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Weibo’s Online Slang: 10 Chinese ‘Tribes’ & ‘Clans’ to Know

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Online slang has been an important part of Chinese online culture ever since the first message boards were launched, and is ubiquitous and ever-changing on popular social media platforms such as Weibo or Wechat.

A major part of this online slang culture is the categorization of people into ‘tribes’ or ‘clans’ (族); classifying those (urban) young Chinese people who share certain traits.

Although many of these terms are often ironic and generalized, to a large extent, they also represent a bigger trend in China’s transforming society and digital culture.

 

1. 低头族 (Dītóuzú): “The Bowed Head Clan”

This word is comparable to the English term of ‘phubber’; which is a combination of “phone” and “snubber”, meaning people who lower their heads to look at their smartphones. There is also a word called “Thumb Tribe” (拇指族), which also refers to people whose thumbs are constantly moving on their smartphone screen.

Dītóuzú literally means ‘lower-head-clan’; they use their phone for almost everything, at every moment. They always bow their heads to look at their phone. For the dītóuzú, it seems that the smartphone fulfills their every need, including entertainment, surfing internet, updating their social media and communicating with people, ordering food, shopping, etc.

But when the smartphone addiction becomes serious, they get mental and physical problems. It makes their life hard. On Weibo, this word was especially used in 2017 when a Chinese mother was watching her phone in the swimming pool while her 4-year-old son was drowning in the pool just meters away from her.

 

2. 月光族 (Yuèguāngzú): “The Moonlight Clan”

The Yuèguāngzú is the “moonlight clan.” It is meant to categorize the groups of people who live from paycheck to paycheck. Most of them are young Chinese people, who spend all of their salary before their next payday – although they don’t have any savings in their bank account.

For some of them, their salary just covers their basic living expenses, such as rent, food, transportation and some social occasions.

But there are also those who might have a much higher income, but still live day by day, without any serious plans for their life or future. They like to spend money whenever they want, in any way they want. They also exhaust their earnings before their next salary day.

 

3. 酷抠族 (Kùkōuzú): “The Cool Carl”

Image via https://www.dir28.com/2224.html.

As nicely explained in Shenzhen Daily or by China Daily, Kùkōuzú refers to those people who live a simple life, and while faced with inflation and high housing prices, try to spend as little as possible.

“Kù” (酷) is the Chinese transliteration of the English word “cool,” “kōu” (抠) is short for kōumén (抠门) which means “stingy.” Normally those who lead a “stingy life” are not considered “cool.” In today’s China, however, where inflation and high housing prices make life difficult for the middle class, many people think that people who live a simple live can also be “cool.”

 

4. 啃老族 (Kěnlǎozú): “The Leech Tribe”

Image via 浙江在线健康网

The kěnlǎozú is a group of people who are currently not engaged in employment, education or training. Their daily life totally depends on their parents or other older generations. They are often fresh graduates.

Some graduates find it so difficult to find a job, and get so frustrated that they give up looking for a job and stay at home with their parents. Their parents then have to cover all of their expenses and feed them, treating them as if they’re still a child.

 

5. 恨嫁族 (Hènjiàzú): “The Hate-to-get-married Tribe”

Image via https://www.gq.com.tw/

If we literally translate Hènjiàzú, it would mean “hate getting married tribe.” But is this truly what’s meant with this term in present-day China?

The term Hènjià (恨嫁) is originally from Guangdong local language. It refers to young women who have huge expectations for their future marriage. They often hope to get married as soon as they reach the legal age of marriage. But it usually turns out that the reality is very different from their dreams.

Now, this term has come to indicate those girls who dream about a marriage that will change their life for the better. Instead of making a career for themselves, they are aiming to look for a husband with a high income. For them, getting married with a money-making man is a first priority.

This kind of women was criticized by education businessman Yu Minhong recently, who stated that women’s standards for men are leading to a “degeneration of the country.”

 

6. 闪婚族 (Shǎnhūnzú): “The Flash Marriage Group”

Image via http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2010-02-05/112017051843s.shtml.

The Shǎnhūnzú refers to people who have only known each other a short time and get married straight away, as quick as a lightning bolt (闪电). According to Baidu, it is a sign of the “fast food love” era.

Although a Flash Marriage can happen because of extreme infatuation, there are also other reasons for a quick marriage; some people are simply in a hurry to get rid of the pressure from their parents to get married.

