SubscribeLog in
Connect with us

China Food & Drinks

When White People Discovered China’s ‘White People Food’ Trend

A month after the ‘white people food’ trend first became popular, Chinese netizens reflect on how the trend gained international attention.

Manya Koetse



Earlier this month, the term ‘white people food’ (白人饭 báirénfàn) gained significant attention in English-language media after it became a trend on the Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu.

“White people food” mainly refers to simple meals that are easy to prepare, prioritizing convenience over taste. Examples include crackers and cheese, celery with dip, boiled egg with cucumber, ham sandwiches, or pasta with tomatoes.

Mocking unappetizing, cold, and barely seasoned ‘white people food’ became popular among overseas Chinese posting photos on Xiaohongshu and others criticizing the bland lunchboxes brought to work by white colleagues.

Although the ‘white people food’ term itself is not new, it became particularly popular in late May of 2023 when a Chinese netizen posted a video of a white woman in Switzerland preparing her lunch on a train with just lettuce and ham.

The video symbolized the significant cultural differences between China and many Western countries, particularly in terms of food and lunch habits. A typical office lunch box consisting of bread, cheese, fruit, and a granola bar is not considered a ‘real’ meal by many Chinese — they argue it lacks warmth, spices, ginger, garlic, rice, noodles, veggies, etc.

As a response to the trend, an online challenge emerged where people attempted to recreate their own version of a white people lunch. This mini-trend caught the attention of English-language media outlets, including Buzzfeed, after a viral tweet by Ya Fan (@yanarchy) went viral.

Not all Chinese social media users criticize the quick and uninspiring lunch style commonly seen in the West. What started as a trend to ridicule the food eventually took on a positive note, with many young Chinese professionals praising the simplicity and convenience of these meals.

For busy office workers, preparing a homemade lunch and sitting down for a larger, warm meal can be time-consuming. Opting for a sandwich or salad is quick, efficient, and leaves more time and energy after lunch or at the end of a workday.

One Xiaohongshu user wrote about her salad with mozzarella, nuts, berries, and ham, stating, “After work, this can be prepared in just three minutes, no need to wait, it can be finished extremely quickly.”

Hashtag “White people food is really not bad at all.”

In this sense, ‘white people food’ also aligns with the concept of a ‘worker’s lunch’ (打工人午餐).

The phrase and hashtag “White people food is also food” (#白人饭也是饭) emerged in response to this trend. It carries a pun that references the Chinese translation of “Black Lives Matter” (“Black people’s lives are also lives 黑人的命也是命”) and the controversial phrase “White Lives Matter,” which gained attention in the context of the BLM movement and further garnered attention in China and beyond when Kanye West wore a “White Lives Matter” t-shirt (translated as “White people’s lives are also lives 白人的命也是命”).

The notion that “White people food is also food” is not solely sarcastic, as some social media users interpret it in a different light. They express a preference for incorporating these simple meals into their daily diet, not just due to a busy work schedule, but also because it aligns with a lifestyle that involves consuming smaller meals, exercising, and trying out new things.

“They discovered the white people food trend”

Now that the trend has extended beyond Xiaohongshu to foreign platforms, this very aspect has sparked further online discussions.

Chinese media outlet Phoenix News has also gathered opinions and comments from foreign users on social media regarding this trend, with the majority of them finding the trend amusing and humorous. They titled their post “The White People Food Popular Among Chinese Young People Has Been Discovered by White People” (“中国年轻人流行“白人饭”,被白人发现了”), hashtagged “White people food has been discovered by white people” (#白人饭被白人发现了#).

Although many Chinese netizens find it funny that the Chinese trend of eating style has gained popularity overseas, there are still those who question whether Western people truly enjoy this way of eating.

“It’s really how it is,” one Xiaohongshu user wrote. “I remember the first time my ‘homestay mom’ prepared lunch for me [as an exchange student]. When she gave me a ham sandwich, I thought she was teasing me, but later I found out that the entire family ate like this. It’s important to note that they were actually a Black family.”

Meanwhile, on TikTok (the foreign version), another trend called ‘Girl Dinner’ is gaining momentum. This trend refers to simple dinner plates featuring ingredients like cheese, cucumber, ham, pickles, olives, and other items. Although they are not labeled as such, these plates align with what is called ‘White People Food’ on Chinese social media. Many TikTok users praise these meals for their simplicity and view them as a form of luxury and indulgence.

“Girl Dinner” on Tiktok is just like “White People Food” on Xiaohongshu.

