SubscribeLog in
Connect with us

Chinese Language

Which Language was Ma Ying-jeou Speaking in Hunan?

In Hunan, Ma Ying-jeou will now mostly be remembered as ‘the boy from Xiangtan.’

Jin Luo



There have been many headlines and views on former Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s recent visit to mainland China. One aspect of his trip has received relatively little attention, even though it generated some buzz among Chinese netizens: Ma’s way of speaking Chinese. Jin Luo explains.

Ex Taiwan President and former Kuomintang Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (马英九) made headlines earlier this month after he ended his historic 12-day visit to mainland China.

One aspect of his trip that was discussed by netizens and reported by Chinese online media was Ma’s use of “Hunan dialect” (湖南方言). Many were amazed by how well he could speak it, how he interacted with locals in the Hunan dialect, and how he delivered his words with a genuine emotional connection while paying respect to his grandfather.

The official language used on both sides of the Taiwan Strait is Mandarin, although there are some variations in terms of accents and vocabulary. However, Ma did not speak standard Mandarin during his speech and visit to Hunan.

So what language did he use during his 10-minute speech at Hunan University and while he was paying respects at the graves of his ancestors?

Xiang: One of the Many Varieties of Chinese

The question “Do you speak Chinese?” is often understood without confusion because “Chinese” is generally interpreted as referring to Mandarin, which has the largest number of native speakers in the world at nearly 1 billion.

However, from a linguistic standpoint, “Chinese” is a collective term that encompasses hundreds of varieties, categorized into seven or ten groups, with the most well-known being Mandarin and Cantonese.

It is not always easy to determine whether the different varieties should be considered dialects or distinct languages. For instance, if you only speak Mandarin, you might not understand anything if you walk on the streets of Hong Kong, where Cantonese is spoken. Nevertheless, you would be able to read all the street signs since the written language and grammar are similar.

The degree of similarity or difference between various varieties of Chinese can vary widely. People from vast Mandarin-speaking regions can generally understand each other, while in the southern parts of China, people may face difficulties communicating with those in neighboring villages after crossing a mountain.

Map of sinitic languages. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

During his visit to Hunan, Ma Ying-jeou visited Xiangtan and spoke in the local variety called “Xiang” (湘), also known as “Hunanese” or “Changshanese,” which are sometimes used interchangeably. Hunan is located in South Central China. The main river in its east is called Xiang Jiang (湘江), and it passes through Hunan’s capital Changsha. Xiang is spoken by over 36 million people in China, with the most spoken variety being the Changsha dialect.

While Xiang may not be as well-known as other Chinese dialects outside of China, some of its speakers are very famous. Mao Zedong is perhaps China’s most well-known Xiang speaker. The popular North American-Chinese dish, General Tso’s chicken, is named after Zuo Zongtang, another prominent Xiang speaker. Zhu Rongji, who served as China’s premier from 1998 to 2003, is originally from Changsha, a city in the Hunan province where Xiang is widely spoken. And Ma Ying-jeou is one of the most well-known contemporary politicians who speaks Xiang.

What is especially noteworthy about Ma speaking Xiang is the fact that he was born in Hong Kong, grew up in Taiwan, and studied in the US. His March-April 2023 China trip was his very first visit to mainland China or Hunan. How come he speaks Xiang at all?

“Outside Province People”

Ma Ying-jeou’s parents were both from Hunan and were Kuomintang members. Before Ma Ying-jeou was born, they already had three daughters who were born in different locations. Ma Ying-jeou himself was born in Hong Kong in 1950, and two years later the entire family moved to Taipei.

Individuals such as Ma, who relocated with their families to Taiwan from the mainland after 1945, are known as Waishengren (外省人, literally: people from outside the province). They came from various regions of China, primarily the southern part. They generally speak Mandarin but still use their hometown dialect within their families. (The Han Chinese people who were already in Taiwan before 1945 are referred to as Benshengren 本省人, literally: native province people.)

While the Waishengren are predominantly Han Chinese, which is the ethnic majority in both Taiwan (95-97%) and mainland China (~92%), they are actually considered a minority group in Taiwan now.

In 1990, Waishengren accounted for approximately 13% of the population, but since then, the official identification of this group has been discontinued. However, surveys on self-identity conducted in the 21st century have consistently indicated that the Waishengren make up around 10%-12% of Taiwan’s population.

Most Han Chinese in Taiwan can trace their ancestry back to mainland China, whether their ancestors arrived 60 or 600 years ago. Many Han Chinese in Taiwan have genealogy records that detail the towns their ancestors came from and moved to. Ma Ying-jeou is one such person, and one of the main purposes of his visit to mainland China was to pay respect to his ancestors in Hunan.

