Cannibalistic companies, countryside policies, a small abacus and a dead duck

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻


Welcome to this week’s Slow Chinese newsletter 每周漫闻. 

Here are my ‘words of the week’…

  1. Colloquialism: response to Kuaishou and Bytedance cancelling ‘big-small week’:

    吃人不吐骨头 (Chī rén bù tù gǔtou) - “cannibals that don’t spit out the bones”

  2. Useful three-character word: Update on local government vaccine policies

    土政策 (Tǔ zhèngcè) - ‘countryside policy’

  3. Diplomatic spat of the week: US-China

    小算盘 (Xiǎo suànpán) - “small abacus”, selfish calculations

  4. Scandal of the week: netizen reactions to Kris Wu #MeToo moment 

    死鸭子还嘴硬 (Sǐ yā zǐ hái zuǐyìng) - “a dead duck still has a hard beak”, can’t accept that he’s wrong, arrogant

Before that, here are two idioms from the media coverage of the catastrophic floods in Zhengzhou:

One about people and companies that did the right thing:

  • 一方有难,八方支援 (Yīfāng yǒu nán, bāfāng zhīyuán) - when disaster strikes in one place, help will come from all sides

    多位明星捐款驰援河南。“一方有难,八方支援”,河南加油 - many celebrities donated [cash and resources] to Henan. When disaster strikes in one place, help will come from all sides - come on Henan!

…The other about a minority of companies that did the wrong thing:

  • 吃人血馒头 (Chī rén Xiě Mántou) - ‘eating human-blood-soaked steamed bun’ - taking advantage of other people’s suffering (see last week’s newsletter)

    河南暴雨,康桥地产竟然吃“人血馒头”。借此打广告,被不少人谴责 - with the torrential rain in Henan, Kangqiao Real Estate shockingly took advantage of people’s suffering and leveraged the disaster as an advertising opportunity - which was condemned by many

This week’s word count: 

  • General business words: 6

  • Internet / social media words: 1  

  • Idioms: 9

  • Colloquialisms: 5  

  • Dialect words: 0 

  • Political phrases: 1 

  • Total: 22

1. Kuaishou and Bytedance: “cannibals that don’t spit out the bones” - 吃人不吐骨头 (Chī rén bù tù gǔtou)

Kuaishou and Bytedance announced they will cancel their weekend overtime policy on 24 June, and 9 July.

Both companies had previously embraced “big-small weeks” (大小周 - Dàxiǎo zhōu), with staff working six days every other week.

But the change is not good news for everyone:

网上有不少「打工人」认为取消大小周会大幅降低实际收入 - Many ‘working people’ have shared their concerns online that cancelling ‘big small weeks’ will have a big impact on their income

Reading into the debate there are some colourful colloquialisms, words and idioms.

Colloquial phrases

Two colloquialisms to talk about ruthless internet companies:

  • 吃人不吐骨头 (Chī rén bù tǔ gǔtou) - eating people and not spitting out the bones; ferocious, fierce

    国内的互联网企业就像是「吃人不吐骨头」的大型吸血鬼 - China’s internet companies are ferocious, massive blood sucking vampire machines

  • 解铃还须系铃人 (Jiě líng hái xū xì líng rén) - in order to untie the bell, the person who tied it is required; it’s best for the one that did it to undo it

    解铃还须系铃人,想要分析为什么取消大小周,我们必须先回答一个问题——为什么我们需要大小周?The companies that started this culture need to be the ones to fix it. In order to analyse why should 'the ‘big small week’ be cancelled, we first need to answer the question: why was it needed in the first place?

Useful words

  • 白嫖 (Bái piáo) - Internet word meaning ‘fans that take advantage of celebrities and don’t pay their way’; also ‘using the resources of others without paying’ - taking advantage (see 15 May newsletter)

    取消大小周,工作量不变,会不会变成被公司白嫖 - in cancelling the ‘big small week’ the volume of work will not change. Will it just become a situation where the companies are taking advantage of their employees and not paying them?

