Chinese Urban Dictionary: Bishilian

By Mia Li, June 21, 2017

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Bishilian / bǐshìliàn / 鄙视链 n. lit. the chain of despises

A. What are you reading?

B. Shakespeare. I’m a fan coz I went to school in the UK

A. I’m reading Thomas Piketty coz I studied economics at Cambridge

B. I recognize that you are one notch higher on the bishilian

A. Good

When struggling with overpopulation, you need to divide people into subgroups to keep order. India has the caste system, and China has its own social hierarchy – bishilian. Literally meaning ‘chain of despises,’ bishilian is like a totem pole where those at the top despise those one notch below. They, in turn, get to despise those one notch below them, and so on.

There is such a chain for every aspect of life. The bishilian of birthplace dictates: Those who were born in the metropolises of Beijing or Shanghai get to despise those born in provincial capitals, who get to despise those born in small cities. And then the countryside. 

Those who were born into wealthy families get to despise those from working class families and then poor families. Those who drive German whips despise those driving Japanese cars and then Korean and then Chinese cars. Those who live in houses despise those in apartments then those in rented apartments. 

The bishilian of college majors goes: Finance, medicine, other sciences, economics, sociology and history. The bishilian of film appreciation goes: obscure foreign films, French cinema, Japanese cinema, Hong Kong films and Hollywood at the bottom. The bishilian of coffee appreciation goes: independent coffee shops, Costa coffee, Starbucks and Nescafe (and they’re all beneath cold brew). The bishilian of cell phone ownership is: iPhone, Samsung, other international brands, Smartisan, Xiaomi and then Huawei. And the bishilian of music appreciation goes: minimal, techno, trance, house and then hip-hop. 

Let’s face it. We don’t have personalities. So-called personality is simply a basket of goods and services we consume to define us. When we wear Tory Burch, we rejoice in the fact that we are now better than those wearing Banana Republic. Self-improvement, ya know? 

Without bishilian, we would be completely lost; where would we be in the social stratification? How would we relate to each other? How could we interact with and address one another? It’d be complete chaos and the time-space continuum would cease to exist. 

We can’t have that. So please purchase things and consume culture commensurate with your place on the social totem pole so we can all live in peace and harmony. 


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