Chinese buzzwords for 2023

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The Shanghai language and linguistics journal (some say it's a literary journal — I think it's none of these three "l's", but more of a sociopolitical magazine), Yaowen Jiaozi*, announced China's hottest words of the year.  

Leading the list is the amazing term "xīnzhì shēngchǎnlì 新质生产力" ("new quality productivity").  Naturally, it was coined by President Xi Jinping.

[It] captures a key shift in the nation's economic characters. This concept represents not just a leap in production methods, but a transformation toward technology-driven, high-quality growth. It's a language reflecting China's stride into an era of digital innovation.

[quoting "World's top words define essence of 2023", by Yang Jian, Shine (12/6/23), which is also the source of the other quotations in this post]

Next comes "shuāngxiàng bēnfù 双向奔赴" ("mutual effort toward a common goal"), which presented difficulties for the online translators:

Bing:  "go both ways" (!!)

Baidu:  "bi-directional travel"

GT:  "running in both directions"

DeepL:  "rush to the front in both directions; two-way rush to; bustle to; run in both directions"

[This term] has evolved from a phrase describing personal relationships to a diplomatic emblem of the Sino-American efforts to find common ground. It's a phrase that has evolved to include the spirit of cooperation between nations, symbolizing the importance of joint endeavors in global politics.

Equally treacly is "cūn chāo 村超" ("village super league").  I will spare you the struggles of the online translators, except for Deep L:  "village supremacy; village ultra; village superciliousness; village supersedes".

[This puzzler] leads us back to the grassroots level. This term, originating from the rural sports leagues in China, highlights the popularity of local sports and reflects a national push towards fitness and rural revitalization. It's a reminder of how traditional community values are finding new expression in contemporary society.

The tech world cannot be ignored.  It finds its representation in the lexicon with "réngōng zhìnéng dà móxíng 人工智能大模型" ("large-scale AI models"). 

In an era where AI such as ChatGPT is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, this term signifies the profound impact of machine learning and AI technologies on everyday life.

One of the most imaginative entrants is "tèzhǒngbīng shì lǚyóu 特种兵式旅游" ("commando-style tourism")

[This is] a trend highlighting the modern traveler's desire for efficient and immersive experiences. This term, originating from a military metaphor, showcases the evolving tourism landscape. The quest for diverse and authentic experiences now prevails over leisurely, conventional vacations.

The cultural shift towards celebrating individuality is represented by the phrase "xiǎnyǎn bāo 显眼包" ("noticeable characters"), which really stumped the online translators:

Bing:  "conspicuous bag"

Baidu:  "conspicuous bag"

GT:  "conspicuous bag"

DeepL:  "conspicuous bag; promotional bag; bag that makes the eyes pop (!); conspicuous package"

Once slightly negative, this term now positively identifies those who stand out for their uniqueness. It reflects a societal embrace of diversity and personal expression.

Conversely, "dā zi 搭子" ("companions") represents a new social relationship mode, emphasizing casual, pressure-free connections. 

Originating as a term for card game partners, it now refers to companions in various activities. It highlights how modern relationships are increasingly defined by shared interests rather than traditional bonds.

Finally, we have "qíngxù jiàzhí 情绪价值" ("sentimental value"), which is reflective of emotional intelligence. 

[This phrase] has transitioned from a marketing concept to describe an individual's ability to influence others' emotions positively. It highlights a growing societal focus on the psychological aspects of human interactions and the pursuit of a more emotionally fulfilling life.

Whew!  Wow!

A breathtaking tour of the Chinese WOTY scene for 2023.  I think that the Yaowen Jiaozi editors who had to present these terms to the public were under a lot of pressure to convey the excitement they engendered.

Compared to Oxford University Press's sexy "rizz" (short for "charisma") and other lively WOTYs of the English-speaking world, one might well think that English and Chinese occupy two different linguistic universes.


*yǎo wén jiáo zì 咬文嚼字 (lit., "bite words and chew / masticate characters", i.e., "literarism; chop logic; pay excessive attention to wording and choice of characters; to bite words and chew characters​; punctilious about minutiae of wording; to nitpick like a grammar Nazi; to talk pedantically")

This colorful expression dates back about a millennium, making it fairly young in the whole of the Sinitic lexicon.  When I learned it half a century ago, the third character was pronounced jué, making it hard for me to pronounce as jiáo.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Mark Metcalf]


  1. magni said,

    December 6, 2023 @ 8:42 pm

    It's funny what lengths authorities are willing to go to ensure that everything in simplified Chinese that's publicly accessible is in line with the party guidelines and, if possible, edifying. Wish them good luck in their efforts to do the same with AI-generated content.

  2. katarina said,

    December 7, 2023 @ 1:44 pm

    I'd translate the second term on the list, "shuāngxiàng bēnfù 双向奔赴", more literally as:

    "From two directions rushing to",

    with "a common goal" understood. Although I wouldn't have understood the cryptic 双向奔赴 "from two directions rushing to" if you hadn't explained it as "Mutual effort towards a common goal."

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