Review: China Online – Netspeak & Wordplay by Chinese Internet Users

China’s Internet is a hot topic nowdays. With more and more books published on the topic, What’s on Weibo picked a recent one to review. This edition: China Online – Netspeak & Wordplay Used By Over 700 Million Chinese Internet Users by Véronique Michel, Tuttle Publishing, 2015, 159 pages.

With the largest Internet population in the world, China has a unique online culture. China Onlinea new book by translator and multilingual netizen Véronique Michel, offers an exploration into China’s rapidly changing society and its flourishing Internet environment, where new expressions emerge every day. Michels has created an accessible and entertaining introduction to China’s modern-day language and culture.


Michels has divided her book in two parts. The first part, ‘Portraits’, uncovers how neologisms like “Mortgage Slaves” (房奴 fang nu) or “Café Latte Tribe” (拿铁族 natie zu) identify different groups in China’s contemporary society. The drastic political and economic changes after the 1980s have led to a society where studying hard, finding a good job and spending money have become the essential strategies to survive. The “Ants Tribe” (蚁族 yizu), for example, refers to those who want to make their “wages fly” (让工资飞 rang gongzi fei) in order to set up their homes and start a family in suburban China. In the second part, ‘Word Play’, Michels gives a myriad of examples on China’s creative expressions, and what they reveal about society today.

As China’s online environment moves with incredible speed, any book on it will inescapably be outdated from the moment it is published. Popular expressions die out as quickly as they came up. But because Michels offers the cultural backgrounds to a range of expressions and catch phrases, it remains a relevant, no-nonsense and entertaining resource for anyone, amateur or expert, who wants to develop a deeper understanding of China and Chinese language today.

What’s on Weibo’s verdict: 7.5/10

Plus points: easy to read, accessible, clear overview of new & classic online expressions, explanation of origins.

Downsides: outdated soon, somewhat superficial. How could Michels fail to write more about online censorship, and how it is evaded through wordplay and puns?

By Manya Koetse

This review was originally written for Bable, The Language Magazine.