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The Top 10 Buzzwords in Chinese Online Media in 2020 (咬文嚼字)

Some of the buzzwords that were most noteworthy in Chinese media this year.

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These are some of the expressions and idioms that have been buzzing in Chinese media in 2020. What’s on Weibo’s Jialing Xie explains.

China’s online media environment is a breeding ground for new terms and niche expressions that suddenly make it to mainstream discussions.

Every year, the most popular new words and expressions are listed by the Chinese magazine 咬文嚼字 (yǎo wén jiáo zì). The magazine selects buzzwords that reflect present-day society and the changing times.

Yǎo Wén Jiáozì, which means “to pay excessive attention to wording,”* is a monthly publication featuring commentary, criticism, and essays on the Chinese language.

Founded in 1995, the magazine has gained social influence for correcting typos in the language used by media and celebrities. Some of these corrections have been impactful, such as their correction of the 2006 CCTV Chinese New Year Gala on writing ‘Shenzhou 6’ (the second human spaceflight of the Chinese space program) as “神州六号” rather than “神舟六号” (different character for ‘zhōu’). It was included in their “Ten Biggest Language Mistakes” list (十大语文差错) of that year.

On social media, Chinese online (state) media always promote the magazine’s selection of the top words and terms of the past year. The ten terms have also become a relatively big topic on Weibo over the past month, with the list of Top 10 Buzzwords in 2020 #2020年度十大流行语# already garnering 460 million views.

*yǎo wén jiáo zì, literal meaning: to talk pedantically and pay excessive attention to wording, often referring to a stickler for detail with an intent to display their fine knowledge; often used negatively or neutrally.

We’ve listed the top 10 buzzwords for you here:

 

1. 人民至上,生命至上 (Rénmín zhìshàng, shēngmìng zhìshàng): “People First”

  • Literal Meaning: “People are above everything else, life is above everything else.”
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: On May 22 of 2020, Chinese President Xi Jinping took part in the deliberation of the Inner Mongolia delegation at the annual legislative session, where he stated that “our people come first, people’s lives come first, and the safety and health of our people should be secured at all costs.” “People first, life first” has since become a widely circulated slogan and guiding principle for government and society to combat Covid-19 across the country. 

 

2. 逆行者 (Nìxíng zhě): “People Going against the Tide”

  • Literal Meaning: “People who swim upstream / people who go against the current.”
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: In a broad sense, this phrase shares a similar meaning as its English counterpart, describing people who dare to differ from the mainstream and to go above and beyond their call of duty. In 2020, it has become a term often used by state media to refer to frontline workers and individuals who made a significant contribution or sacrifice during the battle against the novel coronavirus.

 

3. 飒 (): “Spirited”

  • Literal Meaning: “1) Chill and refreshing 2) Onomatopoeia: the sound of the wind 
  • The context of this word in 2020: In modern Chinese literature, this word is commonly used in the idiom “英姿飒爽” (yīng zī sà shuǎng), illustrating how a person, either a man or woman, is high of energy and full of morale and is showing an attitude of heroism and prestige. According to People’s Daily, half of the doctors and more than 90% of the nurses working in healthcare during the fight against COVID19 are female. State media started to use 飒 () as an adjective to eulogize these female medical workers. The word was later used to praise both men and women working in other industries as well. 

 

4. 后浪 (Hòu làng): “The Rear Waves”

  • Literal Meaning: “The rear waves.”
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: 后浪 hòulàng is often used within the idiom “长江后浪推前浪” (cháng jiāng hòu làng tuī qián làng) which literally means “the rear waves in the Yangtze River drive on those before,” and figuratively referring to how the new generation excels beyond the one before, or how the new is constantly replacing the old. This phrase became an internet meme regarding the young generation in China – specifically, those born in the 90s and 00s – as a result of heated online discussions about a video launched on Bilibili and other social media for Youth Day (May 4th), in which the older actor He Bing talks about the rights and opportunities enjoyed by young people in China today. On various occasions, this word is used to address the more privileged young people. Some associated stereotypes about this group include studying or living abroad, high-quality lifestyle, and luxury material possessions. Those who don’t identify with this privileged group tend to refer to themselves as “韭菜” (Jiǔcài, chives), which shares a similar sentiment as “屌丝” (Diǎosī, loser), as opposed to “the rear waves.”

