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China’s Trending Terminology: Top 25 Buzzwords and Catchphrases of 2023

Which words and phrases made it to Weibo’s top trending lists in 2023? We’ve compiled a top 25 of the most popular and noteworthy buzzwords.

Manya Koetse

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Here are 25 Chinese buzzwords and catchphrases, listed by What’s on Weibo, that reflect social trends and changing times in China in 2023.

At the end of every year, Chinese media outlets usually compile a list of the most noteworthy buzzwords or the words that made the most impact during the year.

The most popular new words and expressions are generally listed by the Chinese linguistics magazine Yǎowén Jiáozì (咬文嚼字), which selects ten noteworthy buzzwords (十大流行语). On social media, Chinese online (state) media always promote the magazine’s selection of the top words and terms of the past year, but there are also other outlets selecting their top words of 2023, which have become a relatively big topic on Weibo over the past month.

In previous years, we’ve also published several articles in which we have listed the most important buzzwords.

◼︎ In 2018: China’s Top Ten Buzz Words & Phrases of 2018
◼︎ In 2019: Top 10 Buzzwords in Chinese Online Media 2019
◼︎ And in 2020: The Top 10 Buzzwords in Chinese Online Media in 2020 (咬文嚼字)
◼︎ And for 2020-2023, we also compiled this big Covid-19 vocabulary list.

If you want to know more about the buzzwords that made it to Chinese (official) media’s lists this year, check out this post by Andrew Methven at Slow Chinese which is a top ten compilation of Chinese buzzwords of 2023 based on these lists.

 

Top 10 Buzzwords by Yǎowén Jiáozì


 

The top 10 by Yǎowén Jiáozì consists of the following words:

1. 新质生产力 (Xīn zhì shēngchǎnlì)

This refers to “new quality productivity,” a term introduced by Xi Jinping this year focusing on a form of production driven by technological innovation as a new engine for China’s economic developmentin the new era. It covers technological innovation, new forms of energy, emerging industries and their interaction and integration, especially progress in digitalization, intelligence and green development.

2. 双向奔赴 (Shuāngxiàng bēnfù)

This means “running towards each other” or “devote efforts from both directions.” The phrase has become frequently used by Chinese netizens in the context of romantic love, meaning both sides are equally involved and putting in all effort to keep the love alive (双向奔赴的爱情).

3. 人工智能大模型 (Réngōng zhìnéng dàmóxíng)

“Large Scale Artificial Intelligence Models,” refering to the series of AI applications that we saw rising this year, including ChatGPT and Ernie Bot.

4. 村超 (Cūn chāo)

This term means “Village Super League,” a soccer event in Rongjiang County, Guizhou Province, organized by local villagers. It gained significant attention this year, drawing passionate new fans and showcasing China’s vibrant rural sports scene.

5. 特种兵式旅游 (Tèzhǒng bīngshì lǚyóu)

It means “special forces-style tourism”: special forces travelers have been flooding popular tourist spots across China. Their mission is clear: covering as many places as possible at the lowest cost and within a limited time. While the travel trend has become a social media hype, there are also those criticizing the trend for being superficial and troublesome (read here).

6. 显眼包 (Xiǎnyǎn bāo)

A goof, the life of the party, the class clown; the term “显眼包” in Chinese refers to someone or something that stands out from the crowd or grabs attention. While it previously had a negative meaning, standing out from the group is now also seen as having a goofy, bubbly and enjoyable personality that brings happiness.

7. 搭子 (Dāzǐ)

Dāzǐ translates to “companion,” “buddy,” “mate,” or “partner,” typically referring to someone you hang out with for particular activities who is not your significant other. You can have a “coffee buddy” (咖啡搭子), drinking buddy (酒搭子), or a “travel buddy” (旅游搭子). Chinese media have described the word as reflecting a new social trend among young people who might be single but still find various ways to have a satisfying social life that suits their needs.

8. 多巴胺×× (Duōbā’àn ××)

Dopamine is associated with happy hormones – pleasure and reward in the brain, and “××” indicates it’s being used in various contexts or activities related to pleasure or enjoyment. The term popped up this year in the context of ‘happy hormone fashion’ or ‘dopamine dressing’ (duōbā’àn chuāndā 多巴胺穿搭) the art of wearing colorful clothes to foster a good mood and positive vibes. Now, the use of ‘dopamine xxx’ is also used in other contexts.

9. 情绪价值 (Qíngxù jiàzhí)

This refers to “emotional value,” and is originally used within marketing to refer to the impact of consumers’ emotions on the products and services they purchase. This year, the word became more important as Chinese (young) consumers are shifting from merely ‘buying to use’ to actively participating and immersing themselves in experiences, such as the ‘special forces tourism’ (also in this list), city walks, enjoying Zibo barbecue, or purchasing virtual products that bring some kind of emotional value to them.

10. 质疑××,理解××,成为×× (Zhìyí ××, lǐjiě ××, chéngwéi ××)

This phrase means “question, understand, and become,” popularized because of the Chinese TV series iPartment (爱情公寓, ài qíng gōng yù). Initially, viewers questioned the female lead’s decision to prioritize her career over marriage. However, with time, they began to understand her perspective and realized that romantic love isn’t the sole priority. This pattern can also apply to various other scenarios and settings where initial doubts give way to comprehension and acceptance.

 

Top 25 Buzzwords/Catchphrases by What’s on Weibo


 

Here, we have made a special What’s on Weibo top 25 of top buzzwords and catchphrases of 2023. Most of these words have previously been featured in our premium Weibo Watch newsletter, where we select a word of the week for each issue.

These words are not in order of popularity, but rather in order of appearance throughout the year.

