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

Yelp might list R&G Lounge quite low in its rankings, but social media app Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) ranks things differently. It puts Chinatown right above the top – with Soya Sauce Duck Tongue, Princess Chicken, and Baked Black Cod listed as must-try dishes.

“It totally puts Chinatown on top – with Soya Sauce Duck Tongue, Princess Chicken and Baked Black Cod listed as must-try dishes.” (@ 爱 小冰)

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

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 considers herself a heavy user and aspiring influencer. “For the Chinese community in California, I’m sure at least half of them use the Little Red Book.”

Turn all the Chinese content in Little Red Book into a parallel world unknown to non-Chinese speakers. “How often a person uses the Little Red Book depends on their level of Chinese,” said Chen, who publishes in Little Red Book almost daily. “My younger sister uses the Little Red Book a lot less than me because she was raised in America.”

Today, a search of the app turns up more than 151,000 posts related to the Bay Area, which is where a lot of the US user base is aggregated. Growth has been particularly rapid during the pandemic – by October 2021, the app boasted 132 million monthly active users worldwide, resulting in a current valuation of $20 billion.

Zoe Han, 26, was one of those users of the pandemic.

Han, who became an influencer in October 2020, said: “I wanted to share videos of my epidemic life with my family and friends in China, but they needed to climb the firewall to get to YouTube, so I chose Little Red Book.”

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