Fallen Leaves Return to Their Roots

In the Chinese context, one’s jiguan (can roughly be translated as ‘ancestral home’) refers to the birthplace of one’s father. This was once a compulsory item to fill in official documents in most of the Greater China area. For example, former NBA star Yao Ming was born in Shanghai, but his jiguan is the nearby city of Suzhou because that is where his father was born.

Similarly, Ma Ying-jeou’s jiguan is Xiangtan County in Hunan, even though he had never been there until recently. This is because his grandfather was also born in Xiangtan County, and died there when Ma Ying-jeou’s father was 7 years old. His grandfather was buried there, and as such, Xiangtan County is considered to be Ma Ying-jeou’s ancestral home.

Lineage holds great cultural significance in southern China and among overseas Chinese, many of whom originated from southern China. Lineage is often traced through ancestral villages, genealogy books, lineage associations, and sometimes even a unique dialect. Ancestors are revered as deities or, in non-religious settings, a spiritual connection to the supreme power of heaven. In Confucianism, paying respect to one’s ancestors is a demonstration of filial piety, one of the most important virtues.

The Qingming Festival, held every year around April 4-6, is dedicated to visiting ancestors’ tombs. For those who have moved away from their ancestral hometown, it is important to visit when they get older or be buried in the same place as their ancestors. This is expressed in Chinese as luoyeguigen (落叶归根), which means “fallen leaves return to their roots.”

Visiting one’s ancestral hometown for the first time is often a deeply emotional experience, and this was certainly the case for Ma Ying-jeou and his four sisters when they visited Xiangtan four days before the Qingming Festival.

Ma was filmed while giving a speech in front of his grandfather’s tomb, speaking in Xiang. He spoke in detail about the family’s journey since 1927 and talked about how the family has been prospering, with 38 people in his generation. He also discussed his achievements as a politician and how he contributed to the peace of the mainland-Taiwan relationship.

Ma Ying-jeou reading out his speech for his ancestors, screenshot, video via Weibo.

In the end, Ma expressed how emotional he felt being able to visit his grandfather’s tomb for the first time and how grateful he is that the family’s virtues have been passed down through the generations. He wished that his grandfather’s soul would forever bless the Ma family to continue contributing to humanity. As he finished his speech, it was clear that he was in tears.

“Boy from Xiangtan”

Visiting the mainland at this particular time certainly carries political implications, particularly given that current Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen was visiting the US at the same time. The visits by the Taiwanese politicians to China and the US have generated a range of reactions from both sides of the Taiwan Strait, with some expressing praise and others voicing criticism.

While Ma’s visit to mainland China was significant, it is notable that the focus of his trip was not on politics, but on emphasizing cultural identity – language being an important part of it. Ma’s apparent deep emotional connection to his ancestral roots in China is a highly valued cultural trait that resonates with many Chinese people.

During his Xiangtan visit, local residents warmly welcomed him with the phrase “Welcome home.” In response, Ma spoke in the Xiang dialect and said that “the boy from Xiangtan has returned” (“湘潭伢子回来了”). This simple yet powerful message reiterated Ma’s sense of belonging, and its impact was felt not only in what he said but also how he said it.

Ma’s ability to speak the language of his ancestral hometown immediately connected him with the local Hunan people. He engaged in lengthy discussions in Xiang with students at Hunan University, caused traffic jams by strolling through a night market in Changsha, and even sang a song on a Hunan TV program. As a result of his visit to Hunan, Ma became somehwat of a wanghong, an online hit.

Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, also posted about it on Weibo and expressed surprised at how well Ma speaks the Hunan dialect. The Hunan provincial party secretary, who is not a native speaker of Xiang, also expressed his admiration for Ma’s proficiency and said he felt pressured and inspired to learn from him.

Despite its political timing, Ma’s visit has been reported as a “private visit,” and the former President also did not have any officieel meetings in Beijing. Rather than engaging in political rhetoric, Ma seemingly sought to connect with the Chinese people on a personal and cultural level.

In addition to paying respects to his ancestors, he also visited museums, met with locals, and did some sightseeing. At times, he appeared as an ambassador and peace negotiator, while at others, he resembled an excited tourist exploring new sights for the first time.

Meanwhile, he also appeared simply as a 73-year-old retiree, finding comfort in speaking his hometown dialect that few people in Taiwan can speak with him. In Hunan, he will now mostly be remembered as ‘the boy from Xiangtan.’