 

#1: FINAL-ROUND PLAYERS


Juésàiquān Xuǎnshǒu (决赛圈选手)

Over three years after the Covid-19 outbreak in China, it became increasingly uncommon to find people who hadn’t tested positive for the virus. After China eased its strict ‘Zero Covid’ measures in December 2022, infections surged across the nation, peaking in January 2023. By late January, over 80% of China’s population had contracted Covid. During the 2023 Spring Festival travel period, individuals wearing full protective gear stood out and attracted attention. During this time, Chinese media and netizens began calling those who remained Covid-free since 2020 the “final-round players” (决赛圈选手), suggesting that they were like finalists in the last round of the ‘avoid getting Covid’ game (read more).

 

#2: WANDERING BALLOON


Liúlàng qìqiú (流浪气球)

The ‘Wandering Balloon’ – liúlàng qìqiú 流浪气球 – emerged as a notable buzzword in February 2023 among Chinese netizens as the so-called ‘balloon incident‘ sparked an international dispute. The incident revolved around the U.S. military shooting down a Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast. While the U.S. labeled it a spy balloon, China contended it was a civilian “airship” (“飞艇”) for weather monitoring that drifted off course due to wind. On Chinese social platforms, this incident linked the balloon to the box-office hit The Wandering Earth II, leading to humorous online discussions. After reports of the balloon being shot down surfaced, some Weibo users playfully mourned the “poor baby balloon,” suggesting it was abruptly brought down without its chance to roam freely. The connection between the balloon incident and the sci-fi film’s popularity wasn’t surprising, given the movie’s enormous popularity and considering its narrative is all about catastrophic events and the future of international society. Read more about the incident and the words used here.

 

#3: BLIND WORSHIP OF FOREIGN GOODS/IDEAS


Chóng Yáng Mèi Wài (崇洋媚外)

This word/expression has come up a lot this year and specifically was used a lot when one incident went absolutely viral. In February of 2023, a Chinese associate professor named Chen Hongyou (陈宏友) stirred major controversy for remarks made during a speech at a school in Hefei, Anhui. According to various blogs and social media posts, Chen basically talked about how mixing races – ‘the further apart partners live, the better’ – would provide better genes for the next generation. He is also said to have suggested that his son, now living in the US with an American wife, would have children with better genes. In the middle of his speech, a student in the audience stormed to the stage and accused the professor of “worshipping foreign things and bowing to foreign powers [崇洋媚外].” This phrase, chóngyáng mèiwài, the popped up in hundreds of online discussions following the incident. Read more about that here.

 

#4: TOXIC TEXTBOOKS


Dú Jiàocái (毒教材)

Over the past few years, school textbooks that are deemed harmful or contain content that is perceived as offensive, unpatriotic, vulgar, or unsightly have received a lot of attention in China. Remember the ugly textbook scandal of 2022? Or the sexual education textbook of 2017? This year, the term ‘toxic textbook’ or ‘poisonous textbook’ – dú jiàocái 毒教材 – went trending on Weibo after famous commentator/writer Sima Nan made a video in which he warned about the return of the toxic textbooks. Issues highlighted include a geography textbook featuring Japan’s Mount Fuji instead of Chinese landmarks, illustrations depicting Japanese families over Chinese ones, maps omitting Taiwan from Chinese territories, and even primary school books with QR codes leading to inappropriate content. Concerned parents are urging authorities to take decisive actions to ensure the quality and appropriateness of school materials.

 

#5: RECOVER FROM COVID


Yángkāng (阳康)

As the worst peak of China’s 2023 Covid outbreak had ended by March of 2023, the word used to say ‘recover from Covid’ became a popular online phrase. This novel word is a combination of 阳 yáng, meaning [to test] ‘positive,’ and the word 康 kāng meaning ‘healthy.’ The word is also a pun based on a character in Jin Yong’s martial novel The Legend of the Condor Heroes, namely 杨康 Yáng Kāng. New language travels fast, and by now, the word has already become ingrained in everyday life. Some hospitals even opened their own “Covid Yangkang Clinics” (新冠阳康门诊) to help patients who are still suffering from symptoms after testing negative.

 

#6: DISCOURSE TRAP


Huàyǔ Xiànjiǎng (话语陷阱)

The “discourse trap” (话语陷阱) came up in relation to the speech made by China’s Foreign Affairs Minister Qin Gang (秦刚) in March of 2023. During his address at the Two Sessions, Qin highlighted how foreign media commonly use the term ‘wolf warrior diplomacy’ to describe Chinese foreign relations. Qin argued that this term has become a “discourse trap.” By this, he meant that the phrase has been so deeply embedded in Western discussions about China’s foreign policy that it hinders genuine understanding of the actual dynamics. Qin implied that, contrary to perceptions, Chinese diplomats are the ones who are actually ‘dancing with wolves’ while navigating complex international relations. Interestingly, later in 2023, Qin Gang was suddenly replaced in his role by Wang Yi, the CCP’s most senior foreign affairs official. No official explanation was provided for this unexpected change.

 

#7: CAO CAO FLIPS THE RICE BOWL


Cáo Cāo Gài Fàn (曹操盖饭)

A viral meme originating from the Chinese TV series Three Kingdoms (三国) gained significant traction on Chinese social media in 2023. In a memorable scene from the 2010 series, Cao Cao, a prominent warlord in Chinese history played by actor Chen Jianbin (陈建斌), angrily flips his rice bowl upon receiving news of a surprise attack, only to gather the spilled rice back into the bowl later. This scene featuring an enraged Cao Cao has resurfaced and struck a chord with individuals reluctantly facing reality. Turning into a popular meme, ‘Cao Cao flipping the rice bowl’ (曹操盖饭) became widely employed to convey sentiments of self-inflicted humiliation or the hesitation to undertake certain actions. Read more here.

