Exploding the pot, "you're out of touch" and more on chicken babies: reactions to the three child policy announcement

Slow Chinese 每周漫文


Welcome to the Slow Chinese newsletter 每周漫文.

If you’ve been forwarded this email, please sign up here:

This week, the theme is China’s announcement of the three child policy and reactions to it.

My words of the week:

  1. Social media word of the week: reactions of Chinese netizens

    炸开锅 (Zhà kāiguō) - “explode the pot”; blow up the Internet

  2. Idiom of the week: will the policy make any difference?

    杯水车薪 (Bēi shuǐ chē xīn) - “Use a cup of water to extinguish a burning cart”; have little impact


    More on chicken babies (鸡娃 Jī wá)

  3. Colloquialism (俗语 Súyǔ) of the week: reactions to the three year maternity leave idea

    何不食肉糜 (Hébù shí ròumí) - “Let them eat meat porridge”; You are out of touch with reality

Before kicking off…

Good news for confused and disheartened language learners: even China’s official news agency get’s its characters wrong occasionally!

Xinhua’s editors leapt to panic stations realising they’d got the wrong character in the graphic released as the three child policy was announced:

The word 生育 (Shēng yù) ‘birth’ or ‘fertility’ was the problem.

Instead of 育 (Yù) - to ‘educate, raise or rear’, Xinhua used the character 肓 (Huāng), which is an obscure traditional Chinese medicine medical term for the ‘region between the heart and the diaphragm’.

Even worse, it’s most commonly found in the idiom:

病入膏肓 (Bìng rù gāo huāng) - “terminally ill” [hard to find a word further from the intended meaning!]

So, next time you fluff a tone, get the wrong character and say completely the wrong word in a convo, just think how that Xinhua editor must have felt….

Share Slow Chinese 每周漫闻

1. Reaction on social media: 炸开锅 (Zhà kāiguō) - “explode the pot”

Top social media comments were overwhelmingly against the idea of having three kids:

两个还忙不过来,三个绝对不要!I’m too busy for two kids, I definitely don’t want three!

你敢生,谁给养?You dare to have [another], who’s going to pay [for it]?

The main complaint is cost:

选择不生,最主要的原因就是没有可支撑三胎开销的经济基础 - choosing to not have a [a third child], the main reason is that [families] don’t have the economic foundation to be able to support three kids

According to some quick back-of-the-fag-packet calculations by Netizens, the new policy could mean couples may end up covering the costs of nine people:

上有四老,下有三宝,中间两个,死了拉倒 - four ‘olds’ [grandparents], three kids, and the two [of us] - there’s no way we can survive

The conclusion, as the Chinese saying goes, is it’s probably best not to bother:

  • 生而不养,不如鸟兽;养而不教,愧为父母 (Shēng ér bù yǎng, bùrú niǎo shòu; yǎng ér bù jiào, kuì wéi fùmǔ)

    To have a child without raising it properly is no better than the birds and beasts; to raise child and not educate it properly is a shame on the parents

Useful words

The reaction of the Chinese Internet in three-character words:

  • 炸开锅 (Zhà kāiguō) - explode the pot

    朋友圈炸开了锅 - my social media feed exploded [with this news]

  • 漫天飞 (Màntiān fēi) - flying all over the sky

    段子更是漫天飞 - this text was everywhere [online]

  • 一边倒 (Yībiāndǎo) - lean to one side, of an argument - the overwhelming view

    为什么“不生”的声音会如此一边倒呢? - why is the view of ‘not having a baby’ so one-sided?


Share Slow Chinese 每周漫闻

2. More Chicken babies… Idiom of the week: 杯水车薪 (Bēi shuǐ chē xīn) - “have little impact”

The three child policy brings together three ‘words of the week’ from recent Slow Chinese newsletters.

  • 内卷 (Nèi juǎn) - Involution, or intense social competition (1 May)

    A consequence of 存量经济 (Cúnliàng jīngjì) - ‘stock economy’; here, Cún liàng means [competing for] ‘existing’ stock or limited capacity.

  • 躺平 (Tǎng píng) - lying flat (29 May)

    A symptom of 阶层固化 (Jiēcéng gùhuà) - ‘social class consolidation’, and the yawning gap between rich and poor

  • 鸡娃 (Jī wá) - chicken baby (1 May)

    A 富贵病 (Fù guì bìng) - a disease of wealth [caused by development]

Chicken Babies 鸡娃 (Jī wá)

Jī wá, Chicken babies, was a common theme in discussions of the three child policy.

My original translation:

鸡娃 (Jī wá) - children of pushy parents

The official definition:

给孩子打鸡血,望子成龙、望女成凤的“虎妈”“狼爸”们为了孩子能读好书,不断地给孩子安排学习和活动,不停地让孩子去拼搏 -

"Tiger mothers" and "wolf fathers" who ‘inject their children with chicken’s blood’ in the hope that sons will become dragons and daughters become phoenixes; they constantly arrange learning and activities for their children so they can learn and compete

Jī wá can’t always be translated in the same way.

It can be a noun or a verb, refer to the parents or the kids, or the social phenomenon in general.

