The New Laobaixing of China

Written by Julen Madariaga on November 26th, 2009

You might have heard the term Laobaixing (老百姓), literally “the hundred surnames”, the common people of China. They are also known as LBX in this website dedicated to them.

Laobaixing is a great word, not only because of its obvious etymology, but also because its connotations are quite different from our  “common people”. From what I have seen, in China everyone can be a Laobaixing depending which way the wind blows, and to look down on the Laobaixing is a mortal sin that you can only enjoy when nobody is watching. See below:


This is the protest I saw on one little Huaihai Road Lane a few months ago (56minus1 was faster to post it). Note the white protests banner, to mark the difference with the otherwise identical red propaganda ones. The banner said: “The relocation of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra to a new building seriously disturbs the people and destroys social harmony.” It disappeared very quickly and there was no way to find out what it was all about. This week I have witnessed chapter 2 of that protest:


The banner is now black like a pirate flag (excuse bad phone camera).The text is also more aggressive, it reads: “The propaganda department XX cheats everyone, doesn’t care if Laobaixing live or die”. I asked the guys who were keeping the banner but the menwei of the little lane nervously sent me away. Nearby there was a poster explaining the problem: the works of the Shanghai Orchestra building right behind the lane are causing vibrations and cracks on the walls. The next day when all was over I went back to witness the despair of the Laobaixing:


This is the little lane where the LBX live. And yes, that is a Maseratti. Stay tuned for the next episodes, we will keep following the plight of the dispossessed.

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Comments so far ↓

  1. Nov

    Interesting point you make about the LBX. I always find it fascinating how the concept of the “people” can be found in every culture, and how all societies (that I have seen) the definition of the “people” is used to justify a certain point of view e.g. Joe the Plumber. I am an Australian and we have long had a pervasive anti-elite attitude that can sometimes be refreshing but at other times can prevent intelligent discussion.

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  2. Nov

    LOL, when I first saw your URL “taxinsights” I thought it was about your conversations with shanghai taxi drivers. Interesting blog you got, even if it is not about 的哥 I will check it out when I have some time.

    Re comment: I think the notion of “common people” and the connotations it has say a lot of a society. Back in Europe I was always shocked by the way people in UK use the term “working class”, like it is a different class from theirs. Never seen anything like that in other European countries. It is even more strange because English tend to be ultra-paranoid about PC when it comes to races, but when it comes to classes they don’t mind.

    I never been to Australia, but I guess that anti-elite attitude has a lot to do with the history and the fact that there was never a powerful aristocracy there?

    Regarding China: I think most Chinese don’t look down on the LBX simply because most of them are only 1 generation removed from poverty, they have experienced misery in their own life or in the parents’. This is changing though with the young generations and the children of the new rich.

    Also it has to do something with the PC rhetoric: “look down on the laobaixing” sounds nastier here than in the West, it really feels like a mortal sin. The powerful do it all the time, of course, but they make sure it doesn’t show too much.

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  3. Dec

    Thanks for the positive comments on the blog.

    The young people in China are certainly starting to be more negative towards the less affluent. I am not sure about Shanghai, but in Beijing there is an ever present Us v Them attitude in respect of non-Beijingers.

    Perhaps a Taxi blog would have garnered more interest.

    [Reply to this comment]

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