 

#8: REVIVE CHINA BIDEN


Bài Zhèn Huá (拜振华) – “Revive China Biden”

While delivering a speech to the Canadian parliament in March of 2023, U.S. President Biden accidentally said he “applauded China for stepping up.” He then quickly corrected himself and saying he meant to say ‘Canada’ instead of ‘China.’ Because of this slip of the tongue, many Chinese netizens joked that Biden secretly supports China. They referred to him by the nickname “Revive the Country Biden” (Bài Zhènhuá 拜振华), also translatable as ‘Thriving China Biden’. This nickname already circulated online since 2020 and matches with one that was previously given to former President Trump, namely that of “Build the Country Trump” (Chuān Jiànguó 川建国). The idea behind these humorous monikers is that both Trump and Biden are benefitting China by doing a poor job in running the United States and saying things that actually make China stronger (read more).

 

#9: CYBER YINAO


Sàibó Yīnào (赛博医闹)

Yinao (医闹) refers to the social problem of patient-doctor violence and other outbursts of anger against medical staff. A video showing a woman attacking a service robot in a local hospital went viral on Chinese social media and beyond in April of 2023. The incident reportedly took place at a Xuzhou Medical University hospital in Jiangsu, where an angry woman got so frustrated that she started swinging at the robot with a bat. Some netizens called this a form of ‘Cyber Yinao’ (Sàibó Yīnào 赛博医闹). With smart robots becoming a more important part of China’s service industry, from banks to hospitals, we might come across this term more often in the future when patients and their families lash out against the robotic staff members in the medical field.

 

#10: FULL TIME SONS AND DAUGHTERS


Quán Zhí Ér Nǚ (全职儿女)

In 2023, Chinese media outlet Toutiao News (头条新闻) featured the story of Nian An, a young woman who quit her job without securing a new one (also called “naked resignation” luǒcí 裸辞), and who made the decision to temporarily rely on her parents for support. She spent every weekend at her parents’ house, assisting her mother with dinner preparations and providing companionship. In return for her presence, her parents offer her a monthly allowance of 4000 yuan ($570), with the option to request additional funds if needed. Nian An viewed being a “full-time daughter” as a “freelance job full of love” (“充满爱的自由职业”). Nian An’s story led to online discussions about being a “full-time child” (全职儿女), which is different from “living off parents” (啃老). Being a “full-time child” is a transitional stage that allows young people to prepare for graduate school or switching jobs while exchanging their caretaking efforts for financial support from their parents.

 

#11: SECOND POSITIVE


Èr Yáng (二阳)

This buzzword directly translates as “second positive” and was at the top of China’s social media trending lists over the last summer or late spring, when the country was facing a second major Covid wave. The character 二 èr means two or second. The character 阳 yáng means [to test] positive, and is used in the context of testing positive for Covid-19. The meaning of the phrase is “to get COVID for a second time” as many people in China got infected for the second time in the summer of 2023, after most people got their first infection in late 2022.

 

#12: WHITE PEOPLE FOOD


Báirén Fàn (白人饭)

This year, the topic of “white people food” went viral on China’s Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) app and beyond. The phenomenon stems from Chinese observations of typical white foreigners’ lunches, often comprising raw veggies, boiled eggs, chicken breast, processed meats, and fruits or juices. In contrast, traditional Chinese meals emphasize warm dishes paired with rice or noodles. “White people food” is commonly characterized by its simple ingredients, straightforward preparation methods, and perceived lack of flavor. Some Chinese netizens try out “white people food” out of curiosity, considering eating raw celery or baby carrots as a novel “challenge.” Others choose it because they are willing to trade the taste of food for the convenience of buying ingredients and preparing meals quickly. One user on Xiaohongshu shared, “After reaching the stage where I eat only for survival, I’ve started to appreciate ‘white people food’ because I can prepare it very quickly” (read more here).

 

#13: RESIGNATION CEREMONY


Lízhí Shèngdiǎn (离职盛典)

Hooray, I quit my job! The phenomenon of the “Resignation Ceremony” (lízhí shèngdiǎn 离职盛典 ) emerged as a trend in 2023 where young individuals go to great lengths to celebrate their departure from a job with banners and hotpot dinners. With job security declining, quitting one’s job has become more common in today’s China. This increased frequency has made something that was previously considered somewhat embarrassing more acceptable and natural. Moreover, the prevalence of China’s intense ‘996 work culture’ has fueled the desire among young people to quit their jobs. As a result, the process of resignation has transformed from a secretive and silent departure into a joyous occasion comparable to receiving a promotion.

 

#14: SMALL TOWN UPPER CLASS LADIES


Xiǎozhèn Guìfù (小镇贵妇)

The phenomenon of the “small-town elites” has been popping up more frequently in Chinese online media and on lifestyle app Xiaohongshu throughout 2023. The term “small town upper class ladies” (小镇贵妇) refers to women who reside in small towns and are leading comfortable lives close to their hometowns. They do not need to rush to work early in the morning, don’t struggle with hard jobs, and earn a comfortable living, seemingly without the stresses of urban life. They are envied by urban dwellers, not only because of their financial stability – often thanks to their affluent families – but also because of the free time they have to engage in various activities, such as decorating their homes or doing yoga.

 

#15: PURE IDOLS


Nèiyú Chúnyuán (内娱纯元)

They are the ones who are staying “pure” in times of scandal. The “Chunyuan of the entertainment industry” refers to idols in Mainland China who are regarded as flawless and worthy of admiration. The term “内娱” (nèiyú) is a shortened form of “内地娱乐圈” (nèidì yúlèquān), which means the Mainland entertainment industry. Meanwhile, “纯元” (chúnyuán), meaning ‘pure essence,’ symbolizes individuals seen as pure and perfect. In light of the numerous scandals involving idols in mainland China in recent years, including prominent stars like Fan Bingbing (范冰冰), Kris Wu (吴亦凡), or Cai Xukun (蔡徐坤), discussions have emerged around identifying figures who remain untainted by controversy and are still deserving of being cherished as flawless role models.

