‘Ice-cream assassin’ — phrase of the week

Society & Culture

When you grab a cooling treat from the convenience store fridge and get whacked with a $10 price tag, you’ve just been struck by an ice-cream assassin!

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Our phrase of the week is: Ice-cream assassin (雪糕刺客 xuěgāo cìkè).

Context  

China has the biggest ice-cream market in the world, with a market value of 150 billion yuan ($23 billion) in 2020.

Luxury ice creams used to be dominated by foreign brands like Häagen-Dazs, but in recent years, homegrown brands have taken off: 

  • Chicecream (钟薛高 zhōngxuēgāo), founded in 2018, has led the way. Known as the Hermès of ice cream, a single serving will set you back 66 yuan ($10). 

In response to its high price, the company’s founder, Lín Shèng 林盛, recently said

That’s the price. Take it or leave it. 

他就是那个价格,你爱要不要。

tā jiùshì nàge jiàgé, nǐ ài yào bù yào.

Moutai, China’s biggest and only globally famous liquor brand, launched a high-end baijiu-infused ice-cream brand in May, which is priced around 60 yuan ($8.8). Within an hour of its launch, Moutai recorded sales of 5,000 ice creams at its flagship outlet in Guiyang and sales of over 40,000 ice creams via its iMoutai app. 

Despite strong sales, the soaring prices of ice cream have led China’s social media commenters to vent their frustration in recent weeks: 

As Chicecream has transitioned from online to offline sales, it has become known as the “ice-cream assassin,” as it is hidden among many lower-priced ice creams.  

从电商走向线下的过程中,钟薛高隐匿在众多雪糕中,成为一名“雪糕刺客。”

cóng diànshāng zǒuxiàng xiànxià de guòchéng zhōng, zhōngxuēgāo yǐnnì zài zhòngduō xuěgāo zhōng, chéngwéi yīmíng “xuěgāo cìkè.”

Translation 

Ice-cream assassin is a newly coined phrase on the Chinese internet. It directly translates as ice cream (雪糕 xuěgāo) and assassin (刺客 cìkè).

The phrase captures the feeling of many consumers in China who grab an ice cream from a freezer, expecting to pay a few yuan to cool off from the intense heat of the Chinese summer — only to be taken by surprise by the exorbitant price when they come to pay. 

Unlike Häagen-Dazs, China’s high-end brands like Chicecream do not have a dedicated freezer in stores, so their luxury product will be mixed in with other, much cheaper brands. 

So it’s easy to get caught out, or assassinated, by the high prices of a luxury product such as Chicecream. 

As with the invention of a new phrase in Chinese, creative social media users have been quick to come up with other related phrases. An unsuspecting customer can be injured by high prices (刺伤 cì shāng) and be stabbed in the back, caught off guard by high prices (背刺 bèi cì).  

And it’s not just in ice cream: There are also customer assassinations happening with other surprise luxury products, too, such as fruit (水果刺客 shuǐguǒ cìkè), chocolate (巧克力刺客 qiǎokèlì cìkè), and even pigs trotters (猪蹄刺客 zhūtí cìkè).

Andrew Methven