April Fools Day - 愚人节 拷贝
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Big Belly Business: China’s Latest Corporate Craze

Young professionals’ new office trend for rotundity blurs the line between ambition and absurdity

In China’s ever-competitive corporate landscape, young professionals have started a bizarre trend that’s literally ballooning out of proportion. The latest fad sweeping through office corridors from Shanghai to Shenzhen isn’t a groundbreaking tech innovation or a cutting-edge fashion statement but the strategic sporting of fake big bellies in hopes of securing promotions and hefty pay raises.

The trend emerged after netizens discovered a 2023 paper by researchers at Luzhou University that linked Chinese emperors’ effectiveness, power, and fortune to their rotundity. The research recently went viral online, with netizens latching onto the idea that a protruding belly not only signifies prosperity and contentment but also wisdom and reliability—qualities highly coveted in the corporate realm.

Young professionals have thus begun padding their midsections, with “belly sizes escalating to the point where some find it challenging to sit up straight or reach their keyboards,” one exasperated senior manager in Shanghai, who requested anonymity for this piece, tells TWOC.

The craze has birthed a new economy on Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce platform. Sellers offer “basic big bellies” made from rubber for just a few yuan, catering to the entry-level prospective executive looking to make a slight, yet noticeable, difference. On the higher end of the spectrum, sophisticated faux bellies that defy detection fetch prices ranging from a few hundred to thousands of yuan. These deluxe models come with features such as adjustable girth, lifelike texture, and even cooling systems, to maintain the illusion without breaking a sweat. “Our top-tier bellies are crafted to perfection, ensuring that even the most discerning eye can’t tell the difference,” says 34-year-old Li Ming, a seller with hundreds of transactions on Taobao.

However, as the trend inflates, so do concerns that the big gut business is getting out of hand. Offices are now teeming with employees donning artificial bellies of such magnitude that meetings resemble prenatal classes, and ergonomic chair requests have skyrocketed. “Everyone is coming to work with enormous bellies, hoping to tip the scales in their favor. But with everyone doing it, we’re right back where we started,” laments Zhang Wei, a software developer from Beijing who recently upgraded to a premium model only to find his entire team had done the same.

Meanwhile, HR departments are scratching their heads, trying to navigate the delicate matter of belly authenticity without crossing personal boundaries. “We don’t know what to do, we can’t just lift someone’s shirt and check their stomach…What if they’re pregnant?” says the anonymous senior manager.

Yet, some savvy observers predict the belly bubble may soon burst, as more companies catch on and begin valuing productivity over paunch. Until then, China’s corporate warriors will continue to puff up their prospects, one fake tummy at a time, all the while pondering the age-old question: Is it truly the size of the belly that counts, or what lies beneath?

We got you again! Happy Rotten Lychee—oops, we mean April Fools’ Day. Though China’s corporate culture throws up many weird and wonderful trends, buying fake big bellies is not yet one of them.

P.S. AI helped us write this article...proving yet again how good it is at coming up with fake news.

Find more audio versions of our content here.
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