Read more Chinese language-related articles here.

By Jin Luo 


Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Jin Luo is a language & culture educator based in Berlin. Teaching three languages (Mandarin, Cantonese, English) and learning two (Russian, German) while having lived in 10 cities across 7 countries, her mission is to boost intercultural understanding and communication through education.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

China and Covid19

The Big List of Chinese Covid-19 Pandemic Lexicon: Before, During, and After ‘Zero Covid’

China’s Covid-19 Vocabulary: a glossary of key terms that matter in China’s Covid era, from start to end [premium content].

Manya Koetse




Over the past three years, the Chinese epidemic situation has shaped lives and language. China’s fight against the virus has brought a lot of Covid-19 terms and words, and since China has gone from ‘Zero Covid’ to ‘Opening Up,’ there have been many new words. Here is a glossary of China’s Covid-19 terms by What’s on Weibo.

There are so many words and terms that are used on Chinese social media and in official media in the past years that are new and only make sense in the context of the pandemic and China’s fight against the virus.

Now that China’s epidemic situation is seeing a new phase, and the country is going from one extreme to the other, new words are again being introduced.

It is therefore high time to make up the balance of the words that were used, the terms that were important and have become ingrained in China’s present-day vocabulary, and the recent terms that have been added to the ever-growing Chinese (Mandarin) epidemic lexicon.

Please note that this list does not necessarily give literal translations of each word, but tries to explain what these words mean in the context of the epidemic situation. Many words have taken on a new meaning during the Covid era.

The dictionary translation for the word 清零 qīnglíng, for example, is ‘to clear’ something or ‘to reset.’ But in the context of China’s Covid situation, it has come to be used to refer to the country’s Zero Covid policy, even if the word ‘Covid’ or ‘policy’ are not even included in the term.

The same goes for many other terms in this list. The term 躺平 tǎngpíng basically just means to ‘lie flat’ and it was initially used for a trend among Chinese young people who are fed up with the competitive rat race in China’s job market and education, and only want to do the bare minimum because they believe that upward social mobility has become an unattainable goal.

But since ‘Zero Covid,’ the word ‘lying flat’ was adopted by Chinese state media and started to be used in a different way from when it was used by young people to address their views on life. Instead, it was used as a word that referred to completely giving up the fight against Covid, and taking no measures at all (something which definitely had to be avoided at all costs) (for more about ‘Lying Flat’, read this article.)

And so, simple words such as ‘sheep’ [Covid-positive person] or ‘graduation’ [being allowed to leave a quarantine location], have come to mean wildly different things in the context of China’s epidemic situation.

Here’s our list (which is still being updated, so please bear with us!).




2019冠狀病毒 2019 Guānzhuàng bìngdú
2019 Coronavirus; Covid-19.

本土新增病例 Běntǔ xīnzēng bìnglì
New Local Infections.

常态化 Chángtàihuà

重启 Chóngqǐ
Restart; reopen. This term was also used when Wuhan ‘restarted’ in spring of 2020 (read more).

复工复产 Fùgōng fùchǎn
Resumption of work and production. After the Wuhan outbreak, Chinese authorities started talking about a resumption of work and production in February of 2020. In April of that year, the central government held a meeting and stated that the resumption of work and production was almost back to normal.

公共卫生 Gōnggòng wèishēng
Public health.

方舱医院 Fāngcāng yīyuàn
Square-cabin hospital; makeshift hospitals. In February of 2020, the impressive construction of two enormous emergency field hospitals in Covid-stricken Wuhan captured the world’s attention. The Huoshenshan and Leishenshan Hospitals were constructed in a matter of days and combined they could take in 2,500 patients. After Wuhan, the ‘fangcang’ became a new phenomenon in Covid China, referring to centralized isolation sites for Covid-positive patients (read more here).

防疫检查 Fángyì jiǎnchá
Epidemic prevention inspection.

防疫人员 Fángyì rényuán
Epidemic prevention staff (later also nicknamed 大白 dàbái).

封城 Fēngchéng
City lockdown.

国务院联防联控工作机制 Guówùyuàn liánfáng liánkòng gōngzuòjīzhì
The Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council, launched in Jan 2020;
an institutional arrangement made by the Chinese government, focusing on the mission of epidemic prevention and control.

健康管理 Jiànkāng guǎnlǐ
Health management.

健康码 Jiànkāng mǎ
Health Code. Within eight weeks after the start of the initial Wuhan Covid outbreak, Alibaba (on Alipay) and Tencent (on WeChat) developed and introduced the ‘Health Code,’ a system that gives individuals colored QR codes based on their exposure risk to Covid-19 and serves as an electronic ticket to enter and exit public spaces, restaurants, offices buildings, etc., and to travel from one area to another (read more here).

