Study hegemon

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Here's another example of Chinese writing frustration:

The character they are trying to write is bà 霸 ("hegemon; tyrant; autocrat; lord; ruler; oppressor; despot").  Here it joins with xué 学 ("study; learn; imitate; mimic") to form the term xuébà 学霸 ("study hegemon / overlord / master; super scholar; curve wrecker").

This is an interesting expression that I only started to hear being spoken among students from mainland China a few years ago.  Usually, even if there are twenty, thirty, or more students from the PRC in our department, they will only single out one as the xuébà 学霸 (study hegemon / overlord / master; super scholar; curve wrecker").  (For the last two years, it is very clear whom they consider to be THE study hegemon — no contest).  When I was at Dartmouth in the early 60s, we called such people "bookers".

What's really funny about this particular specimen of writing frustration is that the would-be xuébà 学霸 ("study hegemon") can't even write the title to which he / she aspires.  Admittedly, it is a relatively difficult character to write — I'm sure that many college students cannot produce it accurately; moreover, although it "officially" is supposed to have 21 strokes, many people count / write it as having 20 strokes.

The whole sentence in which it occurs is this:

Wǒ yào dàng xuébà 我要当学霸 ("I want to be the study hegemon")

That is followed by:

Suànle 算了 ("Forget it")

The caption at the bottom reads:

Xuézhā de bēi'āi 学渣的悲哀 ("The sorrow of the study dregs")

There are undoubtedly countless instances of such failures to produce intended characters.  Some of them become instant classics.

[h.t. Jinyin Cai]


  1. B.Ma said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 5:15 pm

    Is this meant to be a joke where the author is just pretending that he can't remember how to write it?

  2. John Rohsenow said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 5:55 pm

    Not being much into politics, the most common association of the character 霸for me is in 霸王别妃 , "Farewell My Concubine", the title of a well known Jingju opera, made famous in the West as the title of an award winning film.

  3. Michael Rank said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 6:32 pm

    What’s a curve wrecker? asks this perplexed Brit.

  4. Michael Watts said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 6:42 pm

    Michael Rank, a "curve wrecker" is presumably someone who, by virtue of their high scores, lowers everyone else's grades in a class where grades are assigned relative to the performance of the class ("on a curve").

  5. So Bo said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 6:49 pm

    @Michael Rank:
    I'd assume someone who wrecks the curve. In the US (and possibly elsewhere), many graded assignments are curved: the grade distribution is mathematically adjusted. There are various models for this (either resulting in a normal 'bell curve' distribution of grades or some other desired outcome). I'd think that the curve wrecker would be the one student that has so many raw points that the curve outcome isn't as favorable for the other students as it would be without that 'curve wrecker' included (for instance on a curve where the prof sets the highest raw score as 100% – if someone has a high raw score that might severely impact the grade of the other students).

  6. Jens Ørding Hansen said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 7:14 pm

    @B.Ma: Yes, it is.

  7. Victor Mair said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 8:23 pm

    Of course, as it stands now it's a joke. But if it didn't have a basis in reality, it wouldn't have started and it wouldn't keep going. Ditto for all the other specimens in this genre of writing frustration.

  8. David Moser said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 12:20 am

    Appropriate, since every student, even the 学霸, cringe before the threat of character amnesia. Here are some comments (paraphrased, from memory) said to me by one of the Chinese teachers in my overseas program (who shall remain anonymous): "You think the students feel pressure because of character writing? Think about us teachers! We put so much pressure on students to memorize the characters, and the students just assume that we can write every single Chinese character perfectly. Yet all the time I make a slip, or hesitate as I write some character on the chalkboard, and I think 'Oh dear, I hope the students didn't notice that!' We usually hide it from them pretty well, since it's such a loss of face to forget a character in front of the class. I'm usually okay with the characters in the prepared daily lessons, but I get nervous when a student raises their hand and asks me about some word that's not in the daily lesson plan. I sometimes stall for a few seconds while I mentally make sure I can remember how to write the character in question. But it's nerve-wracking. If a teacher outright forgets how to write a common character, students will recount that incident for days, maybe even for the rest of their lives, which would be a terrible humiliation for me!"

  9. Smith said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 9:01 am

    @John Rohsenow

    Politics, forsooth! And concubines, well of course, all very well and good, but those of us with an eye for a toothsome turbot, shcrumptious shrimp, or crepitating 鐵板 crab hear 霸 and waft happily away to the visionary spreads once laid on at the 海霸王 restaurants in Kaohsiung and Taipei. (On my last visit to the frozen north I noticed they're in Beijing now, too, but won't vouch for current offerings as I don't think I've been in one since about 1989.) I will always remember, as a callow youth new to such things Chinese, being amazed to see a 6-storey restaurant looming above me as I zoomed through the Zhongshan Beilu/Minzu Lu intersection on my way to Shilin. The name – Royal Hegemon of the Seas, or some such – made the character indelible in my memory. That "算了" bloke could have asked me!

  10. Jacob said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 4:45 pm

    The first example I saw of this – either on Wechat or MOP – was the above picture, supposedly found on the window of a cheap restaurant. 聘 (pin) is not as difficult to write as 霸, but it's a good candidate for amnesia. According to my dictionary, there's a phonemic element (甹 ping) that is used in other characters, but they all seem literary (and thus not a normal part of my vocab).

  11. Jacob said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 4:49 pm

    (I wish I could edit posts. Sorry for doubling up!)

    The picture I posted was especially funny for me, because I have made the first mistake as in the picture. I'm not sure if it's a statement on homophones or my choice of beverage that I would start to write the phonemic part of the first character 啤酒 (pijiu – beer) when writing about employment.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 7:19 pm


    Thank you very much for adding a nice specimen to our growing collection of examples of writing frustration.

  13. ChinookMan said,

    February 16, 2017 @ 10:33 am

    "Keeners" in Canadian English. "Grinds" at Columbia University in the 80s. But note the plurals: neither is construed as that one student who affects everyone else's grades.

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