 

#16: CALLING A RAT A DUCK


Zhǐ Shǔ Wéi Yā (指鼠为鸭)

There is a famous Chinese idiom, zhǐ lù wéi mǎ 指鹿为马, that translates to “calling a deer a horse” (or “calling a stag a horse”), meaning to misrepresent something. The phrase comes from a story about the corrupt eunuch and minister Zhao Gao (赵高) during the Qin Dynasty who brought a deer to the second emperor, presenting it as a “horse.” Fearful to disagree with him, many people followed him and also identified the animal as a horse. In June of 2023, a student found a rat head – teeth and all – inside his school canteen meal and posted about it on social media. As the incident blew up, the school refused to admit any wrongdoing and argued that the student was mistaken, insisting that it was actually duck he found. Reflecting on this peculiar incident (read), the idiom has evolved, with people coining the phrase “calling a rat a duck” (zhǐ shǔ wéi yā 指鼠为鸭) to capture the absurdity of the situation.

 

#17: THE UNKILLABLE SHIJIAZHUANG GUY


Shābùsǐ de Shíjiāzhuāngrén (杀不死的石家庄人)

Shijiazhuang is the capital and most populous city of China’s Hebei Province which has been attempting to rebrand itself as China’s rock ‘n’ roll capital to boost tourism and its local economy. As part of this revamping, the phrase “The Unkillable One from Shijiazhuang” (杀不死的石家庄人) has become a popular term on Chinese social media. Shijiazhuang used “The Unkillable Shijiazhuang” as its slogan to spread positivity, but netizens primarily used it sarcastically. It comes from a song released by the Hebei Communist Youth League in 2022, which serves as a ‘harmonious’ reinterpretation of the renowned 2010 Chinese song “Kill the One from Shijiazhuang” (杀死那个石家庄人) by the Chinese rock band Omnipotent Youth Society. The original song, which delved into the turbulence stemming from widespread job losses, deeply resonated with Chinese youth. The reworked song title and its association with Shijiazhuang’s rebranding as a “Rock N Roll center” led to humorous adaptations online, partly poking fun at the Communist Youth League’s attempt to revise a song that once conveyed hardship into one echoing state propaganda, and showcasing a form of self-deprecating expression among netizens.

 

#18: ANTI RADIATION


Fáng Fúshè (防辐射)

Since Japan began releasing treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima power plant into the ocean, various related discussions surged across Chinese social media platforms, making it one of the biggest trending topics of the year. In light of worries over contaminated water, concerned netizens started to actively seeking ways to safeguard themselves against potential radiation risks. The term “anti-radiation” therefore gained significant popularity online and some businesses attempted to profit from these radiation concerns. One Japanese-style restaurant in Shanghai even offered an “anti-radiation” set meal (“防辐射”套餐).

 

#19: HUAXI COINS


Huāxī bì (花西币)

It was one of the biggest controversies in 2023: China’s most famous beauty influencer Li Jiaqi (Lipstick King) suddenly lashed out against a viewer who questioned the price of an eyeliner he was selling during a livestream. Li was promoting Chinese make-up brand Florasis, which is known as Huāxīzǐ (花西子) in China, and some viewers thought 79 yuan ($11) was a bit expensive for a pencil, after which Li rolled his eyes and snapped that viewers should instead ask themselves if they had worked hard enough to deserve a raise. Him saying “what do you mean, expensive?” (“哪里贵了”) instantly became a meme-worthy phrase. The incident sparked a series of memes and discussions, and among them the question of what one can buy with 79 yuan in China today was a big one. While some suggested they could feed an entire family for one day with that money, others said that it would buy their office lunches for a week. This humorous situation gave rise to the term ‘Huaxi Coins’ or ‘Floracash’ (花西币), with netizens playfully using the eyebrow pencil’s price as a new currency unit, where one Huaxi Coin equals 79 yuan. People even started jokingly expressing their earnings in Huaxi Coins, and some proudly mentioned the cost of snacks or meals, saying things like ‘it only cost me a quarter in Floracash for three’ or ‘tonight’s dinner was just half a Huaxi Coin!'”

 

#20: FAR AHEAD


Yáo Yáo Lǐng Xiān (遥遥领先)

During the much-anticipated Huawei launch event in September of 2023, consumer chief Richard Yu unveiled an impressive array of Huawei’s latest products and innovations, such as the latest version of its MatePad Pro (the world’s lightest and thinnest tablet of its kind), a new smart TV, wireless earphones, and he also announced Huawei’s first sedan, the Luxeed S7, promising it would be “superior” to Tesla’s Model S “in every specification.” During his speech, Yu recurringly used the phrase “far ahead”, “遥遥领先” (yáo yáo lǐng xiān), to indicate that Huawei is fully future-proof and far ahead of other companies. As a result, the phrase became popular among Chinese netizens, who started using it for all kinds of things. It did not take long for the phrase to get registered as a trademark by some business owners in Shenzhen who hope it might bring them some profit.

 

#21: SPECIAL FORCES TRAVEL


Tèzhǒngbīngshì Lǚyóu (特种兵式旅游)

Fun, fast, frugal travel was all the rage in this ‘post-lockdown’ year. As people could go out to travel again, so-called ‘special forces travelers’ flooded popular tourist spots across China. Their mission: covering as many places as possible at the lowest cost and within a limited time frame. On social media, young travelers shared their strict schedules of arriving in a certain place and then climbing mountains in the morning, doing city tours during the day, and participating in a local cuisine cooking class at night before taking off again and save on hotel money by taking a night bus to the next destination. While the travel trend became a social media hype, there were also those criticizing the trend for being superficial.