解封 Jiěfēng
Lift the lockdown. “Wuhan Lifts the Lockdown” (#武汉解封#) went trending on Chinese social media in April of 2020 after the city reopened, celebrating the event with a spectacular midnight light show.

就地过年 Jiùdì guònián
Staycation; staying put for the holidays. Refers to people staying home for Chinese New Year instead of traveling long distance to spend the Spring Festival with their family. This word became especially relevant during the Spring Festival of 2021 (read more).

口罩 Kǒuzhào
Face mask.

逆行者 Nìxíngzhě
Those fighting back. This is a buzzword from 2020 often used by state media to describe frontline workers and others as the ‘people going backward’, referring to those who dare to go back and face problems when everyone else is turning away.

气溶胶 Qìróngjiāo

人际交往 Rénjì jiāowǎng
Interpersonal Interaction; Social contact.

人民至上 Rénmín zhìshàng
“Put the people in the first place.” As explained in this article by What’s on Weibo, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a speech in May of 2020 including a segment about “our people come first, people’s lives come first, and the safety and health of our people should be secured at all costs.” “Put the people in the first place” has since become a widely circulated slogan and guiding principle for government and society to combat Covid-19 across the country.

社交距离 Shèjiāo jùlí
Social distance.

新冠肺炎 Xīnguān fèiyán
Novel Coronavirus; New Corona pneumonia.

新型冠状病毒 Xīnxíng guānzhuàng bìngdú
New Coronavirus; Covid-19.

疫情 Yìqíng

疫情期间 Yìqíng qíjiān
During the epidemic.

远程办公 Yuǎnchéng bàngōng
Working from home.

娱乐场所 Yúlè chǎngsuǒ
Places of entertainment.

云监工 Yún jiāngōng
‘Cloud Supervisor.’ This a new word to refer to the people “supervising” (i.e. witnessing and cheering for) the rapid construction of the Huoshenshan and Leishenshan makeshift hospitals in Wuhan via the government’s cloud online streaming of the construction site.

网课 Wǎng kè
Online classes.

无接触配送 Wú jiēchù pèisòng
Contactless delivery.

无症状 Wúzhèngzhuàng

无症状感染者 Wúzhèngzhuàng gǎnrǎnzhě
Asymptomatic infected person. This refers to people who test positive for Covid but show no clinical symptoms (this is different from 确诊病例 quèzhěn bìnglì, a confirmed Covid case showing symptoms).

行程码 Xíngchéngmǎ
Travel Code. Full word is 通信大数据行程卡, ‘Telecommunications Big Data Travel Card,’ better known as the ‘green arrow code,’ which tracks users’ travel history and is also available inside WeChat or can be downloaded as a standalone app. Its goal is to track if you’ve been to any medium or high-risk areas over the past 14 days. The Travel Code was officially taken offline on December 13, 2022.

直播带货 Zhíbò dàihuò
Livestream commerce. Live streaming commerce was already popular in China, and the epidemic pushed the popularity of shopping by watching livestreams to the next level.




爱心蔬菜礼包 Àixīn shūcài lǐbāo
So-called ‘Grocery care packages,’ also 大礼包 dàlǐbāo, are some grocery supplies provided by the government. These ‘care packages’ became a ubiquitous phenomenon in many areas across China where people were in high-risk, locked-down areas. While many struggled to get (online) groceries at normal prices, local governments sent out boxes or bags filled with vegetables, meat, noodles, fruit and snacks to make sure households had some food to get them through the next few days.

被封闭 Bèi fēngbì
Being locked down.

被弹窗 Bèi dànchuāng
Getting popped up. This phenomenon happens when residents receive a much-dreaded “pop-up message” on their mobile phone via their Health Code app. This means that the app – through the use of big data and the monitoring of people’s status and movements – has determined that you’re a possible contagion risk based on where you went at what time. People who received the pop-up message are supposed to report to their community/hotel/school so that the relevant departments can conduct a “risk check.” The pop-up window will not disappear until individuals are officially no longer considered a contagion risk (read more).

被拉走 Bèi lāzǒu
Being dragged away; taken off. This word was especially used during the Xi’an lockdown when people expressed fears of being taken away to a centralized quarantine location after the sudden quarantine of the city’s Mingde Bayingli Community.

