Chinese Corner

Hey Poser

What putdown to use when dudes wear shades indoors – by Christina Xu

 

In Chinese internet parlance, to zhuāng bì (装B) is to put on airs  – worldly, moneyed, educated, eccentric, or any other combination thereof. In other words: to be a f*ing poser.

“Let me see who’s out here zhuāng B-ing.”

Zhuāng B is a shorthand for zhuāng níubī 装牛屄: zhuāng means “pretend,” and níubī literally means “cow pussy” but has come to figuratively mean “badass.” The character for the second word, 屄, is hard to find when typing, so it’s often replaced with the more common character 逼 or simply the English letter “B.”

Zhuāng B is taking 58 selfies in front of the Eiffel Tower and posting the best two with a French caption you copied from a movie. Zhuāng B is posting deep lyrics on your Weibo account late at night. Zhuāng B is casually dropping English into the conversation, especially if you don’t speak it but also if you speak it fluently. Zhuāng B is buying knockoff Issey Miyake bags on Taobao. Zhuāng B is being an impostor, or maybe just having impostor syndrome. Zhuāng B encompasses faking it until you make it, pretending to be into a band to get closer to your crush, and DJ Khaled washing his hands in a gold sink all at once.

This is some high-tech zhuāng B-ing.

To paraphrase RuPaul: We’re born naked, and the rest is Zhuāng B.

In China, Zhuāng B is mostly used as a light, often self-deprecating insult. But I see its prevalence as a good omen. Just as shadow implies the existence of light, the surest sign of healthy subcultural growth is people calling other people posers. More broadly, I think the generational obsession with Zhuāng B-ing is a necessary byproduct of all the new possibilities available to young, middle-class Chinese people in the 2010s: economic and geographic mobility, loosened borders for travel and cultural exchange, the novel luxury of considering your identity and aesthetics. In a world changing at an unfathomable pace, Zhuāng B-ing is a way for Chinese millennials to practice defining their whole way of life.

Let’s go zhuāng B!

But I chose Zhuāng B as a theme for the first Multi Entry zine for personal reasons, too. After all, nothing makes you an expert at Zhuāng B-ing faster than immersive fieldwork, especially in a place that you sometimes call home and with people who might be your friends. I spent nine weeks in China posing  –  sometimes as more American than I was, sometimes as more Chinese than I was, sometimes just as myself.

Occasionally, I passed. ∎

The feature photo of the front-row at a Shanghai Fashion Week show is Christina Xu’s and intends no shade. The shady meme photos were hand-foraged from the Chinese internet.
This essay was first published as the introduction to the Zhuang B issue of the Multi Entry zine, as well as on its blog and on 88 Bar.