 

7. 愤怒青年 (Fènnù Qīngnián): “The Angry Youth”

“Angry Youth” or “The Delinquent” is a 1973 Hong Kong movie.

Fènqīng (愤青) is an abbreviation for Fènnù Qīngnián (愤怒青年), which literally translates as the “angry young.”

It mainly refers to Chinese youth who display a high level of Chinese nationalism. This term first appeared in Hong Kong in the 1970s, referring to those young people who were not satisfied with Chinese society, and sought reform.

It has now evolved into a term used predominantly in Chinese Internet slang. Nowadays, it refers to a group of young people who have strong or sharp opinion on society and politics. Most of them are not satisfied with what is happening now and want to make changes. They like to use internet to publish their ideas and initiate online battles with people who have different opinions. They seem to care for their country and society very much, and will give their opinions on various public affairs. Their opinions will sometimes influence the public debate.

 

8. 标题党 (Biāotídǎng): “The Clickbait Club”

Biāotídǎng (标题党) translates as the “clickbait club.” It refers to sensationalist online writers who want to have more readers or followers, and therefore use exaggerated or hot words for their titles to attract more readership.

Because online readers are curious about what is going on after seeing the “attractive” title, they continue to read the text or click the link. In most cases, there is no consistency between the content and the title.

Over the past year, various Chinese state media have warned against the use of clickbait titles, labeling it as “vulgar content.”

 

9. 健盘侠 (Jiànpánxiá): “The Keyboard Warriors”

Jiànpánxiá (健盘侠) means ‘keyboard warrior’: a group of people that is very active and often aggressive within the online comment sections. They especially like to comment below the hot Weibo topics.

They are ‘big fighters’ in the cyber world when it comes to their words and opinions, but they would never actually dare to do the things they say.

In their real life, ‘keyboard warriors’ are very ordinary people and are actually afraid of many things. But when they are back online, they are like the warriors in the Gongfu world. They use words as their weapons and are ‘social justice warriors.’ They often ‘troll’ other Weiboers or social media users.

By doing so, they get a lot of online attention which satisfies their ego, as they are unsuccesful in getting the attention they need in their offline life.

 

10. 嘻哈族 (Xīhāzú): “The Hip Hop Clan”

Image via Sohu.com

The Xīhāzú refers to a subculture or group of young Chinese who are fan of hip hop and African-American culture influence lifestyle. “Xīhā” (嘻哈) is the Chinese translation for ‘hiphop.’

The term has been around for years. But especially over the past year, hip hop has seen a comeback in China with popular shows as the Rap of China becoming major hits.

By Crystal Fan, with contributions from Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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  1. Avatar

    Jose

    December 2, 2018 at 6:12 pm

    What an interesting article! Well, in fact as interesting as every other article published here.

    Very useful, both to know details about what’s going on in China’s society and in its internet, and to learn some (modern) Chinese.

    Thanks a lot!!

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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.

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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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

A Brew of Controversy: Lu Xun and LELECHA’s ‘Smoky’ Oolong Tea

Chinese tea brand LELECHA faced backlash for using the iconic literary figure Lu Xun to promote their “Smoky Oolong” milk tea, sparking controversy over the exploitation of his legacy.

Manya Koetse

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It seemed like such a good idea. For this year’s World Book Day, Chinese tea brand LELECHA (乐乐茶) put a spotlight on Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881-1936), one of the most celebrated Chinese authors the 20th century and turned him into the the ‘brand ambassador’ of their special new “Smoky Oolong” (烟腔乌龙) milk tea.

LELECHA is a Chinese chain specializing in new-style tea beverages, including bubble tea and fruit tea. It debuted in Shanghai in 2016, and since then, it has expanded rapidly, opening dozens of new stores not only in Shanghai but also in other major cities across China.

Starting on April 23, not only did the LELECHA ‘Smoky Oolong” paper cups feature Lu Xun’s portrait, but also other promotional materials by LELECHA, such as menus and paper bags, accompanied by the slogan: “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” (“老烟腔,新青年”). The marketing campaign was a joint collaboration between LELECHA and publishing house Yilin Press.

Lu Xun featured on LELECHA products, image via Netease.

The slogan “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” is a play on the Chinese magazine ‘New Youth’ or ‘La Jeunesse’ (新青年), the influential literary magazine in which Lu’s famous short story, “Diary of a Madman,” was published in 1918.

The design of the tea featuring Lu Xun’s image, its colors, and painting style also pay homage to the era in which Lu Xun rose to prominence.