闭环管理 Bìhuán guǎnlǐ
Closed loop management. The ‘Covid-19 closed-loop management’ (新冠疫情闭环管理) has been applied to various areas when there were new local cases of COVID-19. It means that people belonging to a certain (work) group are only allowed to move between designated venues for work, living, eating, through a dedicated transport system. This word became especially known because the 2022 Olympics in China also used this style (read here).

闭环作业的高风险岗位 Bìhuán zuòyè de gāo fēngxiǎn gǎngwèi
High-risk positions in closed-loop operations.

毕业 Bìyè
‘Graduate.’ In Covid times, this term was used by patients who were allowed to leave the Fangcang (quarantine hospital).

仓主 Cāngzhǔ
Someone who is at a Fangcang (quarantine hospital).

出舱 Chūcāng
Leaving the fangcang. Also referred to as a ‘graduation’ 毕业 (Bìyè).

春耕证 Chūngēngzhèng
‘Spring Ploughing Permit.’ This is a permit that was introduced in rural areas in Covid lockdown times to allow local farmers to go out into the fields to work despite epidemic restrictions.

大白 Dàbái
Big white; anti-epidemic worker. In early 2022, the anti-epidemic workers dressed in white hazmat suits were more commonly referred to as ‘dàbái,’ an and affectionate nickname that literally means “big white.” In the Chinese version of the 2014 Disney movie Big Hero 6, the healthcare-robot Baymax is also called Dàbái. For more about public attitudes toward dabai in early 2022, see this article.

单独舱室的集中隔离点 Dāndú cāngshì de jízhōng gélídiǎn
‘Separate Compartment Concentrated Isolation Point’; isolation site with separated cabins. Also known as “单人单间”集中隔离 [“Dānrén dānjiān” jízhōng gélí, lit “Single room” Centralized Isolation] or 单人单间隔离 [Dānrén dānjiàn gélí, Single Room Isolation].

单人单管 Dānrén dānguǎn
Individual test; single tube test. This is a single, individual Covid test whereas ‘pooled sample testing’ (see 混合采样 hùnhé cǎiyàng) takes samples from multiple people, storing the result in batches, or pools, and then testing each pool.

点式复工 Diǎnshì fùgōng
Point-based work resumption. An active policy introduced in spring of 2022 for people holding key positions at companies within the non-manufacturing sector that are resuming work. According to the ‘point-to-point’ (点对点) strategy, employees are either staying within the closed loop of their workplace or within the premises of their community. They can only return to their workplace once a month, and are not allowed to stay longer than one week (read more).

低风险地区 Dī fēngxiǎn dìqū
Low risk area, which is the lowest classification compared to “medium-risk areas” 中风险地区 and “High-risk areas” 高风险地区.

动态清零 Dòngtài qīnglíng
Dynamic zero; Dynamic Zero Covid policy.

囤货模式 Dùnhuò móshì
Hoarding mode. Referring to the panic buying taking place in several places, such as in Chengdu, right before a lockdown.

方舱隔离点 Fāngcāng gélídiǎn
Fangcang isolation point; quarantine center.

放毒 Fàngdú
Spreaders. Negative online slang word to refer to ‘spreaders’, those Covid-positive persons who infect others. The word fàngdú literally means to poison or to spread malicious rumors.

非必要不出门 Fēi bìyào bù chūmén
Do not go out unless necessary.

封锁式隔离 Fēngsuǒshì gélí
Locked isolation.

高风险地区 Gāo fēngxiǎn dìqū
High-risk district.

高风险区外溢人员 Gāo fēngxiǎnqū wàiyì rényuán
People who come from a high-risk area (return).

隔离点 Gélí diǎn
Isolation point.

隔离方舱 Gélí fāngcāng
Isolation Fangcang.

隔离围挡 Gélí wéidǎng
Isolation fence.

共存派 Gòngcúnpài or 开放派 Kāifàng pài
The group of people in society who want to open up and live together with the virus. They’re the opponents of the 清零派 qīnglíngpài, who oppose opening up the country and advocate persisting in the fight against Covid.

核酸检测 Hésuān jiǎncè
Nucleic acid test; RT-PCR test. Not to be confused with the Rapid PCR test or antigen test (抗原检测 kàngyuán jiǎncè).

核酸点位 Hésuān diǎnwèi
Nucleic acid test site.

核酸地图 Hésuān dìtú
Nucleic acid test map. A map that shows where you can get a nucleic test. Officially launched by Gaode in May of 2022.

