Little Red Book: The pocket-sized parallel universe of recommendations for locals who read Chinese

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Yelp might rank R&G Lounge far down in its ratings, but the Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) social media app ranks things differently. It puts the Chinatown restaurant at the very top – with soy sauce duck tongue, princess chicken, and baked black cod listed as must-try dishes.

“This puts the Chinatown restaurant at the very top – with soy sauce duck tongue, princess chicken and baked black cod listed as must-try dishes. “(@ 爱 小冰)

And while Tripadvisor may first direct visitors to Alcatraz Island, the Little Red Book sends them to the Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street.

Increasingly, the Little Red Book – founded in 2013 in Shanghai as a Chinese-language social media app for users to share reviews of beauty and fashion products in China – has become a trusted source of advice here. in San Francisco and other cities with large Chinese populations. .

“I’m sure every Chinese student around me has a Little Red Book account,” said Stephanie Chen, 24, who now sees herself as a heavy user and aspiring influencer. “As for the Chinese community in California, I’m sure at least half of them use Little Red Book. “

Little Red Book’s almost entirely Chinese content has turned it into a parallel universe unknown to non-Chinese speakers. “How often a person uses Little Red Book depends on their level of Chinese,” said Chen, who posts on Little Red Book almost daily. “My younger sister uses Little Red Book a lot less than I do because she grew up in America.”

Today, a search of the app reveals more than 151,000 articles related to the Bay Area, where much of its US user base is clustered. Growth has been particularly rapid during the pandemic – as of October 2021, the app had 132 million monthly active users worldwide, leading to a current valuation of $ 20 billion.

Zoey Han, 26, was among those pandemic users.

“I wanted to share videos from my pandemic life with my family and friends in China,” said Han, who became an influencer in October 2020. “But they needed to go through the firewall to reach YouTube, so I chose Little Red Book. ”

So far, his weekly quarantine video blog and articles like “A Review of the Bay Area Delivery Apps I Used During the Pandemic” have attracted 1,350 subscribers, a decent number for an influencer. which mainly focuses on life in California. Her favorite delivery apps: yamiMeal, Weee! and Yamibuy, all apps that cater to a large Chinese user base.

“So far, his weekly quarantine video blog and articles like ‘A Review of the Bay Area Delivery Apps I Used During the Pandemic’ have attracted 1,350 subscribers, a decent number for one. influencer who focuses primarily on life in California. ” (@ 是 Zoeyyy 呀)

Hao Li, a 42-year-old driving instructor, has been using Little Red Book to attract students for the past four months. “I hadn’t heard of it until six months ago, but I know it’s been very popular recently,” Li said. The target audience for his posts on Little Red Book – with the base The mostly female users of the app – are programmers from the Bay Area who come to America without knowing the local traffic laws.

For users, the app is a modern encyclopedia of all aspects of life, but with an Asian twist. The most recommended Mission restaurant is Stonemill Matcha, a Japanese dessert shop on Valencia Street with a sleek interior design that makes it particularly suitable for Instagram. A popular article on the app has advice on flights from Shanghai to San Francisco, with the poster documenting his travel in the event of a pandemic. The article includes detailed information on preparing the right documents, purchasing the ticket, and doing everything while traveling with a dog. No doubt the pretty photos added to its appeal.

“There are a large number of Chinese living here, so almost all the information I want can be found on Little Red Book,” said Leiyu Chen, a 25-year-old structural engineer working in San Francisco. “The Chinese feel the same in many ways,” she said, so she finds the right advice.

On Black Friday, she checked users’ photos on the app before shopping for clothes online. “These articles are much more useful than those on official fashion brand websites,” she said. “You know, Asians normally have different body shapes than Caucasians. So mainstream US sites might advise looking for deals at Farfetch, while Little Red Book directed her to Dealmoon.

But the scope of the app extends far beyond product recommendations. This year, Chen paid a heavy price for hairy crabs – a delicacy from Shanghai – but didn’t know how to prepare them. Articles on Little Red Book taught him which parts to eat and saved the crabs from death to no avail. She also used the app to research the ingredients for the egg pie filling and whether the wontons should be put in the water before or after boiling.

“The articles on Little Red Book taught him which parts to eat and saved the crabs from death to no avail.” (@when)

For many, Little Red Book is a more valuable resource than Google, Wikipedia, or YouTube. Even though the advice on some issues is the same, it offers a more complete, Asian-centric world.

“It has a lot of information to help me make decisions,” said Jenn Huang, who spends over an hour a day on Little Red Book and relies on it for professional and emotional advice.

Since arriving in San Francisco for her master’s degree two years ago, the data scientist has been following influencers with more professional experience. She learned from them and also got advice on self-discipline, career opportunities and advice on salary negotiations.

Sometimes when she is confused in her love life, she also turns to the Little Red Book articles for reference. “I think people my age all have this kind of confusion,” said Huang, who turns 25 next year. “I wonder if what my boyfriend did is something everyone is doing, or if it’s really a problem, so I can know how to react.”

In the Love section of Little Red Book, some women check out articles with headlines like “A Really Effective Way to Compliment Your Boyfriend,” which emphasizes that women should always make their boyfriend feel competent even when he is. is not.

Another article on whether it is “good to have sex too early” points out that couples should not have sex until they are committed to the relationship.

Other articles featuring distinctly Chinese topics are also gaining ground. An article explores the question: “I like the wedding dress on the left, while my mother-in-law likes the one on the right. How should I choose? Overwhelmingly, commentators suggest the poster should listen to its mother-in-law.

In the “Nearby” section of Little Red Book, a more localized picture of Chinese life in San Francisco is shown: Now that people are allowed to take the GRE at home, will they really take the test on their own? ? Who can get me into the Bay Area Programmer’s family member’s WeChat group?

Going through so many messages, one detects a faint nostalgia for China, a desire to bring the country with them even while living abroad. And maybe some users feel that way. Seeing these two visions of life side by side on the app, Zoey Han – a successful Silicon Valley programmer – sighed, “Compared to life in China, life here is still pretty boring. “

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