Corpulence Is Bliss: The Chinese Embracing ‘Fat Happy’ Culture
If your idea of a perfect evening includes binge-watching television shows or playing video games in the company of carbonated drinks and high-calorie food, the Chinese internet has coined a phrase just for you: “fat otaku happiness,” or feizhai kuaile in Mandarin.
Originating in Japan, the otaku subculture — people who are obsessed with anime, often to the detriment of their health and social lives — was reinvented on the Chinese internet earlier this year, as feizhai kuaile came to connote the smug sense of satisfaction that comes with breaking free of weighty expectations and long-accepted social norms. And if buzzwords like galiao (“awkward small talk”) and “Do you freestyle?” (a catchphrase from a TV singing competition) were the hot new additions to the online lexicon last year, 2018 has so far has been the year of “skr” and “fat otaku happiness.”
On Friday, a commentary published in state-owned China Youth Daily lauded this subculture as the pursuit of a pure and instant happiness, rather than decadence and self-abandonment. Zhai — a word previously applied to losers — and feizhai — or “fat otaku” — are no longer associated with overweight people who take pleasure in digital screens and social isolation. Today, “fat otaku happiness” has become a way of life akin to that embodied by the so-called sang generation: those who reject traditional measures of success as arbitrary social constructs.
“As social development accelerates, the constant pursuit of progress will inevitably bring anxiety,” wrote Wang Yuhuan, author of the China Youth Daily commentary. “But as young people ‘slow down’ in the midst of peer pressure without abandoning their ambitions, this pure desire for happiness — despite not being utilitarian — becomes more valued.”
As Chinese millennials embrace a “fat otaku happiness,” their social media personas becoming more raw and self-deprecating, Sixth Tone takes a look at some of the things that make feizhai happy.
‘Fat Happy Water’
To be clear, “fat happy water” is not water at all, but rather another name for Coca-Cola. More than any other product, the carbonated concoction can be credited for giving birth to the feizhai subculture sweeping across Chinese social media. For less than 3 yuan ($0.44), many young people consider a can of Coke a sweet substitute for slightly larger bottle of water costing slightly less.
“Since drinking water makes me fat too, why don’t I just drink Coke?” wrote one user on microblogging platform Weibo, apparently in need of a physiology lesson. “Fat happy water” has become such a common term that it has even spawned its own merchandise — including water bottles, umbrellas, and hoodies — on e-commerce site Taobao.
‘Fat Happy Pancake’
Everyone knows what pizza is, but disciples of “fat otaku happiness” prefer to call the beloved Italian staple a “fat happy pancake.” Cheesy and greasy with hundreds of empty calories, the mixture of carbs and fat makes the brain’s pleasure center go wild, according to Chinese popular science website Guokr. The neologism has even spread across the sea to Japan, where it amused animator Terumi Nishii. “In the world of China’s otaku, pizza is called ‘fat happy pancake’ — awesome,” Nishii tweeted in May.
‘Fat Happy Animal’
Chinese social media users seem to have cultivated a newfound love of cats in recent years. The furry felines help many young professionals cope with the stress and loneliness of urban life, and posting photos of the animals even helps feed their owners’ popularity on social media.
Many feizhai now see these laid-back pets as the quintessential “fat happy animals.” The subculture calls its cat lovers chanshiguan — “officers who pick up animal poop” — and the felines themselves as zhuzi, a word that literally translates to “master.” And if you happen to follow a cat-heavy social media account, there’s a name for that, too: yunyangmao, which means “keeping cats in the cloud.”
‘Fat Happy Website’
According to the feizhai, there’s just one Chinese website — video-sharing platform Bilibili — that deserves the title of “fat happy website.” Providing content catering to fans of Japanese-influenced animation, comics, and video games, Bilibili is also affectionately known as “B station,” in contrast to “A station” for AcFun — another video-streaming pioneer in China. Founded nine years ago, Bilibili has now become a subculture hub and symbol in its own right, driving the careers of several self-made celebrities.
Editors: Bibek Bhandari and David Paulk.
(Header image: Shi Yangkun/Sixth Tone)