For many Chinese individuals, the latest ‘White People Food’ trend may be a convenient way to eat, but they do not perceive it as a form of indulgence. “White people food is truly magical. Just four pieces of sliced bread with some veggies, fruits, and meat sauce, and I already feel full after eating two. I have white people food for lunch every day to save time, but it doesn’t bring me any joy. It’s merely a survival-oriented way of eating.”

By Manya Koetse 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

A Brew of Controversy: Lu Xun and LELECHA’s ‘Smoky’ Oolong Tea

Chinese tea brand LELECHA faced backlash for using the iconic literary figure Lu Xun to promote their “Smoky Oolong” milk tea, sparking controversy over the exploitation of his legacy.

Manya Koetse



It seemed like such a good idea. For this year’s World Book Day, Chinese tea brand LELECHA (乐乐茶) put a spotlight on Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881-1936), one of the most celebrated Chinese authors the 20th century and turned him into the the ‘brand ambassador’ of their special new “Smoky Oolong” (烟腔乌龙) milk tea.

LELECHA is a Chinese chain specializing in new-style tea beverages, including bubble tea and fruit tea. It debuted in Shanghai in 2016, and since then, it has expanded rapidly, opening dozens of new stores not only in Shanghai but also in other major cities across China.

Starting on April 23, not only did the LELECHA ‘Smoky Oolong” paper cups feature Lu Xun’s portrait, but also other promotional materials by LELECHA, such as menus and paper bags, accompanied by the slogan: “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” (“老烟腔,新青年”). The marketing campaign was a joint collaboration between LELECHA and publishing house Yilin Press.

Lu Xun featured on LELECHA products, image via Netease.

The slogan “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” is a play on the Chinese magazine ‘New Youth’ or ‘La Jeunesse’ (新青年), the influential literary magazine in which Lu’s famous short story, “Diary of a Madman,” was published in 1918.

The design of the tea featuring Lu Xun’s image, its colors, and painting style also pay homage to the era in which Lu Xun rose to prominence.

Lu Xun (pen name of Zhou Shuren) was a leading figure within China’s May Fourth Movement. The May Fourth Movement (1915-24) is also referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment or the Chinese Renaissance. It was the cultural revolution brought about by the political demonstrations on the fourth of May 1919 when citizens and students in Beijing paraded the streets to protest decisions made at the post-World War I Versailles Conference and called for the destruction of traditional culture[1].

In this historical context, Lu Xun emerged as a significant cultural figure, renowned for his critical and enlightened perspectives on Chinese society.

To this day, Lu Xun remains a highly respected figure. In the post-Mao era, some critics felt that Lu Xun was actually revered a bit too much, and called for efforts to ‘demystify’ him. In 1979, for example, writer Mao Dun called for a halt to the movement to turn Lu Xun into “a god-like figure”[2].

Perhaps LELECHA’s marketing team figured they could not go wrong by creating a milk tea product around China’s beloved Lu Xun. But for various reasons, the marketing campaign backfired, landing LELECHA in hot water. The topic went trending on Chinese social media, where many criticized the tea company.

Commodification of ‘Marxist’ Lu Xun

The first issue with LELECHA’s Lu Xun campaign is a legal one. It seems the tea chain used Lu Xun’s portrait without permission. Zhou Lingfei, Lu Xun’s great-grandson and president of the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation, quickly demanded an end to the unauthorized use of Lu Xun’s image on tea cups and other merchandise. He even hired a law firm to take legal action against the campaign.

Others noted that the image of Lu Xun that was used by LELECHA resembled a famous painting of Lu Xun by Yang Zhiguang (杨之光), potentially also infringing on Yang’s copyright.

But there are more reasons why people online are upset about the Lu Xun x LELECHA marketing campaign. One is how the use of the word “smoky” is seen as disrespectful towards Lu Xun. Lu Xun was known for his heavy smoking, which ultimately contributed to his early death.

It’s also ironic that Lu Xun, widely seen as a Marxist, is being used as a ‘brand ambassador’ for a commercial tea brand. This exploits Lu Xun’s image for profit, turning his legacy into a commodity with the ‘smoky oolong’ tea and related merchandise.

“Such blatant commercialization of Lu Xun, is there no bottom limit anymore?”, one Weibo user wrote. Another person commented: “If Lu Xun were still alive and knew he had become a tool for capitalists to make money, he’d probably scold you in an article. ”

On April 29, LELECHA finally issued an apology to Lu Xun’s relatives and the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation for neglecting the legal aspects of their marketing campaign. They claimed it was meant to promote reading among China’s youth. All Lu Xun materials have now been removed from LELECHA’s stores.

