Chinese Urban Dictionary: Zhuangbi

By Mia Li, April 12, 2017

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Zhuangbi  / zhuāngbī / 装逼 v. to pose, to pretend to be a bigwig

A. I can’t come to dinner because I can’t eat at a public restaurant.

B. Why not? 

A. I’m too famous on the Internet. I'll just plunge the restaurant into chaos.

B. We’ll book a private room then.

A. *Walks away*

According to psychologists, almost all adult problems are rooted in the gap between our expectations and reality. We all wanted to be astronauts, doctors, business moguls and supermodels, but instead ended up as IT consultants, pizza delivery boys and office clerks. The distance between our dreams and our lives is so unbridgeable that it hurts to even think about. 

If there was some magic potion to alleviate that feeling of a failure, we’d take it in a heartbeat. And that’s what zhuangbi is – pretending to be your dream self for a short while, usually in front of a random audience, to ease the pain of being the embarrassing disappointment that you usually are. 

Zhuang means ‘to pretend’ and bi, in this context, is short for ‘niubi’ which means ‘extremely impressive.’ Therefore, to zhuangbi is to ‘pose to impress.’ This is what people are doing when they talk loudly in a crowded subway car about closing million-dollar deals, or when they sit in Starbucks with a soy latte that cost half of their weekly salary. 

For those few short minutes, those who zhuangbi feel like less of a loser in this game of Life Versus Us. And since our brains can’t distinguish fake happiness from real happiness, we feel as if we’re really our dream selves. 

This is why zhuangbi is an addictive game and some will never stop doing it. They sneak into first-class cabins to take a selfie which they post with the caption “first class isn’t what it used to be.” They memorize whiskey brands that they’ve never tasted, just to casually drop the line “I only drink peaty single malts.” They pepper their speech with esoteric acronyms so that people think they are experts. They beg their friends to like their WeChat posts to appear popular and well-connected. 

The truth is: we all zhuangbi from time to time. We do it because it takes so little and feels so good. And sometimes, you might even successfully convince people that you are who you’re pretending to be. Whether you can convince yourself is another challenge altogether. 201704/chinese-urban-dictionary-full.jpg

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