Subtle Messages from Xintiandi

What is the message in this ad for Shanghai’s chic dining/shopping area, Xintiandi (新天地)?

Ad for Xintiandi

I’m almost certainly reading too much into it, but this is what I see:

To the Chinese women: “Hey, pretty, young, fashionable Shanghainese women! Come to Xintiandi, the place to be seen. Not only will men ogle you, but lots of handsome, single foreign men will ogle you! If you’re crazy enough not to want that, there are also Chinese men, most of whom are rich!

To the foreigners: “Hey, handsome male foreigners! We know you’re looking for Zhang Ziyi-esque women, and Xintiandi has them in droves. Don’t worry, the submissive local males will let you have them (as if you were worried!), and the women all want you, anyway.”

To the Chinese men: “Hey, rich Chinese men! Come to Xintiandi, where you can flaunt your money with pretty young women and foreigners. Oh, but remember that it’s only polite to offer the ladies to the foreigners first.”

What has Xintiandi got against Chinese men? There may be tons of foreigners in Xintiandi, but I’m pretty sure the Chinese men are still the ones spending the big bucks. So for this reason the ad doesn’t make a lot of sense.

What have I got against Xintiandi? Nothing, really. I don’t particularly like it, but I don’t have any deep philosophical reasons for that. I’m mostly just cheap. In the past year I’ve started going there fairly often after work at ChinesePod for happy hour at Kabb. 20 RMB for Tiger draught is not bad.


John Pasden

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


  1. Chinese men gotta be the ones spending the dough there… 35 RMB for a glass of coke (with ice) is generally too much for even the most affluent of us laowai.

    I’m in the same boat with Xintiandi. Generally I can tolerate it, but places like that annoy me. I’m not entirely sure why people are so eager to hand cash over for no other reason than in hopes that someone might see it during the exchange and say to themselves, “Hey now… there’s a guy with some cash.”

    Still… 20 RMB for a Tiger draught is cheaper than 25 at my local.

  2. Whats that brown turd like object with apparent breasts between the girl and the laowai?

  3. Exactly. If I’m the one observing that exchange, I’m thinking, “Hey now… there’s a guy who had some cash.” And 20 kuai for a Tiger draught? I’ll pass on that and just get some beers from the local xiaomaibu, if you don’t mind.

  4. not to mention the phallic statue in the back, in front of a Virgin.

  5. My god, this “your comment is awaiting moderation”, big and red, scared the hell out of me!

  6. Ummm…then there’s the fact that we foreign chicks DON’T EVEN GET A LOOK IN

  7. ..or more to the point, this ad says – foreign girlies, stay out of it – cash or no cash, pretty or not, Xintiandi is not for you, so SHOO.

  8. I dont know if ive ever been to Xintiandi, but I know Ive been to Shanghai a few times. I never noticed the people to be several times bigger than the houses.

    Is it a Gulliver’s travels type world?

  9. More than anything, I’m thinking about what ash and chinochano mentioned. I think the ad just says that Xintiandi is the place for young, trendy people to go.

    Oh yeah, 35 RMB for a Coke? At CJW in Xintiandi it was 80 RMB!!!

  10. Ryan,

    I can assure you that there are plenty of foreigners that regularly drop 100 RMB on each drink without thinking twice. I’m just not one of them.

  11. ash,

    Yeah, I was wondering what that thing is too… A purse? It’s pretty scary, whatever it is.

  12. In psychology, projection is a defense mechanism in which one attributes (“projects”) to others, one’s own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts or/and emotions. Projection reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the unwanted subconscious impulses/desires without letting the ego recognize them.

  13. 100rmb for a drink?

    I think ill stick to the 20L kegs (or is it 30L) of fresh Qingdao beer direct from the brewery for 65rmb a pop.

    No wonder I have a beer gut 🙁

  14. It has been for 10 years since last time I visited Shanghai. I don’t remember I saw a lot of laowai there at that time. Sounds like now laowai has become a part of Shanghai and gets a bigger part of attention of people. Why is Shanghai attractive to laowai? It is huge and crowded. It is not friendly and inviting. Shanghai people is well known for being mean to outsiders in China.

  15. I only noticed the gal when I first looked at the pic. I’m still only looking at the gal.

  16. Looks like three sculptures, made of concrete, painted? Not much value there. Are those townhouses or condo’s in the background to the right? I don’t recall seeing them last visit to xintiandi. Funny post, John.

  17. hai: Because the rest of mainland China sucks.

  18. Last year I went to Xintiandi with my previous classmates. One of them is an American guy. For this reason, most Chinese men there thought I was fishing.

  19. Wow, 20 RMB for a beer is the happy hour price in Shanghai now? That makes me much more thankful I am in Fuzhou. The “hip” bars here charge 10 RMB per bottle. Any more expensive and the foreigners won’t show up.

  20. It looks like they are running game on that vaguely Picasso inspired statue. Now that’s deviant . . .

  21. I have to second SocialB on the issue of foreign women. In Xintiandi or elsewhere, foreign women are virtual lepers! Anyone care to fill in a new comer on the reasons for this?

  22. Nice to see that I’m not the only one who goes around analyzing advertisements.

    I can understand why they might include a foreigner in the ad. If it’s anything like Beijing’s Sanlitun or Houhai, then I’m sure a lot of foreigners with cash to burn do go to Xintiandi. Furthermore, there’s still the idea in China (I’m not sure whether it’s really in people’s minds, or just an advertising convention) that a place which attracts foreigners must be a hip, happening place.

    I think that the sexual dynamics which you read into the ad are definitely there — the Chinese guy really looks like he’s playing second fiddle to the Beckham lookalike — but I hope it was unintentional.

    No foreign women? Again, I can understand that it was probably not a deliberate exclusion, but nevertheless very telling. Why not swap the gender of the token foreigner, and having a sophisticated Chinese guy (with a little more sex appeal than the one in the picture, please) flirting with the two women (one “Zhang Ziyi”, one “Jennifer Aniston”)? If John is right, and “Chinese men are still the ones spending the big bucks”, then targeting them with this kind of message would actually make a lot of sense!

  23. “In Xintiandi or elsewhere, foreign women are virtual lepers! Anyone care to fill in a new comer on the reasons for this?” –Sara

    Don’t you know? China is the McDonald’s Playland for white nerdy guys who can’t score back home. They’re getting their revenge on you for all those times you rejected them.

    It’s also a turn off when you talk to a girl who actually speaks your native language (English) and can instantly see you’re a freakin loser. Harder for Chinese women to tell since they don’t understand a word that comes out of our mouths.

    Hope I cleared that all up for you!


  24. Jeff:i bet u never been to other cities of China or maybe never loved
    other places for some days,there r many more places better than

  25. That thing in middle is a foreign woman, just kidding but if you look at it, it kinda looks like a statue figure of a female kneeling, just a bit abstract IMO.

  26. BruiseLee Says: July 20, 2007 at 2:20 am

    Well, 2nd-wave feminism ruined American chicks and turned them into a bunch of self-absorbed egomaniac divas.

    Didn’t you get the memo???

    Of course, the ironic thing is that the White nerdy ex-pats who fled to China to escape that liberalness…will play the “sensitive liberal” and condemn Chinese conservatism that created the precise type of society and gender roles that they came seeking…

Leave a Reply