Comrades, "hike up your skirts for a hard shag"

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President Xi Jinping is fond of calling on the Chinese people to "roll up our sleeves and work hard" ( qǐ xiùzǐ jiāyóu gàn 撸起袖子加油干 / 擼起袖子加油幹).  No sooner had Xi uttered this stirring pronouncement in a nationwide address at the turn of the year (2016-17) than it became a viral meme (here and here) that has inspired countless signs, songs, and dances; enactment; and also this one, presumably in a poorly-heated environment

Xi didn't just encourage people to roll up their shirt sleeves.  He himself famously rolled up his pantlegs:

"Why This Seemingly Innocuous Photo of Xi Jinping Is So Important:  A simple act of rolling his pants up — and holding his own umbrella — shows a president eager to show a common touch."

Matt Schiavenza, The Atlantic (Jul 23, 2013)

The picture, which shows Xi standing in the rain holding his own umbrella and with his pantlegs rolled up and looking very derpy, was taken by the official Xinhua News Agency during the president's trip to Wuhan, in Hubei province, in July 2013.  It might not seem like a particularly noteworthy photograph –- neither dazzling technically nor artistically framed.  But even when it was first released, foreign observers were surprised by the photograph, and it went swiftly viral on Chinese microblogging sites.  This image was particularly notable for the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement that arose during the Hong Kong protests of 2014 (see here and here).

Although, as is his wont with umbrella, pantlegs, steamed buns, favorite jacket, and so forth, Xi wanted it to come across as folksy, his choice of vocabulary and manner of expression put him on precarious ground.

In the first place, the normal, most common and straightforward way to say "roll up sleeves" in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) is juǎn qǐ xiùzi 卷起袖子 / 捲起袖子.  Xi, however, used a Northeastern Mandarinism which has nuances that are just asking for trouble:



Liāo 撩 and lū 撸 are two of those mysterious "physical action" verbs with initial liquid and first tone in Mandarin — untraceable to Middle Chinese.  Someone must hav written about that. The topic has come up on LL: see this comment by Bill Baxter.

The word for "sleeve" (xiùzǐ 袖子), in this context, might also be thought by some to have unwelcome overtones, since "cut sleeve" (duàn xiù 断袖) is an old euphemism for male homosexuality.  It doesn't help that a synonym for xiùzǐ 袖子 ("sleeve") is xiùguǎn 袖管 (lit., "sleeve-tube / pipe / duct"), which invites one to think of lūguǎn 撸管 ("rub the pipe", slang for male masturbation).

Next comes jiāyóu 加油, which literally means "add oil / gas"), but which is a common cheer at sporting events and in other situations where people exhort others "to make an all-out / extra effort" (see here and here).

And then there is the monumentally problematic gàn 干 / 幹 ("do; fuck" — frequently confused with gān 干 / 乾 ["dry"]), with which long-term Language Log readers will be intimately familiar.

"The Etiology and Elaboration of a Flagrant Mistranslation" (12/09/07)

"The further elaboration of a flagrant mistranslation" (8/31/13)

(and many other posts)

Taking the last two elements together, jiāyóu gàn 加油干 ("add oil and do it") in this context makes one think of personal lubricants (rùnhuá yóu / jì / yè 润滑油 / 剂 / 液).  (Since we're at it — milestones in the history of lube branding include things like júhuā yóu / yè 菊花油 / 液, or in [faux?] Japanese kiku no eki [??] 菊の液, playing on the Chinese [and apparently also Japanese] chrysanthemum~anus metaphor.)

Xi's phrase in its original context (8:44):  notice the extremely heavy stress on the gàn 干 / 幹 ("do; fuck").

With all of these suggestive hints prompting him, it was inevitable that a snarky wit would do something salacious with Xi's dorky call to action.  Few, however, would have expected that the person who rose to the challenge was a ranking member of the CCP, Zhang Haishun, top official of the Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.  And he did it not once, but twice, after which he was promptly dismissed from office.