 

5. 神兽 (Shén shòu): “Divine Beasts”

  • Literal Meaning: “Divine beasts.”
  • The context of this word in 2020: Totem worshiping is deeply rooted in the religion and tradition of many ancient cultures. Divine beasts in China are in fact deities, also known as the Four Symbols (四象), as a mixed product of Chinese ancient cosmology and mythology. Since the beginning of remote learning and delay in schools reopening across the country, many parents and caregivers have posted their experience balancing work and remote learning with their children from home. In these posts, parents often call their children ‘divine beasts’ then share their children’s naughty behavior and how they struggled to deal with them. 

 

6. 直播带货 (Zhíbò dài huò): “Live commerce”

  • Literal Meaning: “Live commerce”, “Influencer marketing via live streaming.
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: China’s live-streaming economy played an important role in the country’s economic market recovery amidst COVID19. Influencer marketing via live streaming combines talk show-like entertainment and the convenience of online shopping, at times even leveraging social proof and the reputation of influencers themselves to crack astonishing sales records. Apart from internet celebrities, many business executives (i.e. Jack Ma) and even government officials (i.e. 13 local mayors in Hubei Province) also took advantage of the booming live-streaming and appeared in front of webcams to promote certain products which resulted in millions of views on TikTok. On the flip-side of the business, there have been concerns about the quality of the products as well as lawsuits against fraudulent sales practices. Popular topics on Weibo as such include #如何看待直播带货卖假货#(“What do you think of counterfeit goods in live-streaming sales”). 

 

7. 双循环 (Shuāng xún huán): “Dual Cycle”

  • Literal Meaning: “Dual cycle.”
  • The context of this word in 2020: This term comes from President Xi’s speech at the meeting of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party on May 4, 2020, during which he stated that the dual-cycle system will be the party’s strategy for China’s economic and political development for the near future following COVID19 recovery. The system focuses on recovering and growing the economy by primarily expanding domestic demand mixed with healthy participation in international trade. While it certainly was not the first time the Communist Party introduced this concept of prioritizing the domestic market, according to Xinhua News Agency, the dual-cycle system has been regarded as a suitable strategy given current restrictions facing international trade due to the pandemic and the ongoing trade tensions between China and a few western powers.

 

8. 打工人 (Dǎ gōng rén): “Working People”

  • Literal Meaning: “Working people”
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: As agriculture, foreign trade, and investment sectors developed following the economic reform in 1978, a social-economic trend emerged in the 80s during which labor forces across China’s villages and countrysides migrated to cities and worked in blue-collar jobs. These migrant workers are called 打工人 (Dǎ gōng rén) / 打工仔 (Dǎ gōng zǎi). The word later evolved and was used to address the entire working class and salaried employees. For example, the memoir written by Shujuan Liu of the former president of Microsoft China, Jun Tang, was titled “I’m the 高级打工仔 (Gāojí dǎgōng zǎi, high-class worker) at Microsoft”. The term was frequently used as an internet buzzword in 2020 after appearing in a viral video in which a man acted as a migrant worker and showed watchers warm and positive encouragement. The video ended with a “good morning” greeting and addressed watchers as 打工人.  

 

9. 内卷  (Nèi juǎn): “Involution”

  • Literal Meaning: “Involution
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: According to People’s Daily, this word is a direct translation of the concept of ‘involution’ brought up by the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Involution describes the economic situation in which as the population grows, per capita wealth decreases. This year, this word is used to represent the competitive circumstances in academic or professional settings where individuals are compelled to overwork because of the standard raised by their peers who appear to be even more hard working. In the latter half of 2020, a few pictures capturing college students’ multitasking went viral on Weibo. One of the images shows a person working on his computer while riding his bike. These people were then called “卷王” (Juǎn wáng, meaning they are the example of overworking) on social media and became the origin of this buzzword. You can find this word sometimes associated with the 996 working hour system on Weibo.

