Archive for Memes

"Lying flat" and "Involution": passive-aggressive resistance

In recent days, many people have called to my attention the phenomenon of tǎngpíng 躺平 ("lying flat") in the PRC.  At first I thought it was just another passing fad of little significance, but the more I hear about it, the more I realize that it is a viral trend having potentially unsettling consequences for the CCP.
One of my former students who is now living in China observes:

"Lying flat" used to be a common phrase referring to people vapidly lounging around with no particular deeper meaning. But now it’s becoming a trend for the younger generation who don’t want to make an effort to work so hard as they did in the past. This has become more popular since COVID-19 as more people start to work from home (I guess it’s not as intensive as what they are used to do in offices).

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"Involution", "working man", and "Versailles literature": memes of embitterment

Article by Ji Siqi in South China Morning Post (11/21/20):

"China’s frustrated millennials turn to memes to rail against grim economic prospects"

Chinese youth are venting their disillusionment with bleak job prospects and widening inequality with new memes and buzzwords online

The stinging online sentiment jars with the government line that China’s economic boom is creating opportunities for young people

The three terms we will focus on in this post seem simple and innocuous enough, but China's millennials put a sardonic spin on these expressions that turns them into subtle censure (which you're not supposed to do in China) against the socioeconomic conditions they face.

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Biden naming arcana

It has become a meme in China to make fun of people speaking with a Henan accent.  Here are two videos of women dancing and singing Christian songs in Yùjù 豫剧 ("Henan opera") that are circulating on the Chinese internet to the accompaniment of much merriment:  first (for Easter, eulogizing the scene of the Resurrection of Jesus; folkish), second (in praise of Jesus, with an industrial, commercial, official flavor).

Comment by a Chinese friend on the first song-and-dance:

Just think of saints who resurrect from tombs riding in sedan chairs carried by angels and flying to heaven in throngs! It makes me laugh so hard. The girl in red with a piece of cloth over her head is obviously a bride. So it becomes a scene of wedding in progressing to heaven. What a combination of local customs with religion!

Further remark by the same friend:

As for the second piece, it will work perfectly well if "Zhǔ 主“ ("Lord") is replaced by "Dǎng 党“ ("Party").

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Pandemic pun

Of the hundreds of pandemic memes that come to me, this is one that I didn't fully understand when I first received it:

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Shifting valences of "throwing the pot" in Chinese

There's an odd expression that has become virally popular in the PRC in recent weeks, viz., shuǎi guō 甩锅 (lit., "throw / toss the pot / pan", i.e., "shift the blame; pass the buck").

Expressions related to guō 锅 ("pot / pan") are not new.  For example, bèi guō 背锅 ("bear the blame"), and guō cóng tiān jiàng 锅从天降 ("accusation / blame coming from nowhere", lit., "pot falling from the sky").  Together with shuǎi guō 甩锅 (lit., "throw / toss the pot / pan") itself, they were popular long before their current application in connection with accusations of responsibility and culpability for the COVID-19 pandemic.

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"Crisis = danger + opportunity" in America and in PRC official media

From Gillian Hochmuth:

Thank you for your great explanation of the reasons behind the famous Kennedy "crisis" misquote. When I was in high school, I had a friend who was Chinese and spoke Mandarin fluently, who explained it to my US History class after the teacher quoted Kennedy. That was over 20 years ago and I remembered that his quote was wrong, but could not remember the explanation I was given well enough to explain it to someone else.

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