Zhibo: The Great Qipao Kerfuffle of 2018

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7:00 PM HKT, Mon May 7, 2018 4 mins read

Zhibo is a weekly column in which Beijing-based American Taylor Hartwell documents his journey down the rabbit hole of Chinese livestreaming app YingKe (Inke). If you know nothing about the livestreaming (直播; “zhibo”) phenomenon in China, start here.

Survey of the Week Whadda Y’all Think of this Qipao Nonsense?

Twitter, I love you. But you can be real dumb sometimes.

If you’re not caught up with the insanity here’s a wonderful primer written by Fan Shuhong right here on RADII.

If you’d like the short version, here it is: a not-Chinese girl wore a traditional Chinese dress to her prom and Twitter did what it does best.

Like this, but with more “RT IF U AGREE”

I’m not here to throw yet another hot take on the smoldering slag heap of hot takes. The rants and the counter-rants and the post-rant think-pieces have already been written and commented on and this whole thing that never needed to be a thing has already been litigated and re-litigated into the ground. Plenty of genuinely thoughtful pieces have already been written about how Asian-Americans and, erm, Asian-Asians have very different experiences in terms of being in the minority vs. the majority. As a white guy, I don’t have a whole lot to contribute to that.

No, I’m here to offer up my column’s one USP: the frank and unfiltered thoughts of the youthful, internet-using Chinese masses. So this week, I explained what was going on in the twitterverse and asked my audience the following:

Do you think there’s anything wrong with this girl who wore a qipao to prom? What do you think of the idea that she’s “appropriating” Chinese culture?

Here are just a few of the responses:

wear what you love

why can’t she wear what she wants?

I welcome the fact that she likes our culture

wear what you want, don’t disparage/smear others

totally fine

she can wear whatever she wants

if you love it, wear it. it’s no one else’s business.

And my personal favorite:

This commenter is saying in essence that the guy who kicked all this off must have too much free time and thus is poking his nose into other people’s business. But what I particularly love is the idiom he used: 狗拿耗子 (gou na haozi) means a dog trying to catch mice, i.e. someone who isn’t even qualified to do the thing they’re interfering with in the first place.

Of course, it’s already been made clear by the angry parties that the feelings of, you know, actual Chinese people are irrelevant to the question of what counts as offensive and/or cultural appropriation (of Chinese culture). And that’s a fight I don’t really feel like diving into, because I’ve already had my fill of dog food and don’t feel like going after any mice today.

But hey, angry Twitter guy: My culture – being an angry white guy hiding behind a computer screen making up stuff to get mad about – isn’t your goddamn tweet.

Weirdly Frequent Request Dating Advice (for Women)

I’ve written before about how interested my Inke fans seem to be in my relationship status, but as of late there’s been a new type of relationship question popping up: how do I *insert foreigner-related desire and/or relationship problem here*?

And I’m not talking about – as I’ve also mentioned before – creepy dudes asking me to introduce them to foreign girls. What I’ve been seeing more and more of is Chinese women asking me questions about how to go about things with foreign guys. For example:

  • how do I ask out a foreign man?
  • my boyfriend and I don’t communicate well because foreigners have a different culture. what should I do?
  • what do foreigners want to do for dates?
  • what should I talk about with an American man?

I don’t know when these women started getting the idea that I might be a good source of relationship advice, but it’s pretty amusing. See, this is what happens when you assume that all foreigners are all secretly the same person.

Then again, maybe I’m missing out on a golden opportunity. Check back next week to see if I’ve started embracing my inner…um…

*note to self: figure out a famous dating/relationship advice talk show host you can use as the punchline here before publishing this*

Quote of the Week your stupidity is accountable to poor intelligence and understanding


I mean, probably. I’d like to think there’s a dash of laziness in there as well.

Strangest Moment of the Week “Donald Trump” Asking About My Salary

Just ignore that other comment. That’s…like, a whole different thing.

As you might expect, El Presidente comes up fairly often in a conversation between one American and many thousands of Chinese people. I’ve even seen a good number of Trumpian monikers on Inke. But “Donald Trump” asking if he “might inquire” about my salary was, even for Inke, a particularly strange thing to see floating across the screen. The combination of the Tangerine Tornado’s moniker and the politeness with which we proceeded to chat really stuck in my head.

can’t imagine why

Being asked about money, however, is not even remotely unusual in China. I get asked about my rent all the time on Inke – I do stream from my living room, after all – and this isn’t just a topic limited to the internet. Anyone who’s spent time in China is probably familiar with routinely being asked seemingly intrusive money questions. Phones, clothes, watches, cars, your salary – nothing is off the table, nor does anyone seem to get why it should be.

But, erm…why should it be off the table, again?

I spend a lot of time going on about the preconceived notions and unquestioned cultural habits I run into in China, but this is a good moment to turn the microscope back on our own culture: why is money a taboo? I’m perfectly comfortable talking about sex and drugs and rock and roll. I curse entirely too much. So why, when someone asks me about my rent, is my instinctual reaction to wag my finger and respond that they’re neither my landlord nor my mother? Why do I respond to questions of how much I paid for stuff with an uncomfortable pause followed by “pshhhh, it’s not important”?

It makes no sense, after all. Salary transparency leads to fairer pay. Discussing how much you paid for stuff leads to everyone finding better deals. Talking about rent helps other people to make informed decisions of their own about where to live. So why would we all rather publish our internet search history than tell people about our finances?

Is it because I’m a privileged white kid? Is the discomfort I feel the knowledge that I started off in the game of life roughly a million points ahead of the vast, VAST majority of all humans who have ever lived? Probably in part – but there are plenty of Chinese people now growing up with phenomenal wealth and privilege who aren’t suddenly feeling like they shouldn’t talk about money. Is it the ever-present Anglo-Saxon/Puritan ancestry that comes with a bit of a guilt complex? I’d assume a bit, yeah.

Do I have any real answers?


Existential-Crisis-Provoking Question of the Week Can you mature a little?


See above.

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