 

#22: REVERSE CONSUMPTION


Fǎnxiàng Xiāofèi (反向消费)

This year, especially during the online shopping festival season, the concept of Chinese consumers engaging in ‘reverse spending’ or ‘reverse consumption’ – also known as ‘rational consumption,’ – became a hot topic. ‘Reverse consumption’ is a recent trend that is especially popular among Chinese young people, and that is all about pursuing sustainable and cost-effective products instead of focusing on consuming for the sake of buying brands or spending money. The trend does not necessarily suggest a focus on cheap products, but rather a refusal to celebrate consumerism and overpay for products that lack value for the price. Some Weibo users view this trend as a reaction to the constant shopping festivals and the pressure on young people to keep buying more in the thriving Chinese e-commerce market, leading to increased luxury consumption. As consumer attitudes gradually begin to change, young people no longer simply believe that “expensive means good,” and are now being more rational in their shopping behavior that is more about ‘value for money.’

 

#23: TOXIC FANGIRLING


Rǔmàshì Zhuīxīng (辱骂式追星)

In China’s ever-evolving fan culture, the phenomenon of ‘rǔmà shì zhuīxīng‘ (辱骂式追星, lit: ‘abusive-style celebrity admiration’) or ‘toxically fangirling’ has become a trend this year. This term refers to a rather extreme way for fans to engage with their their idols. When pleased, they express intense love and support for their idols, but they can turn into abusive trolls targeting their idols when dissatisfied. This shift from love to aggression can be triggered by small things, like an unflattering photo or an unsatisfactory performance. Initially viewed as a departure from blind loyalty, this fan behavior has now turned somewhat toxic. Netizens interpret this ‘toxic fangirling’ phenomenon half ironically, half seriously, suggesting its origin may be rooted in the collective childhood trauma of Chinese fangirls.

 

#24: SUBJECT THREE DANCE


Kēmù Sān Tiàowǔ (科目三跳舞)

‘Subject Three’ has become a buzzword on Chinese social media in 2023 in connection with a viral dance, the Subject Three Dance (科目三舞蹈). From Douyin to Bilibili, the dance is super popular online and is performed by various people, from online influencers to virtual vloggers. The dance has become especially big since the renowned Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao allowed its staff to perform this viral dance for diners upon request, leading to amusing and occasionally awkward situations. The term ‘Subject Three’ allegedly first gained traction in 2022 or early 2023 following a video showcasing the jubilant atmosphere of a Guangxi wedding. Subsequently, ‘Guangxi Subject Three’ (广西科目三) became a popular joke. Although traditionally associated with the third part of a driver’s license exam, people playfully suggested that Guangxi locals undergo three significant “exams” in their lifetime: one for singing folk songs, one for mastering the art of slurping rice noodles, and the third for dancing (“广西人一生中会经历三场考试,科目一唱山歌,科目二嗦米粉,科目三跳舞”). By now, the dance has transcended its original context of Guangxi weddings and Haidilao staff dances, as it’s turned into a true social media hype where people create and share videos of themselves and others performing the Subject Three Dance, which is characterized by playful and exaggerated movements accompanied by the background music of “江湖一笑” (Jianghu Smile), making it entertaining, humorous, and, most of all, meme-worthy. .

 

#25: RAT-LIKE HANDSOME


Shǔxì Shuàigē (鼠系帅哥)

The term “Rat-Type Handsome Guy” (鼠系帅哥) has actually been around for some time, but attracted more attention on Chinese social media recently. The word is part of a group of other terms to describe popular aesthetics of famous men with features resembling animals. In 2022, for example, the “Monkey-Type Handsomes” (猴系帅哥) were especially popular. The term was used to describe the kind of Chinese celebrities who were undeniably handsome and also showed some resemblance to monkeys due to their strong brow ridges, narrow and long face, thin upper lip, and prominent T-zone. When categorizing handsome men in China’s entertainment industry into animal-types, from monkeys to snakes, from dogs to birds, it is not always only about facial features but also about a certain air or vibe (氛围感) that surrounds an idol. A loyal and cute dog-like vibe, a calm and strong ox-like feeling, or a sharp and sexy cat-like character. This year, the ‘rat-like’ handsome men have been more in vogue. They have small eyes, a pointed jaw and a small mouth. Although not all actors who are rat-like are deemed handsome, those that are handsome are all the more rare – and popular.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Ruixin Zhang, Zilan Qian, and Miranda Barnes

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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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Singing Competition or Patriotic Fight? Hunan TV’s ‘Singer 2024’ Stirs Nationalistic Sentiments

“I’m in Zibo eating barbecue, I really don’t feel like listening to Alicia Keys.” Hunan TV’s ‘Singer 2024’ has set off a new wave of national pride in China’s music and performers.

Ruixin Zhang

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Besides memes and jokes, Hunan TV’s ‘Singer 2024’ has set off a new wave of national pride in China’s music and performers on Chinese social media.

In May, while the whole of Europe was gripped by the Eurovision Song Contest frenzy, Chinese audiences were eagerly anticipating the return of their own beloved singing competition, Singer 2024 (@湖南卫视歌手), formerly known as I Am a Singer (我是歌手).

The show, introduced from South Korea’s MBC Television and popular in China since 2013, only features professional singers who have already made a name for themselves.

Rather than watching unknown aspiring singers who are hoping to be discovered in many singing competitions, such as Sing! China, Singer 2024 gives audiences a show filled with professional and often stunning show performances by established names in the entertainment industry.

Since 2013, renowned singers from China and abroad have appeared on the show, including Chinese vocalist Tan Jing (谭晶), British pop singer Jessie J, and the late Hong Kong pop diva Coco Lee. However, no season managed to create as many waves as the 2024 season did, dominating all social media trending topics overnight.

So, what exactly happened?

 
COMPETING WITH FOREIGNERS

“The difference between the Grammys and the Strawberry Musical Festival”

 

In early May, the pre-show promotion of Singer 2024 was already buzzing on Chinese social media after a list of featured singers appeared on Weibo, including big names such as American singer-songwriter Bruno Mars, Korean-New Zealand singer Rosé from Blackpink, and Japanese diva LiSA.