  • 狼性 (Láng xìng) - wolf-like characteristics, ‘wolfishness’; describing a company or team culture where people work hard, are a close-nit team (a ‘pack’) and are ruthless.

    抖音的“狼性”让曾试图保持“佛系”的快手发生了动摇 - the ruthlessness of tik Tok has knocked Kuaishou which was trying to take a more relaxed approach [see 19 June newsletter for more on 佛系]

  • 分水岭 (Fēnshuǐlǐng) - a watershed

    2017年末至2018年初被视作一道分水岭 - 2017 and early 2018 is seen as a watershed moment [in the Internet industry]


Chinese internet companies and their employees are at war:

  • 缠斗不休 (Chán dòu bùxiū) - fighting endlessly

    无论是日活用户、海外扩张,还是广告销售、直播电商,都是快手与字节缠斗不休的领地 - Kuaishou and Bytedance are in an endless battle, regardless of whether it is in winning more daily active users, expanding overseas, selling advertising or live-streaming e-commerce.

  • 争分夺秒 (Zhēngfēnduómiǎo) - racing against time

    “取消大小周”的争分夺秒背后,更加激烈的是雇主品牌建设比拼,和对同类优质人才的争夺 - behind cancelling the relentless racing against time of the ‘big small week’ is the even more intense battle to create their brands and their fighting for talent from the same pool of people

  • 棋输一招 (Qí shū yī zhāo) - losing a move [in chess]

    字节跳动员工为公司在抢速取消大小周上“棋输一招”感到遗憾 - it’s regrettable that Bytedance lost to Kuaishou after its move to cancel the ‘big small week’


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2. Update on local vaccine policies - 土政策 (Tǔ zhèngcè) - ‘countryside policy’

In last week’s newsletter it was noted that residents are not happy with discriminatory vaccine policies in some cities, complaining the policies were:

  • 一刀切 (Yīdāoqiē) - “one size fits all” - out of touch

This week the central Government waded in:


Vaccination should not be “one size fits all”. In terms of access [to places], the system should be one pass applies to all, and not adding passes / codes on top of other codes

This in an interesting idiomatic phrase:

  • 码上加码 (Mǎ shàng jiāmǎ) - ‘adding one code onto another code’, overcomplicating the system

Useful words

Some three-character combos to add to your repertoire for skilfully criticising government policy.

  • 土政策 (Tǔ zhèngcè) - ‘local policy’ ‘countryside policy’ - not sophisticated, ridiculous

    “土政策”下证明会不会变成一种奇葩证明 - will the proof to be provided under this countryside policy become a pointless document?

  • 敲黑板 (Qiāo hēibǎn) - ‘knocking the blackboard’; Internet slang for highlighting what the priority is

    有的地方不得不在“原则上”这三个字上“敲黑板” - in addition to the ‘principals’ some local governments must understand what the real priorities are

  • 下台阶 (Xià táijiē) - stepping down; a face saving tactic to get out of a sticky situation

    这些地方政府需要找台阶给他们下来 - the central government needed to provide the local governments with a face saving response [while also highlighting that they were wrong]


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3. Word of the week: “small abacus” 小算盘 (Xiǎo suànpán) - selfish calculations

A gossipy article in the Global Times earlier gives the Chinese version of events on the to-ing and fro-ing over the US deputy secretary of state’s, visit to China. The article was published before the visit was finally confirmed.

One sentence summary: “it’s their problem not ours.”

Expect more idioms on arrogance and being patronised in the days to come. And the one that’s good for T-shirt sales:

  • 中国人更不吃这套 (Zhōngguó rén gèng bù chī zhè tào) - the Chinese definately aren’t buying this (see 27 March newsletter)

More important than where to place the blame, are two excellent three-character words for complaining about people who annoy you:

  • 老三样 (Lǎo sān yàng) - ‘old three types’ - same old s**t, the usual crap (useful to drop into conversation in the office if you’ve had enough of being given the same pointless things to do)

    交给我的任务又是老三样 - the tasks I’ve been given are the same old crap, again

  • 小算盘 (Xiǎo suànpán) - ‘small abacus’, selfish intentions

    他的小算盘已经打得劈啪作响! - he is so selfish!