Statement by LELECHA.

On Chinese social media, where the hot tea became a hot potato, opinions on the issue are divided. While many netizens think it is unacceptable to infringe on Lu Xun’s portrait rights like that, there are others who appreciate the merchandise.

The LELECHA controversy is similar to another issue that went trending in late 2023, when the well-known Chinese tea chain HeyTea (喜茶) collaborated with the Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum to release a special ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ (佛喜) latte tea series adorned with Buddha images on the cups, along with other merchandise such as stickers and magnets. The series featured three customized “Buddha’s Happiness” cups modeled on the “Speechless Bodhisattva” (无语菩萨), which soon became popular among netizens.

The HeyTea Buddha latte series, including merchandise, was pulled from shelves just three days after its launch.

However, the ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ success came to an abrupt halt when the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Shenzhen intervened, citing regulations that prohibit commercial promotion of religion. HeyTea wasted no time challenging the objections made by the Bureau and promptly removed the tea series and all related merchandise from its stores, just three days after its initial launch.

Following the Happy Buddha and Lu Xun milk tea controversies, Chinese tea brands are bound to be more careful in the future when it comes to their collaborative marketing campaigns and whether or not they’re crossing any boundaries.

Some people couldn’t care less if they don’t launch another campaign at all. One Weibo user wrote: “Every day there’s a new collaboration here, another one there, but I’d just prefer a simple cup of tea.”

By Manya Koetse

[1]Schoppa, Keith. 2000. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. New York: Columbia UP, 159.

[2]Zhong, Xueping. 2010. “Who Is Afraid Of Lu Xun? The Politics Of ‘Debates About Lu Xun’ (鲁迅论争lu Xun Lun Zheng) And The Question Of His Legacy In Post-Revolution China.” In Culture and Social Transformations in Reform Era China, 257–284, 262.

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Continue Reading

China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Zara Dress Goes Viral in China for Resemblance to Haidilao Apron

Who’s gonna buy this Zara dress in China? “I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Manya Koetse



A short dress sold by Zara has gone viral in China for looking like the aprons used by the popular Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao.

“I really thought it was a Zara x Haidialo collab,” some customers commented. Others also agree that the first thing they thought about when seeing the Zara dress was the Haidilao apron.

The “original” vs the Zara dress.

The dress has become a popular topic on Xiaohongshu and other social media, where some images show the dress with the Haidilao logo photoshopped on it to emphasize the similarity.

One post on Xiaohongshu discussing the dress, with the caption “Curious about the inspiration behind Zara’s design,” garnered over 28,000 replies.

Haidilao, with its numerous restaurants across China, is renowned for its hospitality and exceptional customer service. Anyone who has ever dined at their restaurants is familiar with the Haidilao apron provided to diners for protecting their clothes from food or oil stains while enjoying hotpot.

These aprons are meant for use during the meal and should be returned to the staff afterward, rather than taken home.

The Haidilao apron.

However, many people who have dined at Haidilao may have encountered the following scenario: after indulging in drinks and hotpot, they realize they are still wearing a Haidilao apron upon leaving the restaurant. Consequently, many hotpot enthusiasts may have an ‘accidental’ Haidilao apron tucked away at home somewhere.

This only adds to the humor of the latest Zara dress looking like the apron. The similarity between the Zara dress and the Haidilao apron is actually so striking, that some people are afraid to be accused of being a thief if they would wear it.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “The most confusing item of this season from Zara has come out. It’s like a Zara x Haidilao collaboration apron… This… I can’t wear it: I’m afraid that someone will say I stole the apron from Haidilao.”

Funnily enough, the Haidilao apron similarity seems to have set off a trend of girls trying on the Zara dress and posting photos of themselves wearing it.

It’s doubtful that they’re actually purchasing the dress. Although some commenters say the dress is not bad, most people associate it too closely with the Haidilao brand: it just makes them hungry for hotpot.

By Manya Koetse

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Continue Reading


What’s on Weibo is run by Manya Koetse (@manyapan), offering independent analysis of social trends in China for over a decade. Subscribe to show your support and gain access to all content, including the Weibo Watch newsletter, providing deeper insights into the China trends that matter.

Manya Koetse's Profile Picture

Get in touch

Would you like to become a contributor, or do you have any tips or suggestions? Get in touch here!

Popular Reads