核酸亭 Hésuān tíng
Nucleic acid booth. Also called: hésuān cǎiyàng xiǎowū (核酸采样小屋), ‘nucleic acid sampling cabin’

核酸阴性检测证明 Hésuān yīnxìng jiǎncè zhèngmíng
Negative nucleic acid test certificate.

混合采样 Hùnhé cǎiyàng
Pooled sample testing; Mixed testing; also called 混采 hùncǎi. Nucleic acid testing is done as single or mixed according to the risk level of the target population. For example, those in quarantine locations or high-risk areas will always be tested individually but when the area is low risk, ten or twenty results can be mixed and tested together. When paying for own tests, pooled testing is also cheaper.

检查站 Jiǎncházhàn

静默管理 Jìngmò guǎnlǐ
Quiet management; silent management. This concept was introduced as a ‘soft lockdown’ but it is actually also a pretty strict, region-wide static management, which allows people to only leave their homes, units, or communities for nucleic acid testing, or unless absolutely necessary. The purpose is to prevent people to leave their homes for non-essential matters in order to quickly trace down new infections and to prevent Covid from spreading beyond a high-risk area.

静态管理 Jìngtài guǎnlǐ
Static management. This is a kind of lockdown that is stricter than ‘quiet management’ (静默管理 jìngmò guǎnlǐ) and severely limits the flow of people and vehicles in a high-risk area, and suspends all businesses in the area except for supermarkets, pharmacies, and medical institutions.

精准防控 Jīngzhǔn fángkòng
Precise prevention and control.

集中隔离 Jízhōng gélí
Centralized isolation.

居家静止 Jūjiā jìngzhǐ
‘Home lockdown’; ‘Home standstill.’ Another word to describe a lockdown during China’s Zero Covid, where there have been many different words to describe similar measures (also: 全域静默, 静态管理, 停止一切非必要人员流动).

居民出入证 Jūmín chūrù zhèng
Residents’ entrance and exit permit. During lockdowns, this permit allowed residents to go out once per day (one person per household) for two hours, allowing residents to do essntial shopping or other activities.

科学精准 Kēxué jīngzhǔn
Scientific and precise. Used in the context of carrying out epidemic prevention measures in a scientific and precise manner.

临时被封闭 Línshí bèi fēngbì
Temporarily locked down.

绿马 Lǜmǎ
Green horse. ‘Green Horse’ in Chinese sounds exactly the same as the word for ‘green code’ (绿码), referring to the green QR code in China’s Covid health apps. The phrase “Bàozhù lǜmǎ” (抱住绿码/马) became popular on Chinese social media, a wordplay meant to mean both “Keep your code green” as well as “Hold on to your Green Horse” (read more).

密切接触者 Mìqiè jiēchùzhě
Close contact.

密接的密接 Mìqiè de mìqiè
Close contacts of close contacts. This is just one among the many words to label those who have might come across someone who tested positive for Covid in various ways (密接、二代密接、次次密接、次次次密接、一般接触者、同性密接、异性密接、同城密接、同层密接、同楼密).

强制隔离 Qiángzhì gélí
Mandatory quarantine.

清零 Qīnglíng or 清零政策 Qīnglíng zhèngcè
Zero Covid policy.

清零派 Qīnglíngpài
The “Zero School”, or the “Zero Covid Faction”, referring to those people who oppose opening up the country and advocate persisting in the fight against Covid. They’re the opponents of the 共存派 gòngcúnpài or 开放派 kāifàng pài, who advocate opening up and living together with the virus.

气泡式管理 Qìpào shì guǎnlǐ
Bubble-style management. This term was especially used for the Winter Olympics, where participants were only allowed to move between Games-related venues for their training, catering, accommodation, etc. through a dedicated Games transport system. Participants were not allowed to leave their designated areas. But the term also popped up again in May of 2022 to announce new measures in order to allow production to continue at factories and other businesses (read more).

全员核酸筛查 Quányuán hésuān shāichá
Nucleic screenings for Covid.

入境航班熔断机制 Rùjìng hángbān róngduàn jīzhì
Circuit breaker measures for scheduled international passenger flights. To prevent the cross-border spread of Covid-19, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued an official notice on the Adjustment of the Circuit Breaker Measures for International Passenger Flights, which imposed circuit-breaker measures on scheduled international passenger flights with a high risk of spreading the pandemic, from 8 June 2020. The so-called “circuit breaking mechanism” under which China-bound flight routes were suspended for two weeks if an airline was found to carry a certain number of passengers testing positive for Covid was abolished in November of 2022.

