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“Offensive to Chinese Language” – USC Controversy over Chinese Filler Word 那个 (Nèigè) Discussed on Weibo

Weibo users discuss how a professor at the University of Southern California was temporarily suspended for using Chinese filler word ‘nage.’

Manya Koetse



In English it’s “uuh”, in Dutch it’s “ehm”, the French say “euh”, in Japan it’s “eto”, and in Mandarin Chinese it’s “nàge” (or “nèige” 那个). Every language has different filler words and hesitation markers that are used as a natural pause or stalling in speech.

The Chinese nàge recently received much more attention in western media than filler words usually get, when an American professor was suspended by the Marshall School of Business (University of Southern California) for saying “nàge” while teaching an online communications class. Students took offense because they thought the Chinese word sounded like the English n-word.

Greg Patton, a Professor of Clinical Business Communication, was teaching his online class via Zoom on August 20 when explaining the Chinese filler word nàge”/”nèige” (那个).

According to the Los Angeles Times, students complained that the words he used “sounded like a racial slur” and “harmed their mental health.”

Following the class, Patton’s students wrote a letter to the USC Marshall dean in which they stated they blamed the incident for no longer being able to focus on their studies, saying their professor “lacks the tact, racial awareness and empathy to lead and teach an audience as diverse as ours” and that it would be “unacceptable” to expect the students to sit through two more weeks of his class.

In an email to all MBA students on August 24, the USC Marshall dean apologized that the class led to “great pain and upset among students,” also stating that Patton “agreed to take a short-term pause” from teaching the course while another instructor took over.


These students are discriminating against the Chinese language


News of the incident blew over to Chinese social media this week, where it was discussed under hashtags such as “US Professor Suspended for Saying Chinese Word Nage” (#美国教授课上说中文词那个被停课#, 1.4 million views) and “US Professor Saying the Chinese Nage Suspended over Racism” (#美国大学教授说中文词那个因种族歧视被停课#, 7.5 million views).

On Weibo, netizens had little sympathy for the students feeling offended over the Chinese words. Many called them “ignorant” or “uncultured” for mistaking the Chinese words for a racial slur.

Although there are many Weibo users who think the controversy is laughable, there are also some who are shocked and surprised that this incident actually took place, and some taking offense over the controversy – seeing it as an insult to the Chinese language.

“These students are discriminating against the Chinese language,” several people wrote, calling it “offensive to Chinese”, with others saying: “So English is higher in rank than Chinese? The pronunciation is similar, but why is it the English [meaning] that is superior here?”

“I can’t believe this is real life,” another popular comment said.

This is not the first time for ‘nèige‘ to receive attention. A well-known skit by comedian Russell Peters also mentions how ‘nèige’ sounds like the n-word, and there are many Quora posts dedicated to the word.

On Weibo, various commenters mention the song “Sunshine, Rainbow, White Pony” by Da Zhang Wei (大张伟), aka Wowkie Zhang, of which the catchy chorus also repeats a Chinese nèige word (meaning “in that”) (see video below).

The song from 2018, that has over four million views on Youtube, also has thousands of comments underneath suggesting that the singer is singing the n-word.

“Da Zhang Wei would be killed if he would sing this in the US,” one Weibo commenter wrote.

Also read: “Fake” and “Hypocritical” – Western Anti-Racism Movements Criticized on Weibo

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of 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 Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar


    October 1, 2020 at 8:05 am

    When i was in China, i also wonder about this word, and when asking for the meaning, they said “there is no meaning”. That gives me another mystery, because the answer could mean “there is no meaning” or “it has a strong meaning we do not want to tell you”

    But now its solved.

    Thanks for this article.

    By the way, when chinease people around, i try to say “Auf Wiedersehen” and not “Tschüss” to avoid confusion 🙂

  2. Avatar

    Diandian Guo

    October 23, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    Maybe interesting to know: the official pronunciation of 那个 is nàge. This is also the pronunciation you would learn at school. However, in colloquial use, people tend to say nèige. The most common explanation is that nèige is 那&一 pronounced together.

  3. Avatar

    Diandian Guo

    October 23, 2020 at 1:15 pm

    And talking about “sounds-alikes”: if taken seriously, China probably have a valid cultural reason to ban Facebook. It sounds just like 非死不可(feisibuke), “one has no other choice but to die”. That could sound both unlucky and offensive for a mandarin speaker, I guess.

