Chinese urban dictionary is a monthly series where we give you snippets of language that you might just find useful.
by Mia Li
xiăo xian ròu/ 小鲜肉
Definition: n. somebody who is young and inexperienced, but hungry for success. Also used to describe someone youthful and innocent, but desirable by older members of the opposite sex.
How to use it:
A: I remember when Justin Bieber was hot.
B: What a piece of xiao xian rou he was. Now he is a dense chunk of chewed up beef.
A: What the Chinese soccer team really needs is 11 xiao xian rous.
B: I agree! The current team is hopeless. We could use a fresh new start.
China is known for its food and the Chinese are known for their food analogies. No expression better demonstrates the nation’s infinite appetite for life than xiao xian rou. Literally meaning ‘little fresh meat’, xiao xian rou paints a picture of a small cube of sizzling juicy beef. But it in fact refers to something more desirable: the young, fearless, successful and – most importantly – enviably good-looking.
Xiao xian rou are the hottest new movie stars and filmmakers. They are breakout athletes with muscled frames plastered across city billboards. They are artists with six-figure price tags and seven-figure homes. They are tech entrepreneurs who made millions in their own bedrooms.
Of course, the flavor of xiao xian rou can vary, depending on what dishes you like. The hottest pop stars are called xiao xian la ji (‘little fresh spicy chickens’); while this week’s new K-pop boy band sensation is xiao xian ren shen ji (‘little fresh ginseng chicken’). Grease up the frying pan of lexical creativity and devise your own.
While the English-language expression ‘fresh meat’ is more passive, emphasizing a young target’s suitability to be on the receiving end of a practical joke or sexual advance, xiao xian rou implies a much more perceptive package. A xiao xian rou might be emotionally inexperienced, but they are far from ignorant. They know what they want and have been waiting for years for their turn to go out and get it. I’m not saying they are gold-diggers, but they ain’t messin’ with no coal miners.
Yet, in keeping with the English expression’s more lecherous connotations, xiao xian rou is increasingly used by older women to describe young men – probably due to the lack of words objectifying men. These days, Chinese women aren’t afraid to let everyone know what makes their mouth water. They talk about picking up fresh-faced young men with the same ease that they shop for a fresh cut of lamb at the market.
> Mia Li is a news reporter in Beijing by day; at night, she tries to turn that news into standup comedy.