Chinese Urban Dictionary: Anli

By Mia Li, January 22, 2019

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Anli / ān lì / 安利 verb. to strongly recommend something to someone, to get someone hooked on a product, a celebrity, a TV show/film

A. What are you drinking?

B. This new beer that Mei Mei anli-ed to me.

A. Is it good?

B. I'm completey hooked! Now I have cases of it at home.

Welcome to the hyper-corporate and hyper-consumerist China, where names of international conglomerates and their business models are everyday verbs. We don't conduct web searches, we ‘Baidu’ them. We don't buy things online, we ‘Taobao’ them. We don't send digital payments, we ‘WeChat Wallet’ them. 

But before the age of technology giants, there was anli, the O.G. brand name-turned-verb. Originally the Chinese name for the American direct marketing company Amway, whose business model is to have existing customers sell products to new customers by telling them how good the products are, anli came to mean to feverishly recommend a product to someone, get that person hooked and keep them buying. 

Make no mistake – to anli something to someone is more than just saying "you should really try this product.” Firstly, the person who anli the product must be a longtime and enthusiastic user. Secondly, to anli is to incessantly and repeatedly tell someone how good a product is and not stop until that person takes out their wallet. 

Everyone is always trying to anli something to everyone. Over water cooler conversations, your co-workers try to anli the latest hit TV show to you. People at parties anli new online shirt stores to you. Subway ads try to anli you the new healthy yogurt. When you want to buy a new phone but don't know which one is good, you ask your friends to anli you something. You give five-star ratings to your favorite restaurants on Dianping to anli them to more people on the Internet. 

Because in our consumerist world, the biggest decision we can make in life is what to consume, and we rely on those decisions to define who we are. "What kind of dining set defines me as a person?" asks the narrator in Fight Club. But we also use consumerist decisions to find a sense of belonging. And that's where anli comes in. The act of anli-ing products to your friends says that you are of one social group. You ask your friend to anli you some good films, so that you can have more things in common. When you send links to the WeChat game you are playing to your friends, you hope to anli it so that you can all have a good time playing it one day. 

I guess we just have to accept it. Humans are social animals and if anli is what it takes for us to bring others closer to our orbits so we feel less lonely, so be it.

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