  4. Avatar


    November 17, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    Nage, neige, means “that”, i.e. that one. It’s not a filler word!! A filler word would be “en”. Which is essentially the same sound in English, it is an affirmative sound.

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China and Covid19

Out of the Closet: After Protests in China, “Political Coming Out” Trend Spreads Across Social Media

Some suggest that a ‘political coming out’ is even more important than the other kind of ‘coming out.’

Manya Koetse



This week, WeChat groups across China have seen many discussions following an unrest-filled weekend. In the lively online discussions about the phenomenon of ‘politically coming out,’ many agree that it is sometimes more complicated to show one’s political orientation than to come out regarding one’s sexual orientation.

After a nationwide wave of protests, the word “political coming-out” (zhèngzhì chūguì 政治出柜) has become a popular one on Weibo, WeChat, and beyond.

The term refers to people showing their political position or views to those around them, usually in social media settings (“online political coming out” 线上政治出柜).

In Chinese, ‘chūguì‘ (出柜) literally means ‘to come out of the closet’ and is generally used for those coming out as gay or revealing their sexual orientation.

On Weibo, there are numerous discussions this week about ‘coming out politically.’

Chinese internet users talk about a surge in people, mostly within WeChat groups, coming out about their political orientation and views in light of recent developments. On December 1st, one Yunnan-based blogger said that it felt as if WeChat was seeing a large-scale ‘political coming out’ across friend groups, which sometimes almost seemed like a ‘personality coming out.’

Some people suggest that it is a good idea to show your political views every now and then. One popular comment said: “After all the political coming-outs happening in family, neighborhood, and business [WeChat] groups, I feel I can relax a little bit. Now we know how many people were in the closet.”

Another person agrees: “Now that I’ve come out of the closet politically, I feel so much better.”

One older, popular blogger (@好叨叨还是少叨叨) wrote:

“Every other few months or so you can ‘come out politically’ in your Wechat friend groups and use it as an opportunity to clean up your [contact] list. I’d rather not see those who will blacklist me sooner or later anyway, and it takes the pressure off of things for everyone. After all, I’m not young anymore, and I don’t need so many friends who don’t share the same principles. Of course, others will also see me like that.”

“Don’t be discouraged that parents, partners, and children do not always see eye to see – let alone friends. Even if these are close friends that you share tears and laughter with, they are still not walking in your shoes and do not experience the world as you experience it. As long as you’re armed and strong it’s ok, because along this road you will constantly separate from some people, and you will also find some true, like-minded comrades. Other than that, there is nothing you can do or need to do in these situations that you cannot entirely control.”

There are many who agree with the idea that it is easier to know who you would like to stay friends with by showing your true colors: “How to filter your friends? By coming out and by coming out politically.”

Some even suggest that ‘coming out politically’ is much more important than the other kind of ‘coming out,’ while there are also those saying that ‘coming out politically’ is much more complex and has the ability to really offend those around you, making you realize that you are so different that you might end up hating each other.

“I can personally share that coming out politically is twice as hard as coming out about your sexuality,” one blogger wrote.




Other Weibo users express that they find these times confusing. One female blogger wrote:

“I simply do not have the courage to come out of the closet politically. On the one hand, I am afraid that expressing my views will lead to an alienation with those around me, and coming out will inevitably lead to isolation or gossip. On the other hand, I am also unsure about my own orientation. When it comes to gender, there is just a few different kinds of ‘coming out’; men liking men, women liking women, and those liking both. But when it comes to politics, every person has different views on every single matter and every point, and there is no standard definition of divisions.”

There there are also those who find that it would be better not to show your political views at all if it is not absolutely necessary: “[Not coming out politically] could save mutually good relationships.”

“I can just see my Wechat groups splitting apart,” another person writes.

Amid all these discussions about the phenomenon of coming out politically, there were virtually no Weibo posts reflecting on what the different stances actually are or which topics people are referring to.

On Chinese social media, especially on Weibo, open discussions regarding the protests in Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere have been heavily controlled and mostly censored.

Although WeChat is also controlled, censorship is generally somewhat less visible and pervasive in private group chats, and people find various ways to still express some views that are deemed sensitive.

It is clear that a lot of people do not agree with each other when it comes to those who recently made their voices heard on the streets.

Although many supported the protesters, there were also many who did not; then there were those who believed the unrest across China was caused by evil “outside forces,” and those who believed that theory was completely non-sensical.

