The slang term 小资（xiao3 zi1) came up over dinner with my friends Min and Kai. I was discussing a Website I liked, and Min responded, “I don’t like that site. It’s too 小资.” Well, I had never heard the term. What is it? Min responded: “I don’t know how to translate it. People who are xiao zi like Western things, like to drink coffee at cafes…Shanghai is a very 小资.”
Huh? Well, down the rabbit hole I went to seek to understand this concept.
(Inspired by china/divide’s recent post with lots of eye candy, I thought I’d posts some attractive pictures evocative of the xiao zi concept.)
Where did this term come from? Originally, Karl Marx
The term is most directly translated as “petty” (Chinese) as in “petty bourgeoisie.” (Chinese) I shared with my friends that the term Petty Bourgeoisie has specific meaning in the Marxist conception of class, which through class struggle drives the progressive (dialectic materialist) development of history. The original “petty bourgeoisie” were the merchant, shopkeeper, small business owners.
But today’s xiaozi are not defined about how they make money, but how the spend it. The term, once used to mark those on the wrong side of the revolution, has now been co-opted by popular culture to mean something entirely different and not entirely negative.
My attempt at a definition
After consulting my friends and Twitter (thanks taweili!) Here’s my attempt at a definition:
小资 (Xiao3 Zi1) – people who enjoy fashion, brands, hobbies, and free thinking that is inspired by Western commercial and artistic culture. Similar to “yuppies” in the sense of youthful materialism, the term also carries a overtones of the creative, free-thinking state of being “hipsters.” However, this creativity and free-thinking is only within the bounds of what is socially acceptable within the xiaozi norm. There are many positive attributes of Xiaozi. To some it is a put-down. But to others, it is a compliment. Still others might use the term in a self-deprecating way to describe themselves.
What do you think about this definition? Agree? or disagree?
The best source I found was on Baidu’s wikipedia product called Baike. Their article on xiaozi here.
Quiz: Here’s 20 questions to determine if you or your Chinese friend is Xiaozi
- Are they jaded about Chinese national events, and resist being defined by “official” and mainstream culture?
- Do they like to sit in cafes? Do they like to drink coffee?
- Do they appreciate red wine (and really appreciate it, not mix it with Coke)?
- Do they crave outbound travel? Do they want to visit Tibet?
- Are they focused on self-expression through fashion? Do they look down on people who spend money on brands without true appreciation of fashion?
- Do they sometimes have a sense of being somehow different from the rest of society? That they are seeking something that cannot be found?
- Do they use their English name, even with other Chinese people?
- Do they like to socialize with foreigners? Do they like to date foreigners?
- Are they picky in their love life? Do they feel that most traditional members of the opposite sex don’t understand their love of life, and their need for creative self-definition? Attitude of “if I’m not in love, I’d rather die”
- Do they like foreign hobbies like Yoga? or Salza dancing?
- Do they known multiple languages? Do they have good scores on TOEFL, GRE, and other foreign placement tests?
- Do they like popular intellectual Western literature like Italo Calvino or Jorge Luis Borges?
- Do they like Western popular music, electronica or jazz?
- Do they tend to watch Western TV shows and like to complain about the low quality of Chinese media?
- Are they Web-savvy? Do they like Western Web 2.0 sites and the more clean Western aesthetic of Web design?
- Do they like all things Apple Computer?
- Do they like blocked Western Websites like Twitter and Facebook?
- Do they use Google, not Baidu?
- Do they use MSN messenger or Skype, but not QQ?
- Do they visit Douban, Onlylady or Rayli.com.cn?