RUNning away from Shanghai

« previous post | next post »

New article in Shìjiè Rìbào 世界日報 (World Journal [5/12/22]):

"Tífáng mínzhòng luò pǎo? Zhōngguó yāoqiú: Cóngyán xiànzhì fēi bìyào chūjìng huódòng 提防民眾落跑?中國要求:從嚴限制非必要出境活動 ("Beware of people running away? China demands: Severe restrictions on non-essential outbound activities")

What we're seeing in this article and elsewhere online is the emergence of neologisms resulting from the extreme lockdowns in Shanghai during the last month and more.  The restrictions are so brutally draconian and the people are so desperate that they have begun to develop a science of how to escape.


rùnxué 潤學: Run-ology (studies in how to run away from Shanghai to go abroad)

This one is particularly interesting because the Mandarin word rùn 潤 superficially sounds (is spelled like) the English verb "run" and, in this case, shares semantic overlap as a neologistic borrowing.

Original meanings of rùn 潤:

  1. wet; moist
  2. sleek
  3. to moisten; to wet
  4. to polish (a piece of writing, etc.); to touch up
  5. profit (excess of revenue over cost)

Sarcastic borrowing from English run:

  1. (neologism, Mainland China, Internet slang) to run away; to flee
    /   ―  Hā rén, wǒ xiān rùn le.  ―  That's scary. I'm gonna run away.
  2. (neologism, Mainland China, Internet slang) to emigrate, usually in the context of leaving (running away from) mainland China for a foreign country
    大家指點如何加拿大[MSC, trad.]
    大家指点如何加拿大[MSC, simp.]
    Qǐng dàjiā zhǐdiǎn rúhé rùn qù Jiānádà? [Pinyin]
    Can people give suggestions on how to emigrate to Canada?



èyì chūjìng 惡意出境:  malicious / ill-intentioned exit / departure (from the country)

The reason why so many people are trying to get out of China at this particular time is that, in the runup to the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which will be held in the latter part of this year, there is intense speculation (almost a given) that Xi Jinping will be re-elected to an unprecedented third term as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, and / or will be newly elected as the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, a title that has not been used since 1982, and the highest position held by Mao Zedong. (source)  The main, and staunch, opposition to such moves is centered in Shanghai.  Many China watchers believe that the brutal lockdowns being imposed on Shanghai are intended to keep a lid on the rebellious mood of the city against Xi being elevated to a position that amounts to Supreme / Paramount / Highest Leader for Life.

Well, you can see where things are headed, and it doesn't look good.

The science of ill-intended departure.


Selected reading


  1. Daniel said,

    May 13, 2022 @ 12:03 pm

    The COVID-oriented, new-fangled neologismization in China’s government fiats and public discourses as well as in ordinary citizens’ daily communications (esp. online postings) vividly demonstrates an unprecedented dynamic of government-citizen relations. Indeed, it is a linguistic-ideological duel of wits between the government and ordinary citizens (esp. millennials and younger intellectuals) who are mounting a passive resistance in defiance of the Party’s tightening of civic control. The increasing neologismization in China’s government fiats and public discourses features a vocabulary of pseudo-legal and pseudo-scientific parlance (or patois, so to speak), which is essentially a political tactic of linguistic defamiliarization, linguistic gaslighting, and linguistic dictatorship, whereas the ordinary citizens’ reciprocal neologismization in their daily interactions helps expose government corruption which is rampant in its handling (or rather, mishandling) of the ongoing pandemic. Such grassroots neologisms form a vernacular patois that debunks government absurdity subtly, wittily, effectively, and compellingly.

  2. Calvin said,

    May 13, 2022 @ 1:10 pm

    There is another use/meaning of 潤, in Cantonese only:
    – Liver (in animal meat): e.g., 豬潤 (pig liver), 雞潤 (chicken liver)

    This is because the normal term for liver, 肝, is a homonyms of 乾 ("dry") that could mean exhaust or lacking. So an opposite word 潤 (wet, moist, profit) is used instead.

    Some other examples of this type of substitution:
    – Unoccupied house/seat: 吉屋/吉位, for 空 is a homonyms of 兇 ("haunted", "violent")
    – Chinese almanac 通勝 (literally "victorious in all things") instead of 通書 ("all knowledge book") that sounds the same as 通輸 ("defeated in all things"). 通書 itself is an archaic term – outside of Cantonese-speaking regions, it is commonly called 黃曆 ("yellow calendar") or 曆書 ("calendar book").

  3. Daniel said,

    May 13, 2022 @ 7:30 pm

    Some of the neologisms such as follows which are widely used amid the ongoing pandemic evoke nightmarish experiences or memories: guankong (管控; lit., manage and control), fangcang (方舱; lit., cubic cabin; i.e., concentration quarantine camp / shelter), rushixiaosha (入室消杀; lit.; entering the room to sterilize-kill [COVID] [but actually to vandalize and damage everything therein]). The mere mention of these pseudo-legal, pseudo-scientific, or pseudo-technical neologisms even triggers PTSD-like symptoms among ordinary citizens.

  4. Terpomo said,

    May 14, 2022 @ 8:40 pm

    This indeed seems like a purely orthographic borrowing to me; Mandarin 'ran' or 'ren' seem much closer to English 'run' in sound.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    May 18, 2022 @ 9:04 am

    Desperate to escape from China

    Watch the video.

RSS feed for comments on this post