Although Singer previously had many foreign singers on the show, this international celebrity lineup still caused a stir.

On the day of the first episode, only two foreign singers were announced to appear on the show: young Moroccan-Canadian singer Faouzia and the Grammy-nominated American singer-songwriter Chanté Moore. The other contestants were all Chinese singers who are already well-known among Chinese audiences. Because many people were unfamiliar with the two foreign singers, they joked that the winner of this season was already set in stone; surely it would be the famous Chinese singer Na Ying (那英), known for her beautiful voice.

However, that first episode surprised everyone as the two foreign singers, Faouzia and Chanté Moore, showed outstanding vocal skills. This not only startled many viewers but also made the Chinese contestants uneasy. Several experienced Chinese singers apparently were so unnerved after watching Faouzia and Chanté Moore’s performance that their voices trembled when singing.

Since the show was broadcast live – without post-production editing or autotune – audiences got to hear the actual vocal capabilities and see performers’ genuine reactions. It seemed undeniable that the foreign contestants did much better in terms of vocals and stage presence than the Chinese ones. Some online commenters even said that the gap between Chinese and foreign singers’ levels was like “the difference between the Grammys and the Strawberry Musical Festival” [a local Chinese music festival].

Chinese online influencer Yongkai (@陈咏开165) shared screenshots of Chanté Moore’s backstage reactions during the show. The American celebrity seemed puzzled when hearing the somewhat underwhelming performance by Chinese singer Yang Chenglin (楊丞琳), and she appeared much more positive when Na Ying sang.

This noteworthy scene, coupled with Chanté’s comments during an interview saying that she thought the Chinese production team had invited her on the show to be a judge, turned the entire show into a display of foreign singers outshining the Chinese contestants.

By the end of the first episode, Chanté Moore and Faouzia unsurprisingly ranked first and second, with Na Ying in third place.

After the show, some online commenters jokingly pointed out that Na Ying, being of Manchu descent like the rulers of China during the Qing Dynasty, showed some similarities to Empress Dowager Cixi’s defiance against Western colonizers in the way she “single-handedly took up against on foreigners” on the show.

They humorously turned Na Ying’s expressions into memes resembling Empress Dowager Cixi from an old Chinese TV show, with captions like “I want the foreigners dead” (“我要洋人死”).

Others suggested finding better Chinese singers for the show who could compete with Faouzia and Moore.

 
“SINGING WELL” CULTURALLY COLONIZED?

“I’m in Zibo eating BBQ, I really don’t want to listen to Alicia Keys.”

 

Initially, discussions about the show were light-hearted and humorous, until some netizens who couldn’t appreciate the jokes began to dampen the mood and made online discussions more serious.

Zou Xiaoying (@邹小樱), a music critic with nearly two million followers, posted on social media after the show, stating that he would have never voted for Chanté Moore or Faouzia. Not only did Zou question their vocal talent, he also wondered if the aesthetic of Chinese listeners had been influenced by Western music taste to such an extent that it has been “culturally colonized” (“文化殖民”). Meanwhile, he praised the members of Beijing rock band Second Hand Rose as “national heroes” (“民族英雄”).

He wrote:

If I had three votes for the first episode of “Singer 2024,” I’d vote for Second Hand Rose, Na Ying, and Silence Wang [note: Chinese singer-songwriter and record producer Wang Sushuang 汪苏泷]. The reason I wouldn’t vote for Chanté Moore or Faouzia is because — do they actually sing so well?

Has our definition of “singing well” perhaps been colonized? Just as our modern-day use of Chinese has little to do with our classical Chinese poems, with the foundation of modern Chinese actually being translations from the 20th century, is this also a form of ‘cultural colonization’?

You must think I’m talking nonsense again. But when I listen to Chanté Moore singing “If I Ain’t Got You,” I find it too boring. I know her singing is “good,” but this “good” has nothing to do with me. If, for Chinese listeners, Chanté Moore’s “good” is the standard, then is that what we in the music industry should be working towards? Isn’t that funny? When you open QQ Music or NetEase Cloud Music, and it recommends these songs to you every day, won’t you be convinced to practice again?

Of course, I know Chanté Moore is in good shape, very relaxed. Actually all of the Chinese singers tonight were very nervous. Yang Chenglin (杨丞琳) was nervous, Na Ying was also nervous. Even a seemingly carefree band like Second Hand Rose, if you listened to the introduction of their song, [you’ll find] they were so nervous that Yao Lan, supposedly “China’s No.1 Guitarist”, was so nervous that he hit the wrong note. It was not even a fast-paced solo (…), how nervous could he be? When everyone’s so tense, the confidence of Chanté Moore and Faouzia is indeed something that East Asia can’t match. In East-Asian [entertainment] circles, represented by China/Japan/Korea, our different cultural habits, upbringing, and ethnic characteristics have made it so that we don’t possess these kinds of singing abilities, even including our ways of emotional expression. I don’t know from which season it started with ‘Singer’ – and if it’s some kind of Catfish Effect (鲶鱼效应 ) – that they brought international singers with different cultural backgrounds into the competition. But this isn’t the Olympics, it’s not like Liu Xiang [刘翔, Chinese gold medal hurdler] is going to defeat opponents from the United States or Cuba. “I’m in Zibo eating barbecue, I really don’t feel like Alicia Keys.” (This line is not mine, I stole it from my WeChat friend).

Because of this, I find Second Hand Rose even more rare and precious. It’s just like I used to love asking: If you could only recommend one Chinese band to your foreign friends, which one would you recommend? Some say it’s New Pants (新裤子), some say it’s Omnipotent Youth Society, but my answer will always be Second Hand Rose. ‘The drama of Monkey King is a national treasure,’ its light will always shine. Facing the gunfire of Western powers, Second Hand Rose is standing on the frontline, they are our national heroes. Indeed, the band itself was nervous, (..), but when Chanté Moore goes off like a singing dolphin, we are fortunate to have Second Hand Rose at the frontline; the Chinese sons and daughters are building the Great Wall of Music of flesh and blood.

