Looking for a success mantra for youth

By Wang Yiqing
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, January 5, 2013
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Diaosi, gaofushuai and baifumei are terms that people usually use to denote different groups of Chinese youth. The terms not only describe the social status of youngsters, but also point to some underlying social problems.

Not surprisingly, the three terms were among the top 10 Internet buzzwords of 2012, according to the list prepared by the National Language Resource Monitoring and Research Center on Network Media of Central China Normal University.

Gaofushuai (tall, rich and handsome guy) and baifumei (white, rich and beautiful girl) derive their literal meanings from Chinese. But diaosi has a special and complex meaning in China's cyberspace. The word diaosi was first used on Baidu tieba, a Chinese bulletin board system (BBS), to describe fans of former Chinese soccer player Li Yi, who were infamous for using dirty language, or people using the Internet as a platform to bemoan their unsatisfactory career and life. But later diaosi came to mean a "loser" who lacked good looks, wealth and social resources.

Interestingly, the majority of people using the Internet on the Chinese mainland are happy to embrace the loser's label, and only a few say they are rich. Many white-collar workers, graduate students and intellectuals love to call themselves diaosi. Even Han Han, the best-selling author, famous racing driver and popular and handsome advertisement star, has called himself "a pure diaosi from a rural area of Shanghai".

Gaofushuai and baifumei can only be "another" person for most of the people using the Internet, and the term even has a pejorative connotation. For example, Guo Meimei, infamous for her charity scandal, is called a baifumei.

But the popularity of the term diaosi is something more than self-mockery. It conveys youngsters' discontent with inequity and the wealth gap.

The significant difference between gaofushuai, baifumei and diaosi is not whether a person is rich or not, but how he/she has amassed wealth, if any. In particular, gaofushuai and baifumei refer to youngsters who were born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouth, while diaosi are those who were born into families that were neither affluent nor resourceful.

Scandals about rich second-generation youngsters such as squandering money and drink-driving accidents have associated gaofushuai and baifumei with brashness and egotism. This is in stark contrast to the struggles that ordinary people have to go through to partake of the limited resources.

An increasing number of people now tend to believe that social hierarchy is synonymous with family background, which can hardly be changed through individual endeavor. People prefer calling themselves diaosi not because they belong to the lowest echelons of society, but because they feel it is extremely difficult to get appropriate returns for their efforts in today's society.

The popularity of diaosi thus reflects many a person's disappointment with the "established" norms of social equality and class mobility. In a sense, it reflects the pessimism of a large number of people who, despite being part of the middle class, suffer from the "loser" feeling.

The authorities should be aware of the undesirable reality that youth from simple families not only lack effective channels to advance their careers and climb the social ladder, but also have to tackle the problems of high living costs and housing prices. If a white-collar worker with a decent job in Beijing cannot pay the installment for even a bathroom with his or her salary for the entire year, it's easy to understand why he/she prefers to be called a diaosi.

But the self-mockery the "losers" use has a positive side as well. It reflects people's optimism with life and the value and respect they attach to individual efforts as opposed to ill-gotten wealth. By claiming to be a diaosi, Han Han is not mocking his "failure"; on the contrary, he is highlighting his hard-earned success. In this context, diaosi ceases to be a term describing a loser. It becomes a word that declares: "I have earned everything all by myself". And to some extent, diaosi becomes a symbol of struggle.

Moreover, despite complaining about social inequality created by family background, the majority of the youth still believe they can compete with those who were born in rich families. That's why nixi, or overcoming difficulties to achieve success in life despite lack of family support, indicates being a diaosi is a counterattack on gaofushuai and baifumei.

Given the problems faced by today's vigorous youth, the authorities should take measures to ensure that youngsters, irrespective of their family background, get equal opportunities to shine in their career and life. After all, the youth are the future of the country.

The author is a writer with China Daily.


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