Those Cute Shanghainese

I’ve seen it so many times in Shanghai… propaganda telling Shanghai residents to “be a cute Shanghainese.” The word for cute in Chinese is 可爱, and it’s not one of those tricky words to translate. “Cute” is pretty much just “可爱,” and “可爱” is pretty much just “cute” (except when it’s being “lovely”). So why is the government always telling its people to be cute? I have no clue.

Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get a picture of one of those “be a cute Shanghainese” messages for a long time, but never have. Brad at Shanghai Streets recently captured a good example of it, so I guess I can stop trying.

Cute Shanghainese


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Kexia says that 可爱 in this instance means “worthy of being of loved/should be loved,” not cute. The (according to Kexia) famous article 谁是最可爱的人 is talking about troops, who were certainly not ‘cute.’

  2. John B is right. The signs are basically telling people to be nice and not jerks.

  3. Prince Roy at-large Says: September 27, 2005 at 5:09 pm

    I hope you guys are right. The last thing the world needs is another pop culture obssessed with cuteness, ala Japan.

    • If you’ve been to Shanghai you know that’s already what’s going on here. Needless to say there’s a ton of hair dye and fake blue/brown/green contacts here. Except in Shanghai, the ‘cute girls’ tend to smoke like a chimney.

  4. Thanks for the explanation, guys… I have never gotten a satisfactory explanation from a Chinese person.

    My good dictionary has translations like “loveable,” “lovely,” “likeable,” “beloved.” None of those really work for the English sentence “be a ____ Shanghainese.”

  5. The main thing about this slogan and campaign is that it is exorting people to be the opposite of 可恨。 Shanghainese do not enjoy a good reputation in other parts of China. They are often seen as hard to deal with, stingy, arrogant and unreasonable (not my beliefs, just commonly stated perceptions that I have heard over a prolonged period from Chinese people from areas other than Shanghai – got to be scientific, eh). What I do wonder about this campaign and many others though is who has instigated it and to what ends. We see numerous government campaigns in Shanghai to embrance “new Shanghainese” including even, Heavens to Mergetroid, foreigners, but I am suspicious as to the driving force and motives behind it all.
    As to a translation for this ridiculous and perhaps insulting slogan, I think that we could tone it down to just plain “likeable”, as bar some of the younger bright-eyed and bushy-tailed people, not many Shanghainese can honestly be described as “cute” and “lovely”. Bear in mind that in (Mandarin) Chinese, we can talk about preference for foods as 爱吃 or 不爱吃, but the meaning of 爱 here is not as strong as “love” but merely whether or not you like to eat those foods.

    With all the discraceful behavior that some foreigners (including yours truly) have displayed in this land of unquestionable probity and rectitude, we can but wait for a campaign exorting foreigners to be more”cute”, “lovely” or “likeable”. I for one will do my best (我会尽最大的努力做可爱的外国人!).

  6. Commenters above have got it right. Allow me to add only that I would use the fussy term 讨厌 (taoyan, meaning 讨人嫌) as the opposite of 可爱 in this context.

  7. in this context, my first reaction is: loveable shanghainese—instead of ‘cute’–:)

  8. Agree with all the above comments.
    As a Chinese living in America, I would like to see one of these slogans to show up in, say, Chicago or NYC. Then at least all you people will get a hearty laugh when visiting home. So will I.
    We need some of the “cute” slogans here.

  9. My opinion is that Japanese cute culture has more to do with stress relief in a dystopian society perhaps. Japan has many peculiar social problems, but I think cute culture is a positive thing. :-$

  10. […] After my brief sojourn in Shanghai this week, all elbows and push-push-pushing in the subway and a total disregard for queues, I’m not sure the Beijingers are necessarily at the top of the list for the proposed re-education. From what I gather, Shanghai has already begun by reminding residents to show their culture, or even their cuteness. Hmmm. […]

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