Because of this, I find Second Hand Rose even more rare and precious. It’s just like I used to love asking: If you could only recommend one Chinese band to your foreign friends, which one would you recommend? Some say it’s New Pants (新裤子), some say it’s Omnipotent Youth Society, but my answer will always be Second Hand Rose. ‘The drama of Monkey King is a national treasure,’ its light will always shine. Facing the gunfire of Western powers, Second Hand Rose is standing on the frontline, they are our national heroes. Indeed, the band itself was nervous, (..), but when Chanté Moore goes off like a singing dolphin, we are fortunate to have Second Hand Rose at the frontline; the Chinese sons and daughters are building the Great Wall of Music of flesh and blood.

Anyway, no matter if they’re strong or not, I would never vote for the foreigner.

The comment about ‘I’m in Zibo eating barbecue, I really don’t feel like [listening to] Alicia Keys’ refers to the craze surrounding China’s ‘BBQ town’ Zibo. In Zibo, Chinese visitors like to sing, drink beer, and enjoy food together; it’s a simple and modest way of appreciating life and music, which contrasts with slick and smooth American or foreign styles of performing and singing.

Whether Zou’s criticism was for attention or genuine sentiment, it shifted the focus of the discussion from music to patriotism.

 
CHINESE SINGERS WITH MILITARISTIC UNDERTONES

“I volunteer to join the battle”

 

Amidst all this, some netizens, easily swayed by nationalist sentiments, began to seek help from the “national team” (国家队) of singers — musicians employed by national-level arts troupes — to “bring glory to the nation” and teach the foreigners a lesson. Some even questioned the intentions of the Singer 2024 TV show in inviting foreign singers to participate.

On May 12th, renowned Chinese singer and philanthropist Han Hong (韩红) posted on Weibo, fueling a wave of sentiment and support. In her post, Han Hong declared, “I am Chinese singer Han Hong, and I volunteer to join the battle,” tagging the production team of the TV show. Her invitation to join the battle quickly went viral.

Han Hong meme: “Who called for me?”

Han Hong has significant influence in the Chinese music industry and society as a whole. Her usual serious demeanor and avoidance of internet pop culture made netizens unsure whether she was joking or serious. Nevertheless, regardless of her intentions, a group of well-known singers began to volunteer via Weibo, emphasizing their identity as “Chinese singers” and using phrases with strong militaristic undertones like “fighting for the country” and “answering the call.”

Although many enjoyed this new wave of national pride in Chinese music and performers, some netizens criticized the trend of transforming an entertainment show into a nationalistic competition.

Film critic He Xiaoqin (何小沁) stated, “It’s okay to take the Qing-Dynasty-fighting-foreigners comparison as a joke, but taking it too seriously in today’s context is absurd.”

Others expressed fatigue with how quickly topics on Chinese internet platforms escalate to patriotic sentiments. To bring the focus back to entertainment, they turned “I volunteer to join the battle” (#我请战#) into a new internet catchphrase.

In response, the production team of Singer 2024 released a statement on Weibo, thanking all the singers for their self-recommendations. They emphasized the show’s competitive structure but clarified that “winning” is just one part of a singer’s journey..but that the love of music goes beyond all in connecting people, no matter where they’re from.

By Ruixin Zhang, edited with further input by Manya Koetse

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China Insight

The Tragic Story of “Fat Cat”: How a Chinese Gamer’s Suicide Went Viral

The story of ‘Fat Cat’ has become a hot topic in China, sparking widespread sympathy and discussions online.

Manya Koetse

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The tragic story behind the recent suicide of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ has become a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media, touching upon broader societal issues from unfair gender dynamics to businesses taking advantage of grieving internet users.

The story of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer from Hunan who committed suicide has gone completely viral on Weibo and beyond this week, generating many discussions.

In late April of this year, the young man nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ (胖猫 Pàng Māo, literally fat or chubby cat), tragically ended his life by jumping into the river near the Chongqing Yangtze River Bridge (重庆长江大桥) following a breakup with his girlfriend. By now, the incident has come to be known as the “Fat Cat Jumping Into the River Incident” (胖猫跳江事件).

News of his suicide soon made its rounds on the internet, and some bloggers started looking into what was behind the story. The man’s sister also spoke out through online channels, and numerous chat records between the young man and his girlfriend emerged online.

One aspect of his story that gained traction in early May is the revelation that the man had invested all his resources into the relationship. Allegedly, he made significant financial sacrifices, giving his girlfriend over 510,000 RMB (approximately 71,000 USD) throughout their relationship, in a time frame of two years.

When his girlfriend ended the relationship, despite all of his efforts, he was devastated and took his own life.

The story was picked up by various Chinese media outlets, and prominent social and political commentator Hu Xijin also wrote a post about Fat Cat, stating the sad story had made him tear up.

As the news spread, it sparked a multitude of hashtags on Weibo, with thousands of netizens pouring out their thoughts and emotions in response to the story.

 
Playing Games for Love
 

The main part of this story that is triggering online discussions is how ‘Fat Cat,’ a young man who possessed virtually nothing, managed to provide his girlfriend, who was six years older, with such a significant amount of money – and why he was willing to sacrifice so much in order to do so.

The young man reportedly was able to make money by playing video games, specifically by being a so-called ‘booster’ by playing with others and helping them get to a higher level in multiplayer online battle games.

According to his sister, he started working as a ‘professional’ video gamer as a means of generating money to satisfy his girlfriend, who allegedly always demanded more.

He registered a total of 36 accounts to receive orders to play online games, making 20 yuan per game (about $2.80). Because this consumed all of his time, he barely went out anymore and his social life was dead.