Lu Xun (pen name of Zhou Shuren) was a leading figure within China’s May Fourth Movement. The May Fourth Movement (1915-24) is also referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment or the Chinese Renaissance. It was the cultural revolution brought about by the political demonstrations on the fourth of May 1919 when citizens and students in Beijing paraded the streets to protest decisions made at the post-World War I Versailles Conference and called for the destruction of traditional culture[1].

In this historical context, Lu Xun emerged as a significant cultural figure, renowned for his critical and enlightened perspectives on Chinese society.

To this day, Lu Xun remains a highly respected figure. In the post-Mao era, some critics felt that Lu Xun was actually revered a bit too much, and called for efforts to ‘demystify’ him. In 1979, for example, writer Mao Dun called for a halt to the movement to turn Lu Xun into “a god-like figure”[2].

Perhaps LELECHA’s marketing team figured they could not go wrong by creating a milk tea product around China’s beloved Lu Xun. But for various reasons, the marketing campaign backfired, landing LELECHA in hot water. The topic went trending on Chinese social media, where many criticized the tea company.

 
Commodification of ‘Marxist’ Lu Xun
 

The first issue with LELECHA’s Lu Xun campaign is a legal one. It seems the tea chain used Lu Xun’s portrait without permission. Zhou Lingfei, Lu Xun’s great-grandson and president of the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation, quickly demanded an end to the unauthorized use of Lu Xun’s image on tea cups and other merchandise. He even hired a law firm to take legal action against the campaign.

Others noted that the image of Lu Xun that was used by LELECHA resembled a famous painting of Lu Xun by Yang Zhiguang (杨之光), potentially also infringing on Yang’s copyright.

But there are more reasons why people online are upset about the Lu Xun x LELECHA marketing campaign. One is how the use of the word “smoky” is seen as disrespectful towards Lu Xun. Lu Xun was known for his heavy smoking, which ultimately contributed to his early death.

It’s also ironic that Lu Xun, widely seen as a Marxist, is being used as a ‘brand ambassador’ for a commercial tea brand. This exploits Lu Xun’s image for profit, turning his legacy into a commodity with the ‘smoky oolong’ tea and related merchandise.

“Such blatant commercialization of Lu Xun, is there no bottom limit anymore?”, one Weibo user wrote. Another person commented: “If Lu Xun were still alive and knew he had become a tool for capitalists to make money, he’d probably scold you in an article. ”

On April 29, LELECHA finally issued an apology to Lu Xun’s relatives and the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation for neglecting the legal aspects of their marketing campaign. They claimed it was meant to promote reading among China’s youth. All Lu Xun materials have now been removed from LELECHA’s stores.

Statement by LELECHA.

On Chinese social media, where the hot tea became a hot potato, opinions on the issue are divided. While many netizens think it is unacceptable to infringe on Lu Xun’s portrait rights like that, there are others who appreciate the merchandise.

The LELECHA controversy is similar to another issue that went trending in late 2023, when the well-known Chinese tea chain HeyTea (喜茶) collaborated with the Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum to release a special ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ (佛喜) latte tea series adorned with Buddha images on the cups, along with other merchandise such as stickers and magnets. The series featured three customized “Buddha’s Happiness” cups modeled on the “Speechless Bodhisattva” (无语菩萨), which soon became popular among netizens.

The HeyTea Buddha latte series, including merchandise, was pulled from shelves just three days after its launch.

However, the ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ success came to an abrupt halt when the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Shenzhen intervened, citing regulations that prohibit commercial promotion of religion. HeyTea wasted no time challenging the objections made by the Bureau and promptly removed the tea series and all related merchandise from its stores, just three days after its initial launch.

Following the Happy Buddha and Lu Xun milk tea controversies, Chinese tea brands are bound to be more careful in the future when it comes to their collaborative marketing campaigns and whether or not they’re crossing any boundaries.

Some people couldn’t care less if they don’t launch another campaign at all. One Weibo user wrote: “Every day there’s a new collaboration here, another one there, but I’d just prefer a simple cup of tea.”

By Manya Koetse

[1]Schoppa, Keith. 2000. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. New York: Columbia UP, 159.

[2]Zhong, Xueping. 2010. “Who Is Afraid Of Lu Xun? The Politics Of ‘Debates About Lu Xun’ (鲁迅论争lu Xun Lun Zheng) And The Question Of His Legacy In Post-Revolution China.” In Culture and Social Transformations in Reform Era China, 257–284, 262.

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