 

10. 凡尔赛文学 (Fán’ěrsài wénxué): “Versailles Literature”

  • Literal Meaning: “Versailles literature.”
  • The context of this phrase in 2020: Social media has made displaying wealth and superiority easier than ever before. Instead of showing off explicitly, some find a way to both satisfy their desire for publicity and avoid doing so ostentatiously, by flaunting wealth and material possessions in an indirect and often negative-toned message. This writing style for social media posts is then referred to as “Versailles literature.” Admittedly not all posts labeled as “Versailles literature” were written with the intent to show off, but those with clear intention are often easily spotted and circulated online and became funny memes. This then led to a wave of discussions and a contest of “Versailles literature” on social media, which became a form of entertainment itself.

 

By Jialing Xie

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Jialing is a Baruch College Business School graduate and a former student at the Beijing University of Technology. She currently works in the US-China business development industry in the San Francisco Bay Area. With a passion for literature and humanity studies, Jialing aims to deepen the general understanding of developments in contemporary China.

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China Media

Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai Attends Fila Kids Junior Tennis Finals

Peng Shuai shows up at the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenge Finals in Beijing.

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Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai (彭帅) has ‘reappeared’ on Chinese social media for the first time her post of November 2nd (link) sent shockwaves across social media before it was taken offline.

Although her Weibo account has no new posts and searches for her name still do not come up with any recent content, Peng attended the Junior Tennis Challenge Grand Finals event while keeping a relatively low profile. Photos of Peng Shuai attending the Beijing event were shared by various accounts, including that of China Open (@中网ChinaOpen).

The Junior Tennis Finals are meant to cultivate Chinese tennis talent.

The event that Peng attended is the Diamond Cup Junior Tennis Challenge, which is meant for the 6-12 age group.

Peng’s appearance is noteworthy; over the past two weeks, international concerns have grown over the whereabouts of the Chinese tennis star. Famous tennis players including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams used the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai in joining the calls to locate the “missing” Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.

Peng had not been seen or heard from publicly she described the affair she allegedly had with former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli (张高丽) in her November 2nd Weibo post, in which she also claimed that Zhang once forced her into having sex.

While the issue was completely silenced in Chinese (social) media, the English-language state media outlet CGTN did address the commotion on Twitter on November 17, when they shared a screenshot of an email allegedly sent by Peng to WTA Chairman Steve Simon, saying she was not missing and not unsafe.

While many people still raised their concerns on Twitter and a White House spokesperson even said the Biden administration was ‘deeply concerned’ about the reports alleging that Peng Shuai had gone missing, photos of Peng Shuai in her home showed up on Friday (November 19th), posted on Twitter by Chinese journalist
Shen Shiwei (沈诗伟) claiming the tennis star posted them on her WeChat moments.

One day later, a video was also shared on Twitter by Shen, showing Peng having dinner and having conversations in which it was clearly indicated that the date was November 20, 2021.

Later, news came out that Peng also attended the Junior Tennis Finals during the weekend. After the email, the home pics, and the dinner, this was the fourth time news of Peng’s whereabouts made its rounds on Twitter, but it was the very first time in 19 days that she ‘reappeared’ in mainland China’s online media spheres.

“A familiar face came to the Diamond Cup,” one comment said, with others writing “long time no see” and “she showed her face!”

“She lost a lot of weight,” others said, not explicitly mentioning Peng Shuai’s name.

Some commenters just expressed they were happy to see the tennis champion “doing well” and being “safe and sound.”

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Local News

Online Outrage after Pet Dog Gets Killed by Anti-Epidemic Workers in Shangrao

An official response to the Shangrao incident that called the killing of the dog “harmless disposal” only added fuel to the fire.

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A pet dog was killed by anti-epidemic workers in Shangrao this week while its owner was undergoing quarantine at a nearby hotel. Chinese netizens are outraged, not only about the dog being killed during extreme efforts to contain Covid19, but also about the seemingly cold response of local authorities after it happened.

This weekend, a case in which a pet dog was killed by epidemic prevention workers in the city of Shangrao has sparked outrage on Chinese social media.

