City or Not City? The Question on the Lips of the Chinese Internet

A Shanghai-based American entertainer’s catchphrase is spreading to Chinese celebrities and tourism boards

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7:14 PM HKT, Tue July 2, 2024 1 mins read

A multilingual, Chinese-English phrase has recently gone viral in China. It turns out life can be divided into two categories: “city” and “not city.” Hence the question, “city 不 city啊?” (city city a, city or not city) Drinking ice coffee or lemon tea? City! Rowing a boat in the forest? Not city. Here, “city” has gradually become a synonym for yángqì (洋气, stylish or fashionable with a Western flavor), symbolizing a trendy urban lifestyle.

The origin of “city or not city” can be traced back to Shanghai-based American content creator Paul Mike Ashton, who posts under the username 保保熊 (Bao Bao Xiong). An entertainer and tour guide, Bao Bao Xiong frequently posts videos in Chinese, sharing his daily life in Shanghai. His family, who visited him in China at the end of May, have also popped up in his videos, where he repeatedly asks them if their experiences are city or not. These simple Chinese conversations, combined with their humorous tone and expressions, have made his videos go viral on platforms like Douyin and Xiaohongshu.

Chinese netizens have enjoyed seeing a foreigner celebrate the fun of life in China while gently poking fun at trend-obsessed urbanites. Travel and tourism bureaus of cities across the country have started to use “city or not city” in promotional materials, while celebrities including Lang Lang, Zhou Yutong, and Yang Yang have used this phrase in their social media posts, further boosting its popularity. Bao Bao Xiong’s fans have commented that it is the loving atmosphere created by his family that makes his videos so appealing and relaxing.

While videos of foreigners speaking Chinese and exploring local culture are often well received on Chinese social networks, the “city or not city” meme stands out for transcending its original context. Bao Bao Xiong’s playful yet sincere approach to exploring Chinese culture has made him a beloved figure online, highlighting the universal appeal of genuine, heartfelt content.

Banner image via Bao Bao Xiong.

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