Last new term of the year in China

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Starting around a year or two ago, the expression "Zhào jiārén 赵家人" ("Zhao family member") emerged as a coded reference for politically powerful and wealthy elites in contemporary Chinese society.  See Kiki Zhao's penetrating post on the NYT Sinosphere blog:

"Leveling Criticism at China’s Elite, Some Borrow Words From the Past" (1/4/16)

For the literary background of "Zhào jiārén 赵家人" ("Zhao family member"), see this post:

"Lu Xun and the Zhao family" (1/5/16)

Now, at the tail end of 2016, we are blessed with a new derivative of "Zhào jiārén 赵家人" ("Zhao family member"), namely, hánzhàoliàng 含赵量.  I haven't seen any English translations of this term yet, so I'll just refer to it as "Zhaoness" in English for the nonce.

"Zhaoness" (hánzhàoliàng 含赵量) is a sophisticated concept.  Let me try to explain exactly what the Chinese term means and why it has become so popular all of a sudden.

hán 含 ("contain")

zhào 赵 ("Zhao" [family surname])

liàng 量 ("amount; quantity; measure; volume; capacity; quantum; estimate")

Thus hánzhàoliàng 含赵量 signifies the amount of certifiable Zhao family qualities / attributes / features / elements / traits / etc. that an entity (such as a person or a dog) possesses.

The amount of Zhao contained in a person indicates how close the relationship is between that individual and the Zhao family (i.e., the totality of ruling families in China).

There are two main reasons why China's netizens are so enamored of this new term.  The first is that they are constantly in search of ways to avoid internet censorship yet still say what they want to say.  Once the authorities realized that "xìng Zhào 姓赵" ("surnamed Zhao") and "Zhào jiārén 赵家人" ("Zhao family member") were being used to criticize the government, they naturally blocked all references to these terms on the Chinese internet.  By using "hánzhàoliàng 含赵量" ("Zhaoness"), China's netizens could continue to satirize the arrogance and privilege of China's rulers without getting blocked by the internet censors.

The second main reason why "hánzhàoliàng 含赵量" ("Zhaoness") has become viral is that, in addition to serving as a sharp barb against the corrupt and repressive rulers in the same manner that "xìng Zhào 姓赵" ("surnamed Zhao") and "Zhào jiārén 赵家人" ("Zhao family member") did, it is even more versatile than the latter two expressions since it can be applied to anybody. Someone's "hánzhàoliàng 含赵量" ("Zhaoness") could be 0, someone else's "hánzhàoliàng 含赵量" ("Zhaoness") could be 100, while the "hánzhàoliàng 含赵量" ("Zhaoness") of yet others could be anywhere between 0 and 100.  Pretty neat, eh?

We probably could extend this concept to Western names as well:  Windsorness, Saxe-Coburg-Gothaness, Hohenzollernness, Hanoverness….  This is fun!  Libermanness, Pullumness, Zimmerness….

[Thanks to Fangyi Cheng]


  1. AntC said,

    December 16, 2016 @ 10:17 am

    I think Stephen Colbert got there already with Trumpiness.

    And looking back on those explanations of Zhao family, are the "volunteer fifty centers" so very different from the mongers of fake news?

  2. Jonathan said,

    December 16, 2016 @ 10:54 am

    I think it's more fun if you use a family's home language's version of -ness: Hohenzollernheit, Bourbonité, etc.

  3. WSM said,

    December 16, 2016 @ 6:10 pm

    I wonder if "-ity" might be more appropriate (though more awkward in this case) for 量… I've always thought of "-ness" as corresponding to 性 – the quality / state of being something, rather the degree to which one is something.

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