Here's how Zhang ridiculed Xi:  liāo qǐ qúnzi shǐjìn gàn 撩起裙子使劲干 / 撩起裙子使勁幹 ("life up [your] skirt and do it for all [you're] worth").  The story is reported (in Chinese) here and here, and here.

A picture and fuller account is provided by Radio France Internationale.

Notice how the news items focus on the impropriety or indecency of Zhang's words, and on how it violates Party discipline, perhaps by mocking Xi's motto and exerting a "bad influence".  I see no mention of how disturbing a call to "lift up skirts" during a meeting he chaired can be to any female (or skirt-wearing) subordinates. Even if he wears a skirt to work himself, his position of power makes participation in the skirts-up implementation he advocates sound non-consensual. That Bureau might not be the ideal workplace for such a campaign.

The fuller context of Xi's slogan is as follows:

`Zǒng shūjì hàozhào “ qǐ xiù zǐ jiāyóu gān”, wǒ jú yào rènzhēn luòshí! Yào “liāo qǐ qúnzi shǐjìn gàn”!'


"The General Secretary called for 'rolling up sleeves to work harder', which our Bureau [of Quality and Technical Supervision] must conscientiously implement. Time to 'lift up skirts for a hard shag!'"

Who is this Zhāng Hǎishùn 张海顺, so full of chutzpah?  I haven't been able to find any English language description of the man, but there's a brief Wikipedia article on him in Chinese.  From all that I can glean, he is 59 years old, a Han from Shanxi.  He went to Inner Mongolia as a rusticated youth and studied in Qiqihar. Zhang majored in Chinese, and it shows: he has now achieved international fame as a poet-official.

The "rolling up" doesn't have to stop at sleeves. Now that "sumer is icumen in", everyone's rolling up their shirts. Western commentators never tire of commenting on that (the "Beijing Bikini") (witness the Gray Lady), which Chinese metacommentators then metacomment on.

A Beijing Bikini makes you a half bǎng yé 膀爷 ("shirtless dude"), which of late has been eliciting some Puritanical backlash.

Courtesy of Jichang Lulu, here are half a dozen Tibetan translations of Xi's " xiù gàn 撸袖干" ("roll up the sleeves and do it") slogan, from various official-ish sources:

phu thung brdzes nas ngar shugs sgrims

phu thung brdzes nas nus shugs 'don

phu thung brzes nas hur thag byed

phu thung brdzes nas 'bad brtson byed

phu thung brdzes nas 'bad brtson byas (te)

phu dung brdzes nas las la 'bungs

All the translations agree on the qǐ xiùzǐ 撸其袖子 ("roll up sleeves") part (phu [th|d)ung rdze), although they use two different spellings for "sleeve". For the second part (jiāyóu gàn 加油干), there are many different interpretations: 'bring forth power/energy', 'exert oneself'….

In Mongolian (from PRC sources, both in traditional script for domestic consumption and in Cyrillic for ("Outer") Mongolia):

ᠬᠠᠨᠴᠤᠢ ᠰᠢᠮᠠᠯᠠᠨ (ᠴᠢᠷᠮᠠᠢᠢᠨ) ᠠᠢᠯᠯᠠᠶ᠎ᠠ
Qancui simalan (cirmayin) ajillay-a

Ханцуй шамлан хичээн зүтгэ[е]
Ханцуй шамлан гавшгайлан ажилла[я]

where again there's universal agreement on the rolled-up sleeves, but the second half can be "exert ourselves", "work" in some gung-ho way, or just "work".

[Thanks to Jichang Lulu, Melvin Lee, Maiheng Dietrich, and Yixue Yang]


  1. D.O. said,

    July 23, 2017 @ 9:45 pm

    There is something wrong with sleeves…
    In Russian, закатать рукава /zakatat' rukava/ is literally "to roll up the sleeves" with the same metaphorical meaning of beginning to work harder, but alternative expression is засучить рукава /zasuchit' rukava/ with the first word meaning "pull up", but with obvious connection to the word сучить (very important: second syllable stress, let's leave the first syllable stress alone) with the meaning "to spin a yarn" (and several like that) and "to make short, frequent, vigorous movements" (you know what I mean, right?). But the word is also related to сука /suka/ "bitch" in all senses.

