Knowing China through Taiwan

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Diao si: internet buzzword reflects angst among young Chinese

  • Lu Su-mei and Staff Reporter
  • 2012-06-27
  • 08:48 (GMT+8)
The newly created buzzword on the internet, implying self-deprecation and a lack of self-esteem. (Photo/CFP)

The newly created buzzword on the internet, implying self-deprecation and a lack of self-esteem. (Photo/CFP)

The term "diao si" (屌絲) has been a buzzword among China's internet community since the start of the year, with everyone from the hi-tech elite to white-collar workers and celebrities all referring to themselves by the word. So what does "diao si" mean and why has it become a cultural phenomenon?

The word reportedly originates from Baidu's Tiebar (a Chinese bulletin board system) for soccer player Li Yi. It implies a kind of helplessness and self-mockery, which Li uses as an outlet to mock himself and relieve stress. The character "diao" refers to the male reproductive organ.

It is also reported that the word "diao si" was first coined by single, young men who feel they lead dead-end lives. They call themselves "diao si" because they feel they are at the lowest echelon of society.

Young Chinese have been trying to cope with the existential changes that their country's economic shift has brought. They have lost their ability to communicate, their lifestyle, their drive and their enthusiasm for life. Under these circumstances, "diao si" is an accurate term for self-mockery.

As the term gained popularity, some celebrities have expressed their views on it. A woman said on her microblog: "The mindset of 'diao si' was attributing problems caused by an insufficient personal ability to deal with persecution from strangers."

Once an individual calls themselves a "diao si", they give themselves a social demotion. This "self-demotion" is common in Chinese internet culture because internet users typically dislike to blow their own horn. Users of the words also tend to be younger frequenters of internet forums.

According to Zhu Chongke, a professor in the School of Asia-Pacific Studies at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, the popularity of the word "diao si" stems from the fact that it was created by common people and thus resonates with a vast part of the population.

"The 'diao si' phenomenon reflects not just a youth culture problem but larger social issues," Zhu said.

"Society hasn't offered an effective channel for young people who don't have an influential family background to receive promotions at work," Zhu added.

Who's Who

  • Zhang Yong (張勇)

    Zhang Yong (張勇)

    Zhang Yong is director of the China Food and Drug Administration, formerly known as the State Food and Drug Administration. A native of born in ...