Chinese Urban Dictionary: Laonü

By Mia Li, June 22, 2016

2 0

Laonü / Lāonǚ /  捞女  n. a woman who relies on her sexual allure to achieve upward mobility; a gold digger

A:Why does Lingling always go to the golf course? She doesn't even play.

B:She is playing a different game, if you catch my drift.

A:Oh. She’s trying to meet a rich guy?

B:Why else would she doll up just to sit there playing with her hair?

A:Does she really think being a laonü will work?

B:Well, it worked for all her other friends.

Almost every society is a class society, regardless of whether its members admit it or not. And we live in an age where upward mobility is increasingly rare. It used to take either Albert Einstein’s superb intellect, Henry Ford’s hard work or Bill Gates’ lucky timing to step into the class above. Nowadays, bridging the divide is so difficult that it will probably take all of these things combined to truly rise up.

But there are class societies and there are communist class societies. In China, where the idea of class was once forcefully eliminated, it is now back with a vengeance. And pop culture is eager to depict class differences and those who try to defy their status.

Among those desperately seeking upward mobility, laonü is a favorite group to portray. These are the young and gorgeous women hoping to marry into wealthy families (lao is the verb ‘to scoop’; means ‘woman’). Coming from working- or middle-class families, these girls set their eyes on ‘marrying up’ and will risk anything for the chance. Urban legend suggests that they frequent private clubs and corporate gatherings, spending all their money on a first-class plane ticket in the hope of catching the eye of someone who can actually afford to be there. (Wendy Deng is often said to be the poster girl of this group.)

Originally a Cantonese word, laonü began as a derogatory term for any young women from a poor region of China who came to rich cities like Hong Kong to find a partner. Soon it was adopted by the Shanghainese to describe gold diggers from the north, and then by Beijingers to describe gold diggers from Dongbei. 

Nowadays, in addition to being an indictment of China’s imbalanced regional development, laonü has also become an indictment of the lack of upward mobility. The upper-class slaps the label on those who hope to achieve their status, while the middle-class blames the upper-class for keeping them out. 

So, before you get jealous of laonü or the rich guys who marry them, know that class society is a bitch and the lack of upward mobility is bad for everyone. 


By day, Mia Li is a news reporter in Beijing; at night, she tries to turn that news into standup comedy. 

Read more Chinese Urban Dictionary

more news

Chinese Urban Dictionary: RongGeng

Ronggeng is the act of re-purposing other people’s fun language into your own to seem more charismatic.

Chinese Urban Dictionary: Yunv Wugua

Literally meaning “rain girl has no melons,” the phrase makes little sense – who is rain girl and why doesn’t she have any melons?

Chinese Urban Dictionary: Zhuxin

Sometimes, when you make an offhand comment or are just thinking out loud, a certain type of person assumes that you mean things you don’t, or goes hunting for the ‘hidden motives.’

Chinese Urban Dictionary: Renshe

That person you see yourself as on social media is called renshe, which means "character design."

Chinese Urban Dictionary: Anli

Welcome to the hyper-corporate and hyper-consumerist China, where names of international conglomerates and their business models are everyday verbs.

Chinese Urban Dictionary: Qiushengyu

We all know that the best way to make a person prove his or her love for you is to torture them.

Chinese Urban Dictionary: Gaojihei

Conversation is the playground of the wits and your gaojihei game will keep your audience on their toes.

Chinese Urban Dictionary: Fengkou

From Jack Ma to Elon Musk, everyone is looking for the next fengkou.

0 User Comments

In Case You Missed It…

We're on WeChat!

Scan our QR Code at right or follow us at thatsonline for events, guides, giveaways and much more!

7 Days in China With

Weekly updates to your email inbox every Wednesday

Download previous issues

Never miss an issue of That's Magazines!

Visit the archives