社会面清零 Shèhuìmiàn qīnglíng
Zero covid on the society level; safe social surface. This is a word that was mainly used during ‘zero Covid’ in 2022 and refers to a degree of control on the spread of Covid within the communities. This means that all those who test positive are in isolation or within closed-loop systems and that they are unable to infect others, which is equivalent to a ‘safe social surface.’ This word was also used when the big Xi’an outbreak was largely contained in the city’s main communities after two weeks of lockdown, during which over 42,000 people were quarantined and brought to other locations.

时空伴随者 Shíkōng bànsuízhě
‘Time-space Company.’ Refers to those who have been near a confirmed Covid patient in time and space; meaning that within a time frame of fourteen days a person has spent more than ten minutes with a confirmed Covid case within a distance of 800 meters. This means the ‘Health Code’ could turn to yellow.

四早 Sì zǎo
Four early: early detection, early reporting, early isolation, early treatment

躺平派 Tǎngpíngpài
The ‘lie flat group,’ referring to those who want to give up all measures and give up the fight against Covid. ‘Lying flat’ (tǎngpíng) is a word that has been around for much longer but it has come to take on a different meaning during the pandemic. For more about China’s Lying Flat momevement, check our article here.

铁网 Tiěwǎng

通行证 Tōng xíng zhèng
Pass to enter. In Covid times, this mainly refers to a permit to allow cross-provincial travel and business (i.e. freight vehicles and such).

围合管理 Wéi hé guǎnlǐ
Enclosed managament. This officially is not a ‘lockdown’ but it means that a certain residential area of community is fenced off, with checkpoints at the community entrance and exit. Both people and vehicles can enter and exit with a permit. People who do not live or work in the enclosed area are not allowed to enter.

严防 Yánfáng
Take strict measures.

羊/🐑 Yáng
Literally means ‘sheep’ but has come to be used to refer to someone who tested positive for Covid, since the word for ‘positive’ (阳) sounds the same.

阳了 Yáng le
Tested positive.

阳性 Yángxìng
Covid Positive.

疑似病例 Yísì bìnglì
Suspected case.

永久性方舱医院 Yǒngjiǔxìng fāngcāng yīyuàn
Permanent shelter hospitals; permanent fangcang hospitals. This term was introduced in May of 2022 and is somewhat contradictory as a concept, since ‘Fangcang hospitals’ are actually defined by their temporary nature. The term came up when Chinese authorities emphasized the need for China’s bigger cities to build or renovate existing makeshift Covid hospitals, and turn them into permanent sites (read more).

原则居家 Yuánzé jūjiā
Stay at home in principle; Ordered stay-at-home. Term used authorities instead of ‘lockdown’ in the second half of 2022.

硬隔离 Yìng gélí
Hard isolation; Fenced isolation. While some Shanghai households had already endured weeks of isolation, a new word was added to their epidemic vocabulary in April of 2022: ‘hard isolation’ or ‘strong quarantine.’ The word popped up on Chinese social media on April 23rd after some Shanghai netizens posted photos of fences being set up around their community building to keep residents from walking out. Read more about ‘hard isolation’ here.

应检尽检 Yīng jiǎn jǐn jiǎn
Whoever should be tested, should be tested as much as possible; all those who need it, need to be tested.

医院非绿码医疗救治 Yīyuàn fēi lǜmǎ yīliáo jiùzhì
Non-green code medical treatment. Referring to the medical treatment of those whose Health Code apps do not show a ‘green code’, meaning they potentially are at risk of having been in contact with someone who is Covid-positive. (Also: “非绿码”患者的医疗救治.)

小阳人 Xiǎo yángrén
Little positive people, also little sheep people; used to refer to people who tested positive for Covid in a joking and somewhat deregatory way.

新冠肺炎疫情地图 Xīnguān fèiyán yìqíng dìtú
Covid outbreak map, also: ‘epidemic map’ 疫情地图 yìqíng dìtú.

暂时隔离 Zhànshí gélí
Temporary isolation / lockdown.

中风险地区 Zhòng fēngxiǎn dìqū
Medium-risk area.

自我隔离点 Zìwǒ gélí diǎn
Self-isolation site.

做核酸 Zuò hésuān
Do a nucleic acid test.




奥密克戎病毒 Àomìkèróng bìngdú
Omicron Virus.

布洛芬 Bùluòfēn

长期新冠 Chángqí xīnguān
Long Covid.

