Face, B face, 13 face, and C face

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A student called my attention to this cloying glorification of PRC President Xi Jinping:

The Chinese title of the video, produced by CCTV (China Central Television [China's state television broadcaster]) is "Jiā guó tiānxià《家国天下》("Family, Nation, All under Heaven") — you can see where that's headed!

After fighting off an intensely ròumá 肉麻 ("nauseating") feeling from watching this slick advertisement of Xi Dada, I started to read the comments and was stumped by this one:


If we take away the "C", we are left with:

liǎn dōu bùyàole 脸都不要了 ("doesn't even want any face")

This is a transformation — preposing the object and further emphasizing it with "dōu 都" ("[at] all") — of:

bùyào liǎn 不要臉 ("doesn't want any face", i.e., "has no sense of shame; shameless")

Everybody who has studied one or two years of Mandarin knows this expression, since it is one of the most common put-downs for a person who behaves brazenly beyond what someone with a thick skin (hòu liǎnpí 厚臉皮) would do.

But what is the "C" doing there in front of "liǎn dōu bùyàole 脸都不要了" ("doesn't even want any face").  What kind of face is a "C face"?

First we have to understand what a "B face" is.  Here's the train of thought involved, as explained by a seasoned Chinese netizen:

C liǎn C脸 ("C face") is a kind of would-be civilized expression for B liǎn B脸 ("B face").

People sometimes say "nǐ bùyào liǎn 你不要脸" ("you don't want your face") to blame others who do shameless things. Nowadays, netizens often use this phrase to describe celebrities who are fond of zuòxiù ("make a show / publicity stunt"), just like this advertisement of Xi! Gradually, netizens started to put B (literally means bī 逼 ("female genital organ") in the middle of bùyào liǎn 不要脸 to emphasize the derision (bùyào b liǎn 不要b脸 or bùyào gè b liǎn 不要个b脸). But this is a dirty word.

The next step was for some netizens who pretended to be civilized to separate B to become 13, and say bùyào gè 13 liǎn 不要个13脸 ("don't want a 13 face"), also méi gè 13 shù 没个13数 ("don't have number 13"). Still later, some netizens used "c" to replace "b", since people could still understand their meaning, but there was no longer a dirty word in the phrase.

Relevant posts (to name only a few):

"Biscriptal juxtaposition in Chinese, part 2" (10/15/14)

"Niubi ("awesome") revisited" (9/17/15)

"You're a cow" (3/30/17)

"Beat of the person awarded" (6/12/14)

[Thanks to Nikita Kuzmin and Zeyao Wu]


  1. John Rohsenow said,

    February 21, 2018 @ 11:18 pm

    The character I learned for "female genital organ" was not 逼, but rather
    "body" over "cave".
    I guess I appreciate the thought behind substituting 13 for B, but I do
    wonder if there was anything more behind choosing C to replace B,
    especially for Chinese speakers familiar with a similar vulgar term in English.

  2. B.Ma said,

    February 21, 2018 @ 11:41 pm

    Hmm, I initially thought C was just 习 (i.e. Xi doesn't want face any more)

  3. Jonathan Smith said,

    February 22, 2018 @ 12:55 am

    Wow, excellent expressions. Though 没个13数 is the same operation on (心里)没数 'have no clue what's up', thus 'have no fucking clue what's up.' Love it

  4. Keeps Questionable Company said,

    February 22, 2018 @ 7:29 am

    @John Rohsenow: The substitution here of 逼 for 屄 struck me, too. The former is nowadays the most commonly seen, though, and most native speakers I ask or use it with don't even recognize the latter, so I guess he's just being descriptivist. Same with 操 for 肏. I stand with Settembrini, though.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    February 22, 2018 @ 7:38 am

    I wrote about all those other characters (and more) in the linked posts and in additional LLog posts throughout the years.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    February 22, 2018 @ 7:44 am

    "I stand with Settembrini, though."


  7. James Wimberley said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 5:32 am

    The emphasis on trees, leaves, flowers and grass is striking. It ties in with our previous discussion on the addition of "beautiful" to the Chinese Communist Party's constitution, as a high-level goal for China. All rhetoric of course, but it's dangerous for policy to diverge too far from rhetoric. Maybe Xi really plans to green China as his legacy.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 10:08 am

    @James Wimberley

    Thank you for your remarkable observations about the trees, leaves, flowers, and grass. As soon as I read them, I couldn't help but think of the recently unveiled official portrait of Barack and Michelle Obama, which has occasioned no little controversy, with people either loving it or hating it. For the record, I like it.

  9. Wombat Joey said,

    February 25, 2018 @ 7:03 pm

    Could the 'C' just have been a typo?

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