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How did puppy-like males win the hearts of Chinese girls?

 After "greasy middle-aged men" and "Buddha-like youngsters", the Chinese have come up with yet another buzzword to describe men - "xiaonaigou", which literally means "puppies." After a Japanese TV drama brought it under the spotlight at the end of last year, the name has been a hot topic on Chinese social media and entertainment programmes.

Baidu Index, a Chinese keyword research tool has revealed that public interest to the topic has remained at a high level over the past six months and peaked in March. 54% of the people following the topic are aged between 30 and 39, 22% are aged between 20 and 29, and 15% are aged between 40 and 49. The most frequently used search word is "wolfhounds" - a similar buzzword to "puppies" but with different characters, followed by "boyfriend" and "friend". One of the mostly searched related questions asks what the female counterpart of a "puppy" is.
 Both "puppy" and "wolfhound" refer to loyal and girlfriend-centered boyfriends, who are younger than their partners. The difference is that puppies are gentle and adorable, whereas wolfhounds are arrogant, yet trustworthy. Many female users of Zhihu, the Chinese version of Quora, shared their feelings about owning a "puppy" boyfriend. The characteristics of those young men include being indifferent to others but sweet to their girlfriends, directly showing affection and admiration and acting like an amateur in the relationship.

In sharp contrast to "puppies" and "wolfhounds" are "old dogs" and "old donkeys". The former refers to greasy and obstinate older men, and the latter to bold men.

China is not the first country to compare males to dogs. In 2013 Japanese media used "doggy men" to describe men who are obedient, loyal, enthusiastic, energetic and accompanying, which is pretty much the same as the Chinese concept of a "puppy" today. In 2016, the Japanese TV drama You Are My Pet  brought the expression "xiaonaigou" to China. The heroine finds a handsome and young man in the dustbin at the gate of her house and takes him home. The man, who acts like a spoiled and cute pet, in the end not only wins the heart of the heroine, but also the Asian female audience.

But what truly makes "puppy" an Internet celebrity is the Korean TV drama "Something in the Rain"  aired at the end of March this year. The drama revolves around Yoon Jin-ah, a 30-something supervisor at a coffee franchise, who suddenly develops a crush on her best friend's younger brother. The drama is so popular in China that numerous online writers produce articles about "puppies", claiming more and more Chinese women are chasing after them.
However, it is evident that not all people are fans of the name. When asked to choose a title for himself between "puppy" and "wolfhound", the Chinese actor Liu Haoran who was born in 1997 showed disapproval of the names, saying "why can't I simply be a man?" Even women are averse to comparing men to dogs, claiming that the address is a fantasy for self-centered and bossy women. "Since when did treating each other equally and respectfully stop being romantic?" one asked.

 The immense popularity of "tame" boyfriends is by no means accidental. Since the 1980s, the average age of the desired partner of Chinese females has decreased, from a tough guy like Sylvester Stallone or an experienced and stable older man to ‘little fresh meat’. Analysts believe the changes in ideal partners synchronize with the amplification of women's voices in China.

Females are not seen as weak and passive, but increasingly strong and independent, and they have the right to choose male partner at their own will, according to The Beijing News.

 Meanwhile, Chinese retailers are cashing in on female buyers, and "puppies" have become a good selling concept. Fan Chengcheng, the good-looking younger brother of Fan Bingbing, one of the biggest stars in China, has around 3 million followers on Chinese social media platform Weibo. He recently participated in Idol Producer, an entertainment reality tv show popular among young girls. Fan published a pay-to-view photo on Weibo and earned 4.8 million yuan overnight. This is only a recent example for the strong purchasing power of Chinese female consumers. It is estimated that the female target market in China, or the so-called "she-conomy" will account for $700 billion by 2019.

Tags: Chinese girls

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