Lately I've been trying to explain to my friends who don't know Chinese what fèihuà 废话 means. Basically it is composed of the two morphemes "waste / useless / abandoned / ruined / maimed" and "talk", i.e., "nonsense". To give a sense of its implications, here is a longer list of English definitions: nonsense, rubbish, garbage, bullshit, bunkum, buncombe, claptrap, blah, stuff, bunk, trash, guff, twaddle, tripe, bull, poppycock, inanity, piffle, yap, absurdity, empty talk, balderdash, yackety-yak, yak, yack, tootle, blab, haver, codswallop, prattle, gab, blabber, fiddlestick, fiddle-faddle, overtalk, babble, blather.
Fèihuà has become an important term in contemporary Chinese discourse for several reasons. The main reason for the centrality of fèihuà in current critiques of language usage is that the pronouncements of Chinese politicians and officials are perceived by large segments of the population as consisting almost entirely of this species of speech. This has resulted in two literary manifestations that satirize this type of vain, pompous posturing.
The most recent genre to hit the cultural scene is what is known as fèihuàshī 废话诗 ("nonsense poetry"). The hottest exponent of this genre is a poet called Wūqīng 烏青. Here's an example of his verse:
“Yī zhǒng lí”
Wǒ chīle yī zhǒng lí
Ránhòu zài chāoshì lǐ kàn dào zhè zhǒng lí
Wǒ kànjiàn tā jiù xiǎng shuō
Zhè zhǒng lí hěn hǎo chī
Guòle jǐ tiān
Chāoshì lǐ de zhè zhǒng lí dǎzhéle
Wǒ yòu kànjiàn tā, wǒ xiǎng shuō
Zhè zhǒng lí hěn piányi
"A Kind of Pear"
I ate a kind of pear
Later I saw this kind of pear in a supermarket
When I saw it, what I thought of saying is that
This kind of pear is really delicious
After a few days
This kind of pear was on sale in the supermarket
Seeing it once more, what I thought of saying is that
This kind of pear is really cheap.
China's netizens have enthusiastically joined in by adapting and parodying Wuqing's verse. But the visceral disenchantment with fèihuà had already begun over two decades ago with the "hooligan" author Wáng Shuò.
Wáng Shuò mercilessly satirized the Party fèihuà bullshit in his Qiānwàn bié bǎ wǒ dāng rén 千万别把我当人 (Please Don't Call Me Human ) — here is a scene in which a neighborhood committee official, overwhelmed by the august Party official visiting the main character's humble hutong (alley), delivers an insane stream-of-consciousness speech consisting almost entirely of the cliches of Party hackery (as usual, I present pinyin transcription, Chinese characters, and English rendering; this was done very quickly, so I cannot vouch for all of the tones, orthography, and translation, but I hope that at least it gives an idea of what the Chinese is like):
Jìng'ài de yīngmíng de qīn'ài de dǎoshī lǐngxiù duòshǒu yǐnlù rén xiānqū zhě shèjì shī míngdēng huǒjù zhàoyāojìng dǎ gǒu gùn diē mā yéye nǎinai lǎo zǔ lǎo yuánhóu tài shàng lǎo jūn yùhuángdàdì guānyīn púsà zǒng sīlìng, nín rìlǐwànjī qiān xīn wàn kǔ jīzhòngnánfǎn jīláo chéng jí jīxí Chéng pǐ jiān tiāo zhòngdàn téngyúnjiàwù tiānmǎxíngkōng fú wēi jìpín kuāngfú zhèngyì qù è chú xié qū fēngshī qū xū hán zhuàng yáng bǔ shèn bǔ nǎo bǔtǐ yǎng gān diào wèi jiě tòng zhèn ké tōng dàbiàn bǎi máng, què hái qīnshēn qīnzì qīnlín lìlín jiànglín guānglín shìchá guānchá jiūchá jiǎnchá xúnchá tànchá zhēnchá cháfǎng fǎngwèn xúnwèn wèiwèn wǒmen hútòng, zhè shì duì wǒmen de jùdà guānhuái jùdà gǔwǔ jùdà biāncè jùdà ānwèi jùdà xìnrèn jùdà tǐtiē jùdà táijǔ. Wǒmen zhèxiē xiǎo mín cǎomín jiànmín ér zǐ sūnzi xiǎo cǎo xiǎo gǒu xiǎo māo qúnméng yú zhòng dàzhòng bǎixìng gǎndào shífēn xìngfú shífēn jīdòng shífēn bù'ān shífēn cánkuì shífēn kuàilè shífēn quèyuè shífēn shòuchǒngruòjīng shífēn gǎn'ēn bù jìn shífēn rèlèi yíng kuàng shífēn xīncháo péngpài shífēn bùzhī shuō shénme hǎo, qiānyán wàn yǔ qiāngē wàn qū qiān shān wàn shuǐ qiān shēn wàn yín qiān dū wàn nóng qiān cí wànzì dōu huì chéng yījù xiǎngchèyúnxiāo shēngsīlìjié shēng zhèn huányǔ rào liáng sān rì zhènlóngfākuì jīngtiāndòngdì yuè'ěr dòngtīng měimiào wúbǐ lìng rén xīnzuì lìng rén chénzuì lìng rén sān rì bùzhī ròu wèi de shídài de zuì qiáng yīn: Wànsuì wànsuì wànwànsuì wànsuì wàn suì wànwàn suì!
