Tribal Warfare: Urban Angst in China’s Supermarkets

While most laowai are probably familiar with the phenomenon of the “ant tribe,” a recent article in The Economist introduced a number of other “tribes” of stressed-out young Chinese struggling to survive in the urban jungle.

Perhaps the most unusual is the “crush-crush tribe” (捏捏族), who release their frustrations by hiding in supermarket aisles and crushing packages of instant noodles.

The crush-crush tribe first made its appearance in late 2009, vexing store owners and psychologists with their trails of crumpled packaging and furtive Weibo confessions.

(I’ve written a post taking a closer look at the crush-crush tribe here)

Since then, they have branched off into a number of different tribes, each with its own unique method of venting stress at the expense of innocent food items.

Here’s a partial list of the new tribes spreading chaos and destruction in China’s supermarkets, along with their rank on the “uncivilization index” helpfully provided by Shanghai’s Xinwen Chenbao.

Rip-rip Tribe (拆拆族)

Uncivilization rating: 5 stars

Unlike the crush-crush tribe, this group mainly targets household items and clothing.  Members of this tribe tear open packages, leaving underwear, socks, bedspreads and similar items scattered on the shelves.

Shopkeepers say this group is difficult to police, given the large number of shoppers who also open packages to get a closer look or feel the material.

Switch Tribe (调包族)

Uncivilization rating: 5 stars

Rather than destroy items on display, this tribe switches similar items in different packaging.  Small boxed items such as toothpaste and makeup are mixed up, with a tube of one brand being put in the packaging of another.

Some stores have advised customers to check their purchases of any such items to avoid paying the sticker price on the box only to discover a cheaper version hidden inside.

Taste-taste Tribe (尝尝族)

Uncivilization rating: 4 stars

This tribe is not limited to thrill-seeking twentysomethings who sneak a cookie or two out of the box when no one’s watching.  It also includes older shoppers  who like to sample their produce before making a selection, plucking a grape or peeling open a tangerine to see if it’s ripe.

Gentle reminders from shopkeepers to leave the fruit alone often go ignored – if you don’t try it out first, shoppers reply, how do you know if it’d any good?

Scatter Tribe (乱放族)

Uncivilization rating: 4 stars

A freshly roasted chicken hidden in the freezer aisle, a bag of frozen dumplings melting on a rack of underwear… the possibilities are endless.  Like the taste-taste tribe, this group includes as many careless customers as frustrated malcontents, and many laowai likely know a few tribe members from their home country, as well.