初阳权 Chū yáng quán
‘The privilege to infect someone.’ This word, which went trending on Chinese social media in December of 2022, consists of three characters literally meaning ‘first positive right.’ At a time when one person after the other tests positive for Covid, it is an ongoing joke about who has the privilege to infect another person with Covid. It is a wordplay on 初夜权 chūyè quán, ‘right of the first night’ (droit du seigneur), and – tongue in cheek – suggests that nobody else but the husband has the right to infect their wife with Omicron. The main idea is that everyone will inevitably get infected anyway, so it’s better the be infected by someone you love.

毒株 Dúzhū
Virus strain.

发烧 Fāshāo
Run a fever.

复阳 Fùyáng
To test positive again. This word, which literally means ‘repeat positive,’ is not the same as being ‘reinfected’ or getting Covid a second time. Instead it refers to testing positive after initially testing negative, with a likely reason being that the body has not cleared the virus yet.

发热门诊 Fārè ménzhěn
Fever clinics.

感染高峰 Gǎnrǎn gāofēng
Infection peak.

黄桃罐头 Huángtáo Guàntóu
Canned yellow peaches. One of the ‘food remedies’ that became exceptionally popular during the Covid outbreak (read more).

加强针 Jiāqiáng zhēn
Booster shot.

检测结果呈阳性 Jiǎncè jiéguǒ chéng yángxìng
Positive Covid test.

急诊室 Jízhěn shì
Emergency room.

急转弯 Jízhuǎnwān
Sudden turn; sharp turn. Often used in the context of the shift from zero Covid policy to easing measures.

居家隔离 Jūjiā gélí
Home isolation; home quarantine.

居家健康监测 Jūjiā jiànkāng jiāncè
Home health monitoring.

抗原检测 Kàngyuán jiǎncè
Antigen test.

连花清瘟 Lianhua Qingwen
Traditional Chinese medicine Lianhua Qingwen (连花清瘟), a herbal pill by Yiling Pharmaceuticals which is used for the treatment of influenza as well as Covid.

盲目囤药 Mángmù dùnyào
Blindly hoarding medicine.

临时接种点 Línshí jiēzhǒngdiǎn
Temporary vaccination sites.

流动接种车 Liúdòng jiēzhǒngchē
Mobile vaccination vans.

绿色通道 Lǜsè tōngdào
Green channels (for vaccination). Meant to speed up vaccination rates among the eldery by giving them priority status.

盲目吃药 Mángmù chī yào
Take medicine blindly; take too many medicines or to take them the wrong way.

免疫系统 Miǎnyì xìtǒng
Immune system.

免疫力 Miǎnyìlì

前疫情时代 Qián yìqíng shídài
Pre-pandemic era.

全面放开 Quánmiàn fàngkāi
Full liberalization; complete opening-up.

唐飞 Tángfēi
This word refers to the two sides in Chinese society when it comes to Covid policies, with one supporting ‘zero Covid’ while the other side advocates living together with the virus and opening up. The first group calls the others 躺匪 tǎngfěi, ‘lying bandits’ (who support ‘lying flat’ and living with the virus), of which the pronunciation in standard Chinese is similar to 唐飞 tángfēi, a homophone which has come to be used as online slang.

退烧 Tuìshāo
Reduce fever.

吞刀片 Tūn dāopiàn
Swallowing blades. One of the well-known Covid-19 symptoms where the throat feels so painful that netizens have come to describe it as “swallowing blades,” which has now become a common way to describe the symptom.

新十条 Xīn shítiáo
Ten new rules. Referring a 10-point plan addressing changes in Covid measures, and basically annoucning the end of ‘Zero Covid’ (read more here).

阳康 Yángkāng
Recover from Covid. This 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 fictional character in Jin Yong’s The Legend of the Condor Heroes martial novel, namely 杨康 Yáng Kāng (read more).

优化核酸检测 Yōuhuà hésuān jiǎncè
Optimized nucleic acid testing.

政治出柜 Zhèngzhì chūguì
Political coming-out. This term came up after the protests of November 2022 and refers to people showing their political position or views to those around them, usually in social media settings. It mostly refers to ‘coming out’ about being pro-opening up or for sticking with ‘zero Covid.’ Read more here.

自费采样点 Zìfèi cǎiyàng diǎn
Self-paid testing point.

(This article is still being updated.)

By Manya Koetse 


Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Continue Reading

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

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.


Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Continue Reading

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay updated on what’s trending in China & get the story behind the hashtag

Sign up here to become a premium member of What’s on Weibo today and gain access to all of our latest and premium content, as well as receive our exclusive newsletter. If you prefer to receive just our weekly newsletter with an overview of the latest, you can subscribe for free here.

Get in touch

Would you like to become a contributor, or do you have any tips or suggestions for us? Get in touch with us here.

Popular Reads