13 4 / 2014
23 3 / 2014
Earlier this morning, I came across a piece in the Shanghaiist which referred to Jinan as a village (see here), and it made me very angry. Now, I know that the Shanghaiist is not the best source of news, and as its name suggests, its focus is primarily on Shanghai, but that doesn’t make me any less mad.
Jinan is the provincial capital of Shandong Province (situated roughly halfway between Beijing and Shanghai - the high-speed train link between these two cities actually goes through Jinan), and it is home to several million people. Admittedly, it’s not the most cosmopolitan of cities, but it’s a city nonetheless.
As one friend told me, in the Shanghaiist, anywhere that isn’t Beijing or Shanghai (and maybe Guangzhou) is considered to be a village, or a town if they’re feeling generous - an attitude which mirrors those I observed among many foreigners living in China.
Even in pieces you’d expect the author to have done a little more homework (such as this piece), you’ll still find the writing laden with essentialist assumptions and a failure to check even the simplest of facts. I am so tired of this notion that unless it’s a big shiny city which conforms to Western standards, it’s not considered to be on the map, and therefore not worth even looking up.
I am so sick of reading pieces which perpetuate the notion of the “inscrutable Chinese” and that China is an “alien world.” I also hate how we love to conflate the concept of “modernisation” with “Westernisation,” as though the only way to achieve modernity (also associated with “enlightenment”) is to become like us. Yet, paradoxically, we are so surprised when Chinese people show any signs of similarity. I mean, it’s almost like they’re human, too!
I also hate the way that Western media gets such a boner for anything that makes China look like some Orwellian dystopia (see here). I’m not saying that everything is all sunshine and daisies for the Chinese people, but I am often left with the impression that Western media would rather demonize China so that it can divert attention away from problems closer to home. I’ll admit, the situation in China regarding corruption, increasing social stratification, education, food scandals, censorship, air quality and human rights is generally worse than what happens here, but it’s not as though we still don’t have similar issues which desperately need improvement. The West is far from infallible.
So, please could everyone stop thinking that “China” is just one homogeneous blob which is inferior to the West and exists only in Beijing and Shanghai. And if everybody could also do a basic fact-check when writing about China (or anything, for that matter), that would be great.
21 3 / 2014
I recent uploaded a post about Internet Slang (see here) where I explain why river crabs and grass mud horses have become popular in online Chinese society. However, I forgot to explain that in this online world, the two have become mythologized:
River crabs represent “social harmony” (aka censorship)
Grass mud horses (usually depicted as llamas) originated as a clever way of swearing, but have come to represent all sorts of subversive elements online.
Not surprisingly, these two are seen as natural enemies and are often depicted as battling one another.
Song of the Grass Mud Horse (you will need to turn on annotations for English translations)
14 3 / 2014
A couple of weeks ago we were looking at the 土豪 phenomenon on the Internet, and I learned a lot of interesting new vocab:
土豪 (tuhao) originally meant “local tyrant,” and has become popularised on the Internet as a term referring to the newly-rich, uncultured and often tasteless members of society who simply throw money around.
草泥马 (cao ni ma) literally means “grass mud horse” and is a sanitised version of 操你妈 which means “fuck your mum”.
河蟹 (hexie) is a river crab, but has become a popular term online because it sounds similar to 和谐 (harmony). When things are censored online, this is because the government believes that they pose a threat to social harmony. So when a site is taken down, netizens say that it has been “river crabbed” (被河蟹了), i.e. it has been “harmonised” (被和谐了).
屌丝 (diaosi) means “loser” but its meaning has now evolved to refer to anyone who believes themselves to be downtrodden, socially insignificant and somewhat embittered, but often with a humorous tone.
宅男/宅女 (zhainan/zhainü) refers to guys and girls who are addicted to staying indoors, surfing the Net and playing video games.
Some slang also uses English letters - some, like GF/BF (girlfriend/boyfriend) are borrowed directly from English, but others are based on the pinyin, for example:
BT stands for 变态 (biantai - pervert).
CN stands for 操你 (cao ni - fuck you).
And others are number-based:
250 (er bai wu - idiot)
521 (wu er yi) because it sounds similar to 我爱你 (wo ai ni - I love you (this is also the reason why May 21 is a popular day to admit one’s love for another)).
1314 (yi san yi si) because it sounds like 一生一世 (yi sheng yi shi), which means “forever” or “for as long as I live”.
7456 (qi si wu liu) because it sounds like 气死我了 (qi si wo le) which means “I’m so pissed off” but I feel like it has a stronger meaning in Chinese.
The list goes on, and for anyone who would like to learn more, I’d suggest looking here…