“I’d like to say something to these students,” one Jiangsu blogger with over 10,000 followers wrote: on Weibo “This is not a revolution. It’s not the collapse of the world. This is the fight against the epidemic.”

“We just want to live our lives,” one commenter replied.




More than just about the protests themselves, the bigger discussion behind it evolves around those wanting the country to open up (live with the virus) versus those who advocate for anti-Covid measures.

On Chinese social media, they are often referred to as the ‘open up faction’ (开放派) versus the ‘zero Covid faction’ (清零派). Those in favor of sticking to the anti-epidemic measures fear that easing restriction could lead to many deaths, especially among the elderly and the youngest. They think they are the reasonable ones, and criticize the other side for relying on their emotions or being selfish or too naive.

The ones who want to open up, however, think the social and economic costs of the fight against the virus have become too high. They blame the other side for relying on fear rather than reason, or say that those advocating ‘zero Covid’ are careless about other people’s lives, or that they are privileged enough to still be able to get by despite strict measures and lockdowns.

Then there are those who are in the middle, seeking for halfway grounds that both sides can agree on.

On WeChat, one blogger argued that many people have some “public positions” (公开立场) that they are willing to share with others, while they also hold some “private positions” (私人立场) that they are less likely to share with others, especially when they feel their views are not shared by the majority of society.

But because so many in society keep their “private views” to themselves – perhaps for fear of rejection or because they think that expressing their views might be otherwise risky, – the commonly accepted idea of what “the majority” thinks is based on false assumptions since so many people simply choose to keep their mouths shut. This could even lead to those people actually being in the minority being conceived of as being in the majority, something that is also referred to as “pluralistic ignorance.”

This time of unrest and this important period in China’s fight against the virus have apparently created a moment when many people feel like they need to finally come out of their “closet” despite the risks. While some have done so on the streets, others are doing it on social media.

“I support ‘political coming out’,” one Weibo user writes, while some say they are still waiting for the right time.

Other netizens are just glad about adding something new to their vocabulary: “I just learnt a new word today! ‘Political coming out.’ It’s an interesting word, and I like it.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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Explainer: Ten Key Terms and Concepts of the 20th CPC National Congress

Take a look at the essential keywords and concepts surrounding the 20th Party Congress.

Manya Koetse



What are the key terms and concepts mentioned in Xi Jinping’s speech that are propagated all over Chinese social media this week? Here, we explain ten important concepts and keywords that you are probably going to see much more of in the coming five years.

It is the week of the 20th CPC National Congress, China’s quinquennial major political event that is all about discussing and deciding on important Party issues, appointing Party leadership and officially announcing new governance concepts, thoughts and strategies proposed by the CPC Central Committee.

The Party Congress opened on Sunday, October 16, when Chinese leader Xi Jinping delivered his nearly two-hour-long speech reflecting on the recent past and the future of the Communist Party and the country at large, signalling the direction China will be heading.

In our earlier article covering Xi Jinping’s speech, we focused on how Chinese official channels turned parts of the work report into hashtags that were promoted on social media and then became trending topics.

Here, we will go over some of the terms and words that were used in the political report delivered by Xi and were propagated on Chinese social media as ‘key terms’ through general hashtags such as “Understanding These Key Terms from the 20th Party Congress Report,” “Studying the Essence of the 20th Party Congress” or “The New Era and Journey of the 20th Party Congress” (#看懂二十大报告中这些关键词#, #学习二十大精神#, #党的二十大新时代新征程#).

During the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017, Party newspaper People’s Daily published a vocabulary list containing 100 relevant words and terms. That list included terms such as “5G Era” (5G时代), “Sharing Economy” (分享经济), “The 20th anniversary of Hong-Kong’s return to China” (香港回归祖国20周年), “Made in China 2025” (中国制造2025), and other key terms that were deemed relevant in 2017 for China’s nearing future.

This Congress, there has not been a comparable official vocabulary list, but there have been various shorter lists and hashtags encouraging netizens to study key terms that are important to this year’s Congress and the Party goals. Many of these terms are visualized in infographics or explained in online posts and articles.

We’ve gathered some of these key terms from Xi’s speech here that are important to understand, not just for the fact that they are mentioned in Xi’s speech but also because they are specifically highlighted by various official channels.


1. Modernizing the Chinese Way 中国式现代化

This concept was mentioned at least five times throughout Xi Jinping’s address and it is one of most important themes of this Party Congress: “Chinese modernization” or “Chinese-style modernization” (中国式现代化 Zhōngguóshì xiàndàihuà).