The incident occurred in the Golden Phoenix Garden community (金凤花园小区) in the Xinzhou district of Shangrao, a medium-sized prefecture-level city located in the northeast of Jiangxi province. Due to a new confirmed case of Covid19, the community is undergoing a lockdown and its residents are being quarantined while apartments are being disinfected.

On November 12, one of the community residents named Mrs. Fu (傅) shared on Weibo how her pet dog was presumably killed by anti-epidemic workers while she was undergoing quarantine at a local hotel that did not allow pets. She shared security footage recorded inside her residence from Friday around 16:45, showing how two epidemic workers enter her apartment and then begin to beat her pet dog on the head with iron bars.

The story and video sparked anger online, and the official response to the incident only added fuel to the fire.

On Saturday, November 13, Shangrao’s Xinzou district released a statement via its official Weibo channel (@信州发布). The statement, posted as late as 23:37, explained that residents of the community were supposed to leave their doors open while being quarantined, but that the door of this particular resident was closed. Anti-epidemic staff then received police assistance in entering the house to disinfect it, which is when they discovered the dog was at the home. The notice writes that the workers then proceeded to deal with the dog through “harmless disposal” (the literal words “无害化处理” could also be translated as ‘handling [something] to be made harmless’).

The statement also says that the worker has since been removed from his post and has apologized.

Very similar wording can be found in an article addressing the controversy in the English-language version of Chinese state media outlet Global Times, where the incident is described as a staffer who “culled a pet dog during anti-epidemic mission,” and that the staffer “gave harmless disposal on a pet dog without having fully communicated with the pet owner.”

Other reports in Chinese media about the incidents received criticism from netizens for emphasizing anti-epidemic policies and the otherwise “humane” treatment of animals.

“Don’t you think you’re laughable? You have some nerve to report on this like this,” one top comment said.

By now, the incident has attracted the attention of thousands of netizens using various hashtags, with one of them gaining over 170 million on views on Weibo, becoming one of the top trending topics on Sunday (#居民在外隔离期间家中小狗被扑杀#, #上饶正调查隔离人员宠物狗被扑杀#, #上饶回应隔离宠物狗疑似被扑杀#).

“The government of Shangrao leaves me speechless,” one Weibo user (@爱吃火锅的邓邓) writes: “This dog was not even confirmed of having Covid19. Nevertheless, they just beat him to death. How can you be so cruel?!”

In September of this year, three pet cats that tested positive for Covid19 were put down in the Chinese city of Harbin. That incident also led to a social media backlash at what some viewed as overkill in local efforts to contain the virus. This case, however, is still different because the dog involved was allegedly killed before even getting tested for Covid19.

“You just ‘dispose’ of the dog and that’s it? The dog’s life is over! We don’t even know how many dogs were killed like this,” others responded.

“Prying open people’s doors, killing people’s pets, and then pressuring people to delete their posts on the matter, forcing them to settle (..), – Shangrao government is really putting itself on display here,” one commenter said, referring to online rumors that Mrs. Fu was pressured by authorities into deleting her social media post – she posted about being threatened herself.

The dog owner claims she is being threatened and pressured into deleting her social media post.

The dog owner also claims that at least one other cat and dog by residents living in the same community have also been “disposed of.” At the time of writing, this claim has not been confirmed by official sources.

Meanwhile, a poster showing a cat saying “I can’t transmit covid19, please don’t abandon or hurt me” is circulating on social media. The Shanghai Center for Disease Prevention and Control reportedly stated it is unlikely for small pets to get Covid19, and that they therefore should not need to be screened.

I can’t transmit covid19, please don’t abandon or hurt me.”

The terms “harmless disposal” (无害化处置) and “culling” (扑杀) that have been used by some Chinese state media and local authorities in describing the Shangrao incident are also circulating online, with many people expressing disbelief in the seemingly cold and careless way in which the unnecessary killing of pets is being portrayed.

Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin also posted about the issue, writing: “In my opinion, even from the perspective of crisis communication, this was certainly not a successful notice. It is not surprising to see it trigger controversies online.”

At the same time, Hu also called on people not to condemn China’s zero-covid19 approach over this controversy, writing: “We cannot deny the overall hard work of the grassroots pandemic prevention workers because of a specific case.”

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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