敬爱的英明的亲爱的导师领袖舵手引路人先驱者设计师明灯火炬照妖镜打狗棍爹妈爷爷奶奶老祖老猿猴太上老君玉皇大帝观音菩萨总司令，您日理万机千辛万苦积重 难返积劳成疾积习成癖肩挑重担腾云驾雾天马行空扶危济贫匡扶正义去恶除邪祛风湿祛虚寒壮阳补肾补脑补体养肝调胃解痛镇咳通大便百忙，却还亲身亲自亲临莅临 降临光临视察观察纠察检察巡察探察侦察查访访问询问慰问我们胡同，这是对我们的巨大关怀巨大鼓舞巨大鞭策巨大安慰巨大信任巨大体贴巨大抬举。我们这些小民 草民贱民儿子孙子小草小狗小猫群氓愚众大众百姓感到十分幸福十分激动十分不安十分惭愧十分快乐十分雀跃十分受宠若惊十分感恩不尽十分热泪盈眶十分心潮澎湃 十分不知说什么好，千言万语千歌万曲千山万水千呻万吟千嘟万哝千词万字都汇成一句响彻云霄声嘶力竭声震环宇绕梁三日振聋发聩惊天动地悦耳动听美妙无比令人 心醉令人沉醉令人三日不知肉味的时代的最强音：万岁万岁万万岁万岁万岁万万岁!
Revered beloved eminent wise dear mentor teacher leader helmsman guide pioneer designer bright torch shining on vampires stick-to-beat-dogs daddymommy gramp-gram old-ancestor old-ape-monkey great high venerable lord Jade Emperor great king Boddhisattva Avalokiteshvara commander in chief, you daily order ten thousand affairs ten thousand hardships ten thousand pains accumulating heavy difficulties accumulating exertions producing illness accumulating habit producing obsession with duty shoulder bearing heavy burdens bounding-over-clouds-steering-mists heavenly-horse-coursing-through-space supporting the weak succoring the poor righting rightness bolstering justice eliminating evil eradicating deviance expelling wind-wet expelling weakness-cold fortifying the yang strengthening the kidney fortifying the brain repairing the body nurturing the liver adjusting the stomach dissolving pain suppressing cough unblocking bowel movement busy with a hundred things, extending great concern great encouragement great spur and whip great comfort great faith and trust great solicitude great regard. We these little folk like grass humble folk sons grandsons little grasses little dogs little cats hoi polloi stupid masses multitude citizens feel quite blessed quite moved quite discomforted quite undeserving quite happy quite like sparrows hopping with joy quite beside ourselves with attention quite endlessly thankful quite eyes filled with tears quite heart welling with emotion quite not knowing what to say, a thousand words ten thousand expressions a thousand songs ten thousand melodies a thousand mountains ten thousand rivers a thousand groans ten thousand sighs a thousand mutterings ten thousand grumblings a thousand phrases ten thousand words all gathered into one resounding through the clouds and mists voice crying strength exhausted voice thundering round the universe circling the beams three days stunning the deaf rousing the unhearing startling heaven shaking earth beautiful marvelous without compare intoxicating the mind three days insensible to the taste of meat the loudest sound of the age: may you long live long live long long live long live long live long long live !
(With thanks to Brendan O'Kane and Julie Wei)