While the 19th Party Congress was all about China’s ‘new era’ (新时代), this 20th Party Congress term grasps the idea of further modernizing the country in a ‘Chinese way,’ meaning a type of modernization in which typically Chinese features and characteristics (“中国特色”) are maintained.

This is a relatively new term. A tool that shows searches on the Chinese search engine Baidu indicates that it did not receive any significant amount of searches before spiking during the week 20th Party Congress.

Baidu trend search shows that the term “Chinese-style modernizarion” “中国式现代化” did not receive any significant searches before October 2022.

The concept, however, did pop up in Chinese official media discourse since late 2021, such as in one article published by Xinhua News on September 27 in 2021 titled “Grasping the Main Features of the New Path of Chinese-Style Modernization” (把握中国式现代化新道路的主要特征)

The idea of Chinese-style modernization is closely related to other key concepts such as “common prosperity for all” (全体人民共同富裕 quántǐ rénmín gòngtóng fùyù) and “harmony between humanity and nature” (人与自然和谐共生 rén yǔ zìrán héxié gòngshēng).


2. The Central Mission 中心任务

The term “central mission” (中心任务 zhōngxīn rènwù) was mentioned at least once in Xi Jinping’s address to convey how the central task of the CPC is to “unite and lead the people of all nationalities to build a strong socialist modern country,” and to “promote the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation with Chinese-style modernization.”

Although the term “central mission” itself is not particularly tied to the 20th Party Congress at all, it is now because of how it is being used in the new context of the Party’s ‘main goal’ in China’s ‘new era.’ People’s Daily also promoted a hashtag including this term: “The Communist Party of China’s Central Task from Now On” (#从现在起中国共产党的中心任务#”).


3. Top Priority 第一要务

The key term ‘top priority’ (第一要务 dì yī yàowù) refers to the Party pursuing the kind of “high-quality development” (“高质量发展”) that will lead to the further modernization of the country.

“High-quality development” was also mentioned in the 19th Party Congress report in 2017 to indicate a shift and a new phase in China’s economic development from a focus on high-speed growth to a focus on more high-quality development, which is also outlined in the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025).

This means, among others, that there will be more focus on innovation-driven industries and technological advancement.


4. The “Two-Steps” Strategy “两步走”战略安排

In the segment of Xi’s speech where he addresses China-style modernization in the new era, he also mentions the “two steps” strategy (“两步走”战略安排 “liǎng bù zǒu” zhànlüè ānpái). This is not a new term and it has been previously introduced as part of China’s journey to becoming a strong, rejuvenated country – making China great again.

The two steps of this strategy are to realize ‘socialist modernization’ by 2035 and then to enter the next phase from 2035-2050 to build China into a “strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious and beautiful socialist modernization country.” The year 2049 will mark the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, and this is the moment when China’s “great rejuvenation” should be completed.


5. The Road to Follow 必由之路

At the end of Xi Jinping’s speech, he mentioned “the road to follow” (必由之路, bìyóuzhīlù) five times. On social media, the “road to follow” has been reiterated multiple times as well by official channels, including in a propaganda video published by CCTV.

The five ‘roads to follow’ mentioned in the Party Congress and in the state media videos are the following that are together presented as “the only road” the country and the Party must take. They are all linked together and are actually somewhat circular, namely:

– to develop socialism with Chinese characteristics, they must adhere to the overall leadership of the Party
– to achieve the “great rejuvenation” of China they must stick to socialism with Chinese characterics
– to reach this historic undertaking, they must be united in struggle
– to allow China to grow and develop in the ‘new era,’ they must implement the new concepts for development
– to be able to take this new road together & keep the Party full of vitality, they must follow the way of comprehensive and strict Party governance


6. Building Beautiful China 建设美丽中国

In the 20th CPC National Congress report, the idea of “building beautiful China” (建设美丽中国, jiànshè měilì Zhōngguó) was mentioned in the segment dedicated to the “green development” of China as part of its overall modernization. This includes environmental protection, pollution control, carbon reduction, and climate change awareness.

‘Beautiful China’ as a concept was first introduced during the 18th Party Congress in November of 2012 as part of China’s long-term environmental protection plan within the context of people’s welfare and the future of China.