    劈啪作响 (Pīpā zuò xiǎng) is the ‘clattering’ sound an abacus makes


Three easy idioms to talk about what you know, or don’t know. Try to build them into your Chinese conversations this week.

  • 顺理成章 (Shùnlǐchéngzhāng) - logically

    “到底发生了什么”的疑问,也顺理成章地成为一个急需解答的问题 - ‘what really happened?’ has naturally become a question that people want answered

  • 不得而知 (Bùdé ér zhī) - unable to know

    这些都属于专业团队的工作,外人不得而知 - this work is done by professional teams, the outside world cannot know the [the details]

  • 显而易见 (Xiǎn'éryìjiàn) - obvious

    他们的傲慢显而易见 - their arrogance is easy to see

And a more challenging one about taking advantage.

  • 坐收渔利 (Zuò shōu yúlì) - reap the benefits

    对媒体说几句真假难辨的话,就可以坐收渔利 - it’s a quick win for the media to throw in a few sentences that can’t be verified


4. Kris Wu collapse - “a dead duck still has a hard beak” (死鸭子还嘴硬 - Sǐ yā zǐ hái zuǐyìng)

Another week, another celebrity car crash in China.

This week it’s Kris Wu (吴亦凡 - Wú Yìfán), the Korean-Canadian megastar and has-been heart-throb (小鲜肉 - ‘little fresh meat’, see 13 Feb newsletter).

He is accused by a 19-year-old university student, Du Meizhu, of abusing her and other teenage girls.

Read more in SupChina here.

Netizens described him as arrogant, and unable to accept the truth or the consequences:

  • 不见棺材不落泪 (Bùjiàn guāncai bù luò lèi) - not to shed a tear until one sees the coffin; refuse to be convinced until one is faced with grim reality

    这些话你也好意思说得出口?不见棺材不落泪 - are you too embarrassed to say the words [to admit you’re in the wrong]? So arrogant.

  • 死鸭子还嘴硬 (Sǐ yā zǐ hái zuǐyìng) - “a dead duck still has a hard beak”; stubborn, unable to accept that they are wrong

    死鸭子还嘴硬呢 - this guy just can’t accept that he’s totally in the wrong


Two idioms about the damage done:

  • 鱼死网破 (Yúsǐwǎngpò) - “the fish dies and the net breaks”; bad for both sides, both sides get hurt

    有一种“鱼死网破”的悲壮感 - both sides will get hurt in this tragedy

  • 岌岌可危 (Jíjíkěwéi) - precarious

    吴亦凡本就岌岌可危的 - Kris Wu is in a precarious position


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Doing your homework…

Let’s review some old ‘words of the week’!

The Weibo post by Du Meizhou calling out Kris Wu (see story above) is worth a read.

It’s carefully crafted to strike the right tone for netizens and state media to get behind it - which they did in a big way.

It also uses some recent words of the week:

  • 贴上标签 (Tiē shàng biāoqiān) - given a negative label (see 13 Feb newsletter)

    这个名字就被贴上了不好的标签 - my name has been been stigmatised

  • 实锤 (Shí chuí) - irrefutable evidence (see 10 July newsletter)

    因为有太多的人向我爆料吴先生出轨行为的实锤 - becuase so many people have come to me with irrefutable evidence that Mr Wu has had [multiple] affairs

  • 背锅 (Bèi guō) - take the blame for something (see 8 Feb newsletter)

    没做过的事情我也绝不背锅 - I am not taking the blame for what I haven’t done

  • 蹭热度 (Cèng rèdù) - doing something for the sake of attracting social media attention (see 26 June newsletter)

    我完全没有必要为了蹭热度做违法的事情 - there is absolutely no need for me to to do something illegal for the sake of attracting attention on social media

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. 

I’ll see you in your inbox around the same time next Saturday!

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