  • 鸡娃家长 (Jī wá jiāzhǎng) - pushy parents

  • 鸡娃教育 (Jī wá jiàoyù) - intensive education

  • 鸡娃起来 (Jī wá qǐlái) - parents getting pushy

  • 被鸡娃 (Bèi jī wá) - kids forced by their parents to work hard

Useful colloquialisms

To understand why Jī wá is a thing, you need to be armed with some must-have traditional colloquial phrases about hardships and going too far:

  • 吃得苦中苦,方为人上人 (Chī dé kǔ zhōng kǔ, fāng wéirén shàng rén) 

    Hardship increases status; “no pain no gain” [originally in 10 April newsletter]

  • 梅花香自苦寒来 (Méihuā xiāng zì kǔhán lái)

    The sweet fragrance of plum blossom comes through the harsh winter; “hard work pays off”

  • 锥刺股,头悬梁 (Zhuī cìgǔ, tóu xuánliáng)

    Tie one's hair on the house beam and jab one's side with a needle to keep oneself awake; “painstaking study”


These idioms are all used in this discussion, and common in business settings too:

  • 杯水车薪 (Bēishuǐchēxīn) - try to extinguish a cartload of burning firewood with one cup of water; has little impact

    即使放开三胎,或许也是“杯水车薪” - even with the three-child policy, perhaps this will have little impact [on the issue of people not wanting kids]

  • 转身即逝 (Zhuǎnshùn jí shì) - fleeting

    2016年“全面二孩”带来的出生人口反弹转瞬即逝 - since 2016 when the two-child policy was introduced, it had a fleeting impact on the birth rate

  • 窥见一斑 (Kuījiàn yībān) - a glimpse

    这倒可以从日本的发展窥见一斑 - one can get a glimpse [of how China could potentially end up] by looking at Japan [today]


Share Slow Chinese 每周漫闻

3. Three-year maternity leave? You are out of touch with reality - 何不食肉糜 (Hébù shí ròumí)

Shortly after the announcement, Zhu Lieyu (朱列玉), an NPC Delegate who called for the three-child policy four years ago, was quick to share his thoughts on what to do next:

提议将妇女的产假延长至三年,并且提供生育奖励 - a proposal to extend women’s maternity leave to three years and provide maternity incentives

To his surprise, that didn’t go down too well.

Hu Xijin (胡锡进), Editor of the Global Times, pointed it out and called for calm on the simmering Chinese Internet:

在互联网上引起的反响完全是翻车的,而且一度被骂上了热搜第一名 - this was a car crash, he was yelled to the top of the search rankings

Hu’s 3 minute ‘胡侃’ ‘Hu Says’ is worth a watch for language learners, he puts ‘newsy’ language in a conversational way.


Two useful ones for being indignant in authentic Chinese:

  • 快刀斩乱麻 (Kuàidāo zhǎn luànmá) - to cut the knot of hemp ropes with a sharp knife; “solve a complicated problem by adopting an effective measure”

    不能再用奖励多生育的家庭作为案板,就把问题给快刀斩乱麻了 - using rewarding families for having more kids is not an effective measure to solve this problem

    This phrase can also be broken down:

    • 案板 (Ànbǎn) - chopping board - ‘approach’

      用奖励多生育的家庭作为案板 - using rewarding families as the solution….

    • 一把快刀 (Yī bǎ kuàidāo) - a quick knife; ‘a quick solution’

      不能给女生放三年产假,打造成一把快刀 - giving women three year maternity leave is not the solution

  • 何不食肉糜 (Hébù shí ròumí) - why can’t they eat meat porridge? “Out of touch”

    “何不食肉糜”般地不接地气 - this guy is totally out of touch

    This was the top comment on social media in response to Zhu’s proposal.

    It’s a story of Emperor Hui (晋惠帝 Jìn huì dì) of the Jin Dynasty (266 to 420 AD).

    When asked what to do about his starving subjects, he suggested they eat meat porridge (肉糜 ròumí), which for him was cheap food, but totally unaffordable for his people.

    It’s used to criticise politicians who are out of touch with reality.

    The equivalent English idiom is from the French:

    "Let them eat cake" - translation of the French phrase "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche", said to have been spoken in the 17th or 18th century by "a great princess" upon being told that the peasants had no bread.


Share Slow Chinese 每周漫闻

Recommended Reading

  1. Whatsonweibo: China’s ‘Three Child Era’ Announcement Is Met with Banter and Backlash on Weibo - a comprehensive, balanced and entertaining read on the social media reaction to the announcement

    In light of the new announcement, an older interview with Chinese businessman Shih Wing-ching (施永青), chairman of the Centaline Group, caused some controversy online when he suggested that Chinese couples should only be allowed to use contraception after having two children. According to the real estate mogul, it would be an effective way to solve China’s declining fertility rates. “It would be better for him to wear a condom around his brain to protect him from these bewildering thoughts,” one Weibo commenter suggested.

  2. SupChina: China abolishes two-child policy, but very few women want three babies - excellent overview of the policy, its background and reactions to it

    There are several reasons that birth rates in China have been steadily falling for years now: Kids are expensive, and for Chinese women, having even one child comes with a serious cost to their careers and their psychological well-being. In a nod to these concerns, the government also promised on Monday to expand maternity leave and workplace protections for pregnant women. But the pledge didn’t appear to be enough to alter the reluctance of many young Chinese to have more children, as Chinese internet users expressed strong resistance to the policy shift.

  3. Leeds University: The Slow Chinese Newsletter and making progress as an advanced learner

    Thanks to Francis Noble at Leeds University Business Confucius Institute for the opportunity to share thoughts on why I started this newsletter, new words I’ve found in the process and the challenges of building a career around learning and speaking Chinese - which seems to be getting harder tbh….

Share Slow Chinese 每周漫闻

That’s it for this week. 

Thanks for reading. 

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

Finally, please do help share Slow Chinese with anyone who you think needs to brush up on their spoken, written, slang, idiomatic, poetic or classical Chinese language skills:

  • With colleagues and friends,

  • students you know from the past or present,

  • in Chinese language learning groups (Wechat, FB),

  • and on social media channels 

Thank you!

Leave a comment