7. Whole-process People’s Democracy 全过程人民民主

This concept of ‘whole-process people’s democracy’ (全过程人民民主, quán guòchéng rénmín mínzhǔ) is mentioned at least five times in Xi Jinping’s 20th Party Congress speech and it is one of the political concepts and terms proposed by Xi himself as part of Xi Jinping’s Socialist Thought with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. It was mentioned in the speech Xi gave during the celebration of the Party’s 100-year anniversary in 2021.

This so-called ‘whole-process people’s democracy’ is officially presented as a ‘process-oriented’ democracy that, despite being different from Western democracy, supposedly “covers all aspects of the democratic process and all sectors of society” through a combination of elections, consultations, decision-making, management and oversight.

This idea of China having its own particular kind of democracy – or perhaps having invented a Chinese version of what ‘democracy’ actually means – also suits the idea of Chinese-style modernization, in which China’s path to the future will not be like the route Western countries are taking, but instead combining modernization with Chinese features.


8. Socialist Culture 社会主义文化

‘Socialist Culture’ (社会主义文化, shèhuì zhǔyì wénhuà) comes up at least four times in the 20th Party Congress report. The term represents a cultural side of China’s modernization, and emphasizes that, in order to build a strong socialist country, there must also be a strong socialist culture.

Although not explicitly stated, official media propaganda inescapably plays an important part in the cultivation of a strong ‘socialist culture’ that is all about cultural self-confidence, cultural innovation, creativity, and ‘spiritual energy.’

At time of writing, the Baidu Trends tool did not have enough information to show any relevant data on the search engine interest in this particular term, but the idea of ‘socialist culture’ is by no means a new one. “Socialist culture with Chinese characteristics” was already proposed by Jiang Zemin (江泽民) at the 15th CPC National Congress in 1997.

The idea that building a strong socialist culture is important for the further development of China has been further cultivated over the past few years under Xi’s leadership. Also read this article in English titled “How to build a strong socialist culture” in Qiushi, the CPC Central Committee bimonthly.


9. Improve the Distribution System 完善分配制度

This phrase comes up once in the part of the 20th Party System report that disusses a fairer economic system with more equal employment & income opportunities and regulated wealth accumulation, encouraging hard work to get rich.

Although it is the first time that a regulation of wealth accumulation has come up in this way (and it is not explained what this actually means), the idea behind these concepts of the distribution system and wealth accumulation standardization is that of ‘common prosperity,’ one of the most important concepts guiding China’s recent policymaking.

‘Improve the distribution system’ (完善分配制度, wánshàn fēnpèi zhìdù) was explicilty mentioned as one of the key concepts for this week’s meeting by various channels, but it mainly is ‘the regulation of wealth accumulation’ that is featured in social media hashtags (#中国将规范财富积累机制#).


10. Focus 着力点

Many of the words or phrases propagated as ‘key terms’ for this 20th Party Congress are insignificant by themselves but are merely used to represent a bigger body of thoughts. The aforementioned “Top Priority,” “Central Mission,” and “Road to Follow” are all just words that only mean something within the context of Xi Jinping’s speech.

Another example is “Major Principles” (“重大原则” zhòngdà yuánzé) which is also included by CCTV in this list of most important keywords, but which actually just goes back to the same ideas that are referred to in the other terms, namely strengthing the overall leadership of the Party, adhering to the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, emphasizing people-centered ideology, etc. – which is similar to the idea behind the “Road to Follow” (必由之路) keyword.

Explanation of ‘Major Principle’ concept in English and Chinese by People’s Daily, posted on Weibo.

Then there is the keyword “focus,” 着力点 (zhuólìdiǎn), which is about the focus of China’s economic development.

In China’s coming years, the economic focus should be placed on the real economy (实体经济). This literally is also a hashtag promoted on Weibo by CCTV this week (“Put the Focus of Economic Development on the Real Economy” #把发展经济的着力点放在实体经济上#).

Different from the Financial Economy, the Real Economy is the realm of economy that is about businesses, production, and the direct exchange/purchase of goods or services.

Also part of this ‘focus’ is China’s new industrialization, manufacturing, product quality, aerospace, transportation, new technology, and digital China. Another related term that is proposed as one of the keywords of this Party Congress is ‘innovation’ (创新, chuàngxīn).

Please check in with us again this week as we will keep an eye on social media trends surrounding the CPC National Congress. Don’t forget to subscribe. For previous posts on the Party Congress, check here.

By Manya Koetse 


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Images via Weibo account of Communist Youth League, CCTV, and People’s Daily.

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