Diet Coke In China

Yes, they have Diet Coke in China. These days it’s fairly easy to get, especially in the big cities, as evidenced by this photo of a diet coke can posted by cogdogblog on Flickr.

China Diet Coke

When I first went to China in 2002, to a smallish city in Guangdong, it was almost impossible to get.

Having searched the city, with no luck, I tried asking for it in the Dynasty Hotel, which was to become our favourite watering hole. The waitress just couldn’t understand me, even with the help of my phrasebook and my miming.

After about 15 minutes of this, on and off, something went click in her mind and she brought me an ice cold can (yes it was cold!), just like the one in the picture and I was a very happy man! Here is a rather blurry photo of a it:

Diet Coke in China

EDIT 4 July 2012: Note that my can is quite bit older than cogdogblog’s one. This all happened way back in 2002, when Diet Coke was almost impossible to get in China. It’s much more common these days.

Actually it was called Coke Light, not Diet Coke, which is the name which was used in Hong Kong for some reason. I’m not sure what it’s called in China these days. Obviously, it has a Chinese name, which you can see in the picture, but if you turn the can around, the other side will be in English.

The reason I took the photo wasn’t for posterity or to put it on the Internet years later. It was to keep on my camera, so I could show it to people at other restaurants / bars / shops and hopefully get a can of Diet Coke as a result.

The first time I tried to use the photo to get a can of Diet Coke was at a Buddhist restaurant at a tourist destination / scenic spot. I took out my camera, found the photo and showed it to the waitress. Her eyes lit up. She said something like “we have, we have” and went racing out the back.

She was back minutes later with an icy cold can of … Coke. Not Diet Coke. Coke.. Sigh.

Something was obviously lost in translation. Actually, I think at that time Diet Coke was so rare that the vast majority of people in China didn’t even know it existed. When presented with the photo, the waitress could tell it was a Coke product, but couldn’t differentiate between Coke and Diet Coke.

At the time, I wasn’t into Coke at all, I really only wanted Diet Coke, so this was major disappointment. The irony is that I no longer drink Diet Coke. I’m a Coke man again!

5 Responses

  1. Very good idea to take a photo for explaining later! You should have focused on the two black characters, because that’s the word for “diet”. The big red characters say “Coca Cola”, so it’s understandable that she didn’t notice the small black characters and just brought you a coke.

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  3. Tom

    I’m really not sure if there is anything “Lost in Translation” at all. As the first poster mentions, the large bold print is simply the Chinese transliteration of Coca-Cola. The smaller characters denote Diet: the character 健 means healthy; the second character 怡 means happy or cheerful; and its effect is to slightly lower the tone of the previous character for health and inject a sense of enjoyment into drinking the lower sugar content version of the drink.
    It is natural that the waitress would pass up on the smaller print, when it would be the larger print to catch her attention. In fact, on the Mainland Diet Coke is still labeled under this same moniker “健怡可乐“; but it is probably now a lot better known!

  4. L

    Diet Coke vs Coke light.

    Just to mention it. It is only Diet Coke in the US.
    In Europe it is Coke light as well.

    Interestingly, from 2003 till 2011 I never found one single can of Coke Light in Mainland,
    but quite easily found Coke light lemon.
    Coke and Pepsi distributed in the US and PRC are so terrible sweeter than Euopean and HK Coke and still cannot understand, how anyone could willingly drink that sh*t.
    I am grateful for the wide availability of Coke Zero (I spit on Pepsi Max) nowerdays.

  5. Tiina

    During my many trips to shoe factories in Fujian province, Diet Coke was referred to as “fat-people’s Coke” by the locals. I thought that was hilarious!

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