: “Right now the market is filled with fake goods, consumers also lack of education in differentiating real and fake goods, it leaves little margin for those of us who run a legit daigou business.” —One US-based daigou shopper
Meaning: The word “shanzhai” was first used to describe the copycat phenomenon in the IT industry. Adapted for the fashion context, a shanzhai designer is someone who redesigns a fashion item that is not necessarily an exact copy of the real product as many counterfeit factories would do. They run all aspects of their fashion business exclusively through social media, including pre-design, production, distribution and marketing. Thus, they’re able to give lower-end Chinese consumers a taste of luxury at cut-rate prices.
Relevance: Even though their customers are not necessarily the type that luxury brands target, their business practice offers brands an example of how to creatively respond to the needs of their consumers.
Usage in a sentence: “For every original product from the West, there is a shanzhai version to be found in China.”—A popular saying in China
Meaning: A tuhao is someone who became rich virtually overnight, and usually refers to the type of bling luxury consumer who likes to show off that new wealth. Many people view the tuhao as having spawned a culture of uneducated, tasteless extravagance.
Relevance: The tuhao’s luxury taste is not seen as sophisticated. Besides their passion for big logos, they also like to spend money on high-priced accessories to show that they view money as “dirt.” Such accessories include a Fendi bag charm ($1000), a bottle of Fillico jewelry water ($100), or Dolce & Gabbana’s gold crown headphones ($9000), which sold out in 24 hours after Rihanna tweeted a picture of herself wearing them. Under the anti-corruption policy, it could also bring a backlash to brands which proffer an extravagant style.
Usage in a sentence: “I’m going to tuhao country: Dubai.”—Weibo user
5. Singles’ Day
Meaning: In China, the shape of the number “11” resembles bare branches and thus has come to symbolize the solitary single person. Singles’ Day, an informal festival in China, helps single people celebrate by giving them a reason to treat themselves. Recognizing this phenomenon, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba created the official annual shopping festival in 2011 by offering special prices and promotions during a 24-hour period. The festival has become the largest online shopping day in the world. Alibaba achieved 1 billion sales in less than 5 minutes during the 2016 event, in which the total revenue was $20 billion.
Relevance: For luxury brands in China, Singles’ Day is a golden opportunity to step into the China market and boost their end-of-year sales numbers with high order volume. Alibaba competitor JD.com launched its own version to sell higher-quality goods. Called “618,” this shopping festival held in June had record results this year. Now, Amazon has also entered the game, having launched Prime Day in China.
Usage in a sentence: “Singles’ Day is a time when the e-commerce giant is happy, delivery services go crazy, and retailers cry.” —Weibo user
6. Sheng Nv
Meaning: Women in China are expected to get married before the age of 27, otherwise they are considered “left-over” hence the term, which literally means “left-over woman.”
Relevance: Tracking this social taboo, many brands aim to create campaigns that resonate with their target consumers, even empower them. One high-end brand, SK-II, took advantage of this phenomenon and created a short documentary video, “Marriage Market Takeover,” which went viral and helped the skincare brand increase sales in China by more than 50 percent in nine months. It also created heated discussions among Chinese society. But it’s a good example of how brands can appeal to Chinese consumers by better understanding their culture.
Usage in a sentence: “Sk-II’s creative ads shed light on the truth that many Chinese Shengnu have been waiting to say out loud.” —Weibo user
7. Duo Shou:
Pronunciation: du-ah show
Meaning: A duo shou, or “hand-chopper,” is someone who is a shopping addict and promises to chop off their hand if they ever place another order again. The word characterizes the new online shopping generation, and how e-commerce has fueled the emergence of impulse shopping. A report by McKinsey showed that China’s mobile shoppers make more ‘impulse’ buys on WeChat.
Usage in a sentence: Singles’ Day is a major duo shou festival.—Weibo user
8. Zhong Cao Machine
Pronunciation: jong-ztow machine
Meaning: Zhong Cao means to “plant grass,” and describes the effect when someone sees something owned by a friend or family member, or an advertisement for a product, and wants it. The effect is like planting a seed in their mind. A Zhong Cao machine is another word to describe a key opinion leader. It refers someone who holds the power to sway the public’s fashion preferences.
Relevance: For luxury brands, KOLs are often brand ambassadors. They help brands promote products through their personal channels.
Usage in a sentence: “Kendall Jenner is my new Zhong Cao machine.”—Weibo user
9. Xiao Xianrou
Pronunciation: se-ow si-an-row
Meaning: Little fresh meat. These are tall and beautiful men who have flawless skin and facial features. They signify a new kind of male beauty standard and have become the object of the female gaze. Some of the notable ‘Little Fresh Meat’ are Kris Wu, Huang Zitao and Zhang Yixing.
Relevance: Because of their massive female fan base, beauty brands often invite ‘Little Fresh Meat’ to become brand ambassadors, hoping their desirability will translate into big sales. But brands should think carefully before choosing one of these men as a brand ambassador. The short boost in sales doesn’t necessarily translate into loyal consumers as their fans follow the celebrity. If the celebrity moves on, so do their fans.
Usage in a sentence: “What kind of values have made the xiao xianrou phenomenon so popular; they can’t act, and they’re so feminine. It really brought the standards of the entertainment industry down.”—Weibo user