Chinese Urban Dictionary: Baokuan

By Mia Li, March 21, 2018

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Baokuan/ bào kuǎn / 爆款  noun. a product that has been bought by many people and can be seen everywhere; something ubiquitous

A. Look, I just got the new iPhone!

B. You’re still buying iPhones? How pedestrian. They are the baokuan of phones.

A. Well what phone do you use?

B. I don't use one. People have to fax me.

Taobao is not just a company – it’s a lifestyle. It has changed our way of life, our culture and our language. It has also made baokuan possible.  

Although there are high-end products on Taobao now, for a long time, it was dominated by unimaginably cheap ones. The only way for sellers to make a profit was to sell a lot of them. The holy grail product is the baokuan – a product so popular that it’s everywhere. If you tweak the product just right, you start seeing everyone using them. You see people using the same water bottle on the bus and in your office. Your friends living in Beijing and in Hainan all have the same shirt, despite never having met one another. Every Airbnb you stay in has the same dining table or couch, despite being cities apart. Both teenagers and grandmas in your neighborhood have the same pair of headphones. 

Libraries’ worth of material has been written on how to design a baokuan. It has to be simple enough that anyone can use, practical enough to appeal to the widest range of customers and appealing enough that many would buy them. Once you have one, you can sell warehouses of the same thing to humans all over the globe.

There is no escaping baokuan in the age of Taobao. At any given time, there is always one baokuan that you see everywhere – remember selfie sticks and fidget spinners? When you feel really fed up, you can use baokuan disparagingly to describe something that's cheap and ubiquitous – something that everyone has and therefore is completely unremarkable. 

Next time you meet a fashion blogger you hate, try calling their jacket baokuan and see them fly off the handle. Just don't tell them you learned it here. 


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