Chinese Women Tackle Taboos on Nation’s Instagram Equivalent: A Social Media Revolution

On ‘China’s Instagram’, women find a space to discuss the routine and taboo | Social Media News

Chinese Social Media Platform Xiaohongshu: A Haven for Female Empowerment and Expression

On the Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu, also known as “Little Red Book,” a singular voice is making waves. Alice Guo, a Chinese-born influencer based in Toronto, has garnered an audience of 45,000 followers by sharing professional advice and daily life updates. Her success story exemplifies the platform’s unique appeal to young, highly-educated women in China and emigrant communities worldwide.

From Humble Beginnings to a Social Media Powerhouse

Xiaohongshu, launched in 2013, began as a simple PDF document offering travel advice. Now, it is often likened to China’s Instagram, boasting 200 million monthly active users in 2022, 70 percent of whom are women. Despite the lack of global name recognition compared to Facebook or Instagram, Xiaohongshu has become the go-to platform for millennial and Gen-Z Chinese women.

An Aspirational Platform for Women

Unlike Mao Zedong’s famous “Little Red Book,” Xiaohongshu doesn’t stand for revolutionary values. Instead, it embodies China’s post-Communist consumerist culture, which is ambitious, aspirational, and globally minded. For women navigating a society where political dissent is tightly controlled and socially conservative attitudes prevail, Xiaohongshu offers a sanctuary to express and discuss common concerns.

Discussing the Unspoken: Breaking Stereotypes

The platform allows users to share content on a wide range of issues, from work life and fashion to semi-taboo topics like divorce, domestic violence, and societal pressure on unmarried women. Despite Beijing’s heavy internet censorship, personal experiences are often discussed freely on Xiaohongshu, provided they do not point towards broader systemic issues within Chinese society.

Pushing Boundaries while Respecting Red Lines

However, there are limits to this freedom. Discussions about fertility treatments, for example, have been censored, even as the Chinese government encourages women to have more children. The platform also discourages displays of conspicuous consumption and over-editing of photos and videos, preferring a more empathetic approach that doesn’t flaunt wealth.

Embracing ‘Jinzhi’: The Polished Feminine Aesthetic

Xiaohongshu stands out for embodying a polished, or “jinzhi,” feminine aesthetic that requires not only financial capital but also cultural and educational capital. This sets it apart from male-dominated platforms like WeChat and Weibo, making it a popular choice among young women seeking to express their middle-class urban lifestyle.

Algorithmic Allure: Understanding User Preferences

Xiaohongshu’s success also lies in its advanced algorithm, which users often cite as being highly accurate in predicting their content preferences and aspects of their identity. This precision surpasses that of other popular apps, creating a deep sense of community among influencers and followers.

Profitability Amidst Livestream Shopping and Influencer Deals

Despite its growing popularity, Xiaohongshu has struggled to generate profits until recently. In its early days, it functioned as an e-commerce platform for reliable foreign products. Over the years, it has shifted toward lifestyle and educational content, leveraging the rise of short-form video, livestream shopping, and influencer brand deals.

Expanding its User Base Beyond Borders

As it strengthens its financial position, Xiaohongshu is making concerted efforts to diversify its user base. It is reaching out to men and those living outside China’s major cities while gaining traction in regions with large Chinese diaspora populations, such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Western cities like Toronto.

Xiaohongshu is more than a social media platform; for many users, it’s a source of information, inspiration, and a tool for self-expression. As Alice Guo, one of the platform’s influencers, puts it, “If I want to read a book, know how good it is, or learn about makeup, I go to Xiaohongshu.”