In order to save more money, he tried to keep his own expenses as low as possible, and would only get takeout food for himself for no more than 10 yuan ($1,4). His online avatar was an image of a cat saying “I don’t want to eat vegetables, I want to eat McDonald’s.”

The woman in question who he made so many sacrifices for is named Tan Zhu (谭竹), and she soon became the topic of public scrutiny. In one screenshot of a chat conversation between Tan and her boyfriend that leaked online, she claimed she needed money for various things. The two had agreed to get married later in this year.

Despite of this, she still broke up with him, driving him to jump off the bridge after transferring his remaining 66,000 RMB (9135 USD) to Tan Zhu.

As the story fermented online, Tan Zhu also shared her side of the story. She claimed that she had met ‘Fat Cat’ over two years ago through online gaming and had started a long distance relationship with him. They had actually only met up twice before he moved to Chongqing. She emphasized that financial gain was never a motivating factor in their relationship.

Tan additionally asserted that she had previously repaid 130,000 RMB (18,000 USD) to him and that they had reached a settlement agreement shortly before his tragic death.

 
Ordering Take-Out to Mourn Fat Cat
 

– “I hope you rest in peace.”
– “Little fat cat, I hope you’ll be less foolish in your next life.”
– “In your next life, love yourself first.”

These are just a few of the messages left by netizens on notes attached to takeout food deliveries near the Chongqing Yangtze River Bridge.

AI-generated image spread on Chinese social media in connection to the event.

As Fat Cat’s story stirred up significant online discussion, with many expressing sympathy for the young man who rarely indulged in spending on food and drinks, some internet users took the step of ordering McDonalds and other food delivery services to the bridge, where he tragically jumped from, in his honor.

This soon snowballed into more people ordering food and drinks to the bridge, resulting in a constant flow of delivery staff and a pile-up of take-out bags.

Delivery food on the bridge, photo via Weibo.

However, as the food delivery efforts picked up pace, it came to light that some of the deliveries ordered and paid for were either empty or contained something different; certain restaurants, aware of the collective effort to honor the young man, deliberately left the food boxes empty or substituted sodas or tea with tap water.

At least five restaurants were caught not delivering the actual orders. Chinese bubble tea shop ChaPanda was exposed for substituting water for milk tea in their cups. On May 3rd, ChaPanda responded that they had fired the responsible employee.

Another store, the Zhu Xiaoxiao Luosifen (朱小小螺蛳粉), responded on that they had temporarily closed the shop in question to deal with the issue. Chinese fast food chain NewYobo (牛约堡) also acknowledged that at least twenty orders they received were incomplete.

Fast food company Wallace (华莱士) responded to the controversy by stating they had dismissed the employees involved. Mixue Ice Cream & Tea (蜜雪冰城) issued an apology and temporarily closed one of their stores implicated in delivering empty orders.

In the midst of all the controversy, Fat Cat’s sister asked internet users to refrain from ordering take-out food as a means of mourning and honoring her brother.

Nevertheless, take-out food and flowers continued to accumulate near the bridge, prompting local authorities to think of ways of how to deal with this unique method of honoring the deceased gamer.

 
Gamer Boy Meets Girl
 

On Chinese social media, this story has also become a topic of debate in the context of gender dynamics and social inequality.

There are some male bloggers who are angry with Tan Zhu, suggesting her behaviour is an example of everything that’s supposedly “wrong” with Chinese women in this day and age.

Others place blame on Fat Cat for believing that he could buy love and maintain a relationship through financial means. This irked some feminist bloggers, who see it as a chauvinistic attitude towards women.

A main, recurring idea in these discussions is that young Chinese men such as Fat Cat, who are at the low end of the social ladder, are actually particularly vulnerable in a fiercely competitive society. Here, a gender imbalance and surplus of unmarried men make it easier for women to potentially exploit those desperate for companionship.

The story of Fat Cat brings back memories of ‘Mo Cha Official,’ a not-so-famous blogger who gained posthumous fame in 2021 when details of his unhappy life surfaced online.

Likewise, the tragic tale of WePhone founder Su Xiangmao (苏享茂) resurfaces. In 2017, the 37-year-old IT entrepreneur from Beijing took his own life, leaving behind a note alleging blackmail by his 29-year-old ex-wife, who demanded 10 million RMB (±1.5 million USD) (read story).

Another aspect of this viral story that is mentioned by netizens is how it gained so much attention during the Chinese May holidays, coinciding with the tragic news of the southern China highway collapse in Guangdong. That major incident resulted in the deaths of at least 48 people, and triggered questions over road safety and flawed construction designs. Some speculate that the prominence given to the Fat Cat story on trending topic lists may have been a deliberate attempt to divert attention away from this incident.

‘Fat Cat’ was cremated. His family stated their intention to take necessary legal steps to recover the money from his former girlfriend, but Tan Zhu reportedly already reached an agreement with the father and settled the case. Nevertheless, the case continues to generate discussions online, with some people wondering: “Is it over yet? Can we talk about something different now?”

Fat Cat images projected in Times Square

However, given that images of the ‘Fat Cat’ avatar have even appeared in Times Square in New York by now (Chinese internet users projected it on one of the big LED screens), it’s likely that this story will be remembered and talked about for some time to come.

 
UPDATE MAY 25
 

On May 20, local authorities issued a lengthy report to clarify the timeline of events and details surrounding the death of “Fat Cat,” which had attracted significant attention across China.

The report concluded that there was no fraud involved and that “Fat Cat” and his girlfriend were in a genuine relationship. Tan did not deceive “Fat Cat” for money; the transfers were voluntary. Furthermore, Tan returned most of the money to his parents.

The gamer’s sister is reportedly still being investigated for potentially infringing on Tan’s privacy by disclosing numerous private details to the public.

In the end, one thing is clear in this gamer’s tragic story, which is that there are no winners.

By Manya Koetse

– With contributions by Miranda Barnes and Ruixin Zhang

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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