  2. Bloix said,

    July 24, 2017 @ 7:11 am

    "Lift up your skirts" might mean something like "gird up your loins," which has completely lost its literal meaning (except to people who like to look up the history of idioms) and has taken on a vaguely salacious connotation due to the word "loins."

  3. Christopher Coulouris said,

    July 24, 2017 @ 11:11 am

    Another interesting phrase with the word sleeve is 短袖/短袖之癖 which means make homosexuality. Pleco gives the origin of this phrase:

    lit. cut sleeve (idiom); fig. euphemism for homosexuality, originating from History of Western Han 汉书: emperor Han Aidi (real name Liu Xin) was in bed with his lover Dong Xian, and had to attend a court audience that morning. Not wishing to awaken Dong Xian, who was sleeping with his head resting on the emperor's long robe sleeve, Aidi used a knife to cut off the lower half of his sleeve.

  4. Christopher Coulouris said,

    July 24, 2017 @ 11:15 am

    I meant to type male homosexuality not make.

  5. ajay said,

    July 25, 2017 @ 4:45 am

    has taken on a vaguely salacious connotation due to the word "loins."

    Senator Smoot (Republican, Ut.)
    Is planning a ban on smut.
    Oh rooti-ti-toot for Smoot of Ut.
    And his reverend occiput.
    Smite, Smoot, smite for Ut.,
    Grit your molars and do your dut.,
    Gird up your l**ns,
    Smite h*p and th*gh,
    We'll all be Kansas
    By and by.
    – Ogden Nash

  6. Christopher Coulouris said,

    July 25, 2017 @ 3:40 pm

    Another mistake in my post should be 断 not 短.

  7. Mick O said,

    July 25, 2017 @ 4:17 pm

    In fairless, I'm mildly surprised that no one has called out Mr. Mair for the "ableist" term "derpy."

    "This offensive meaning for derp has pretty much taken over the word’s usage and anyone who uses it without that intention runs the risk of being misunderstood."

  8. Mick O said,

    July 25, 2017 @ 4:18 pm

    "fairless" is quite the typo in this context :-)

  9. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2017 @ 4:29 pm

    Some of the students who like me most call me "derpy", and they consider it a term of affection. One of them posted three corgis on my door in various stages of derpiness, and everybody thinks it's funny.

    Are you trying to tell me that "derpy" is outlawed and that I will have to forbid my students from referring to me with that term?

  10. Mick O said,

    July 25, 2017 @ 5:27 pm

    "Are you trying to tell me that 'derpy' is outlawed and that I will have to forbid my students from referring to me with that term?"

    If it were my responsibility to dictate what is acceptable and what was not, I would surely perish under the weight of conflicting social priorities. If I correctly understand the crucible that Mr. Pullum is traversing, defenses like "Some of the students […] consider it a term of affection" and "everybody thinks it's funny" could be considered to be problematic.

    I won't lose any sleep over it. Perhaps, it is nothing at all. The timing was what struck me. Apologies.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    July 25, 2017 @ 5:51 pm

    You won't lose any sleep over it, but should I?

  12. Bloix said,

    July 31, 2017 @ 9:01 pm

    Ajay, that's hilarious. Thank you for it.

  13. Bloix said,

    July 31, 2017 @ 9:10 pm

    Mike O – I have never heard the word "derpy" before today and have no insights about it. Maybe it does come from a cross-eyed My Little Pony figure. "Derp," on the other hand, meaning some false statement that continually gets repeated for ideological reasons even though it's been repeatedly disproved (e.g., 3 million fraudulent votes were cast in the 2016 election), comes from the South Park character Mr. Derp and has AFAIK nothing to do with the Derpy character.

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