Arguably the hottest term on the Chinese internet these days is tǔháo 土豪 ("[local] tyrant / despot"), but transformed to mean "bling", and with a sharply satirical edge. How did tǔháo 土豪 ("[local] tyrant / despot") morph into "bling"? The story is told in "#BBCtrending: Tuhao and the rise of Chinese bling".
In Chinese "tu" means earth [VHM: "earthy; rustic; local; colloquial"], and "hao" means rich [VHM: a person of extraordinary powers or endowments; bold and unconstrained; unrestrained; forthright; literary giant; hero(ic); despot(ic); bullying; outstanding personage"]. To say someone is tuhao is to imply they come from a poor peasant background, and have made it rich quick – but don't quite have the manners, or sophistication to go along with it. It's like the term "nouveau riche", says Professor Steve Tsang at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies in Nottingham – but has even more negative connotations, suggesting a certain vulgarity.
[VHM: the usual way to say "nouveau riche" in Mandarin is bàofā hù 暴发户 ("household / family that explosively becomes wealthy")]
"Tuhao" is actually an old word – dating back perhaps as far as the Southern Dynasty 1,500 years ago – but it has always meant something rather different. During the communist revolution, from the 1920s to early 1950s, it was widely used to refer to landholders and gentry who would bully those beneath them.
This new usage of the term took off in September after a widely-shared joke about a rich, but unhappy man, who goes to a Buddhist monk for advice, expecting to be told to live a more simple life. The monk replies instead with the phrase: "Tuhao, let's be friends!"…
This new application of tǔháo 土豪 falls into the pattern of creative use of superficially innocuous terms for critical purposes that we have often discussed on Language Log, most recently in posts such as these:
"Handy Nasty" (near the end)
Also see this New York Times article:
[h.t. Yao Hui]