Buzzwords of the year 2022 in China

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As you might expect, they mostly have to do with the pandemic.  Here are the top ten from Zhang Ru and Xie Anran, Sixth Tone, "The Chinese Online Slang That Took Over the Internet in 2022" (12/20/22):

1. tiān xuǎn dǎgōng rén 天选打工人

The chosen laborers

Derived from the Chinese term da gong ren — a self-deprecating slang term meaning “laborers” or “working people” — “the chosen laborers” refers to those workers whose residential compounds have not been locked down, allowing or forcing them to go to work every day. Some use the term sarcastically to express envy about their coworkers who can stay home, while other “chosen laborers” are just happy they can go out for a walk.

2. tuánzhǎng

Neighborhood ‘group-buying’ coordinator

Literally meaning “chief of a delegation,” the term originated during the Shanghai lockdown and refers to volunteers who coordinate “group-buying” orders in their neighborhoods. As the lockdown overwhelmed the city’s e-commerce services, millions of people organized “group-buying” with their neighbors to place bulk orders from wholesalers to ease food shortages. Known as tuanzhang in Chinese, their duties included liaising with suppliers, informing residents of delivery updates, and organizing volunteers to deliver the goods.

3. xīn néngyuán rén 新能源人

New energy human

China’s strict virus control policies required residents in many Chinese cities to provide a negative PCR test result from within the past 72 hours to access public transport and enter stores, office buildings, and other public venues. Social media users coined the term “new energy human” to liken themselves to a new energy vehicle that needs to be charged frequently.

4. Tuì! Tuì! Tuì! 退!退!退!


How do you vanish a foul presence in your life? In a viral video, a woman in a parking dispute was caught on camera stomping her feet, waving her arms, and repeatedly telling the other person to “begone.” The quirky repetition of the Chinese term tui tui tui reminded many social media users of a traditional ritual to ward off evil spirits, and the woman’s words were quickly turned into an incantation to protect users from bad luck or misfortune.

5. bǎi làn 摆烂

Let it rot

Literally meaning “put out to rot” in Chinese, bai lan refers to the practice, increasingly popular among young Chinese, of actively embracing a deteriorating situation instead of improving it. The phrase may have originated in NBA fan circles as a reference to the widespread practice of tanking a basketball game or season. Along with tang ping, or lying flat, it has become an anti-rallying cry of sorts for young people tired of social competition and feeling hopeless about the future.

6. wǒ zhēn de shuān Q 我真的栓Q

I have nothing to say

Literally meaning “thank you so much,” the term is now sarcastically used by Chinese social media users to express being speechless. Digital denizens originally created “栓Q” to joke about the English accent of Liu Tao, a farmer who claims to be a self-taught English enthusiast on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. Liu has accumulated over 2.6 million followers by sharing videos about his hometown in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, in Chinese and English.

[VHM: Here ("This real Man teach you 'Don't give up your English'") and here are two short videos of Teacher / Farmer Liu singing, one in a more classy mode, and one very folksy.]

7. hùliánwǎng zuǐtì 互联网嘴替

Online mouth double

Chinese social media users use the term hu lian wang zui ti to refer to people who share their opinion on something, but express it in a more eloquent way. Many netizens find it hard to express themselves clearly, or fear doing so. So, when they find someone who has spoken out on an issue they care about — such as on a TV show, in a media interview, or in an online comment — they call them their “mouth double,” as a way to express agreement and appreciation.

8. xiā xì nányǒu 虾系男友

Shrimp-like boyfriend

When eating shrimp, it’s best to ignore the head. And in China, a lot of people think the same about their boyfriends. A “shrimp-like boyfriend” is a man who has an average or below-average face, but an extremely desirable body. The term was first used by Chinese social media users to describe Li Dan, a popular Chinese standup comedian.

Besides “shrimp-like boyfriends,” young Chinese often also describe men as “dog-like boyfriends” — referring to someone who’s a devoted partner — or as a mature, considerate “father-like boyfriend.”

9. xuěgāo cìkè 雪糕刺客

Ice cream assassins

The term refers to ice creams or popsicles that look like average frozen treats, but come with a surprisingly high price tag. As Chinese ice cream brands invest more to become trendy online and raw material costs rise, the prices of some ice creams have risen as high as 20-100 yuan ($3-15). Consumers now warn each other to check price tags carefully, to avoid being “attacked” by these “ice cream assassins.”

10. diànzǐ zhàcài 电子榨菜

Cyber pickle

Sometimes, after a long day at work, all you want to do is grab some food, open your laptop, and chill. But what should you watch? Named zha cai, or pickled vegetables, a side dish that’s a fixture on Chinese dinner tables, cyber pickles are the perfect televised comfort food to accompany any meal. Ranging from American sitcoms like “Friends” or “How I Met Your Mother” to sudsy dramas like “Empresses in the Palace,” they're the embodiment of empty calories, but who’s counting?

In the Sixth Tone article, each buzz word or phrase is accompanied by a dramatic illustrative photograph (except one that has a very short video).  Remember, these are words and phrases, not characters.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Don Keyser]

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