'Sexual allure' to 'full-time kids': 2023’s Gen Z buzzwords in China

    What do terms like full-time 'son and daughter,' 'main owner' and 'sexual allure' reveal about China’s Gen Z?
    Tanya Van GastelTech Correspondent
      Published   in Lifestyle

    China’s latest buzzwords are emblematic of its youth, offering insights into the nation's evolving zeitgeist.

    Continuing from our previous explainer, we explore six new slang words dominating conversations in 2023, from internet jargon to words that have entered mainstream vernacular. These terms provide a window into the narratives and identities defining China's post-pandemic era, offering brands an unique insight into what’s top of mind with young Chinese consumers.

    Full-time son and daughter (全职儿女): Adult children living at home

    The term “full-time son and daughter” describes a growing segment of the young adult population who, facing a challenging job market amid sky-high youth unemployment rates and climbing house costs, or professional burnout caused by long work hours, opt to leave their careers and return home.

    Unlike the “boomerang kid” phenomenon (an adult who returns to live with their parents at home), these individuals emphasize how they actively take care of household chores and provide emotional support, in lieu of paying rent. The shift towards full-time sons and daughters is particularly noticeable among recent graduates disillusioned by the grim employment landscape and young professionals seeking respite from the intense urban work-life balance. The majority of full-time sons and daughters see their living arrangement as temporary, as well as a time to relax and reflect, while they look for better jobs.

    Sky-high fortune (泼天的富贵): When going viral means financial success

    The term “sky-high fortune” encapsulates the massive rise in popularity and attention brands or individuals can experience by going viral. This term gained prominence in the wake of a significant brand crisis faced by Florasis, a Chinese cosmetics company, following controversial remarks by livestream host Li Jiaqi. The incident sparked a surge of fervent support for domestic beauty products, catapulting companies like Fenghua, Bai Xiang, and Erke into the spotlight.

    Netizens flocked to the social media accounts and livestreams of these domestic brands, leaving comments like, "Are you ready to achieve sky-high wealth?" implying that a surge in website traffic would reap major profits.

    As “ sky-high fortune” becomes a part of everyday vernacular, it has been applied in a wider variety of contexts. For instance, young people may ask, "When will I get a 'sky-high fortune'?” to ponder their own prospects for sudden overnight success.

    Young netizens ask, “When will I get a ‘sky-high fortune’?” to ponder their own prospects for sudden, overwhelming success. Image: Xiaohongshu
    Young netizens ask, “When will I get a ‘sky-high fortune’?” to ponder their own prospects for sudden, overwhelming success. Image: Xiaohongshu

    Far, far ahead (遥遥领先): China’s technological progress

    The phrase “far, far ahead” was originally a catchphrase of Huawei's consumer business group CEO Yu Chengdong who coined it to highlight what he cited as the technological superiority of Huawei's smartphones, especially compared with those of rivals like Apple.

    Initially received with a hint of skepticism, the term gained momentum and took on a positive connotation this year after the release of the Mate60 Pro, which is widely perceived by netizens as having significantly narrowed the gap between China’s semiconductor technology and that of the Western world. Nowadays, “far, far ahead” is used as a positive rallying cry for technological advancement in China.

    E person, I person (E人I人): Examining personality types

    The MBTI extrovert and introvert personality categories, colloquially known in China as an “e person” (E人) and an “I person” (I人), have gained significant traction among China's youth as tools for self-discovery and social navigation this year.

    People also often refer to people who fall into these two categories as shekong (社恐), or socially phobic, and sheniu (社牛), or social butterfly. The increasing popularity of personality tests among young people indicates their desire to understand themselves better.

    Many young individuals use the labels “e person” and “I person” in social interactions to intuitively express their personalities, making social interactions more focused on communication styles and compatibility.

    Main owner (主理人): The solopreneur

    The term "main owner” (主理人), originally coined by boutique clothing designers to denote the creative and managerial force behind their brands, has evolved into a broader descriptor among freelancers and solo entrepreneurs.

    Initially a mark of independent craftsmanship in the fashion industry, it soon expanded to encompass individuals managing their own TikTok accounts, podcasts, or other personal business ventures. Over time, it evolved into a more sophisticated descriptor for freelance roles, lending an air of gravitas and professionalism to such endeavors

    This lexicon reflects a shift towards non-traditional career paths among today's youth and the growing population of young people living unconventional lifestyles. The term's proliferation, particularly among those not traditionally employed, has led to a nuanced shift in perception.

    Now, declaring oneself as a "main owner” often carries an undercurrent of irony, subtly hinting at unemployment rather than signifying entrepreneurship.

    The term main owner denotes the shift towards non-traditional career paths among China’s youth today. Image: Unsplash
    The term main owner denotes the shift towards non-traditional career paths among China’s youth today. Image: Unsplash

    Sexual allure (性张力): Mature magnetism

    Meanwhile, the concept of sexual allure (性张力) is reshaping perceptions of sex appeal in the Chinese entertainment industry. The term celebrates the allure and charisma exuded by middle-aged actors, who often radiate a more potent sexual tension on screen than their younger counterparts, known as “little fresh meat.”

    This shift represents a maturing of audience tastes, recognizing the depth and experience that comes with maturity, and questioning the disproportionate popularity and earnings of younger actors.

    1. The term "full-time son and daughter" reflects a trend among China's Gen Z of returning home due to job market challenges, focusing on household support over rent contributions.
    2. "Sky-high fortune" captures the phenomenon of individuals or brands achieving sudden financial success through viral fame, reflecting young netizens' aspirations for overnight prosperity.
    3. "Far, far ahead" symbolizes China's pride in technological advancements, with Huawei's Mate60 Pro exemplifying national strides towards semiconductor independence.
    4. The popularity of "E person, I person" demonstrates Gen Z's engagement with personality typing as a means of understanding social behaviors and preferences.
    5. "Sexual allure" highlights a shifting appreciation towards the mature charisma of middle-aged actors, challenging the previous dominance of "little fresh meat" in the entertainment industry.
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