How to say 'side-hustle' in Chinese

Slow Chinese Learning 每周漫闻

Here’s the latest edition of my Slow Chinese Learning 每周漫闻 newsletter, a collection of Chinese words, phrases, idioms and slang to help you maintain and improve your Chinese language skills, and keep on top of the latest language trends in China.

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What’s in it? Each week I highlight two ‘Conversations worth Consuming’ with authentic and actionable language for you to try out to improve your spoken Chinese. I also gather together up to 12 ‘Words of the Week’ to add to your vocab - idioms, on-trend words and colloquialisms to impress your Chinese colleagues and friends with how amazing your Chinese is.


1. Different ways to say “side-hustle” in Chinese

In between lying flat (躺平 - tǎng píng) and intense social competition (内卷 - nèi juǎn), many young people working at China’s big tech companies are creating side hustles as a way out.

Conversations with a blogger, a podcaster and a flower arranging teacher in an article in 36Kr (in Chinese) has lots of words to talk about side hustles.

For a start, there are lots of ways to say it, including:

  • B面生活 (B miàn shēnghuó) - “b-life”, alternative life

  • 第二事业 (dì èr shìyè) - second career

  • 副业 (fùyè) - sideline, ‘side hustle’

Useful words

Here are two useful words to discuss your side-hustle:

  • 底牌 (dǐpái) - the cards in your hand

    你在社会角色上一个底牌,这个底牌越强,你的底气会越足 - [having a side hustle] is like strengthening your hand of cards; the stronger your hand the more secure your position is in society

    • 底气 (dǐqì) - foundation, position of strength

  • 兜底 (Dōudǐ) - back-up; plan B (dōudǐ means ‘miscellaneous clause’, but in spoken Chinese it can be used in this way)

    副业和主业也形成互相兜底,副业成为生活的风险对冲 - the side hustle and main career offer a back up to each other. The side hustle is a hedge against life risk [of losing your job].


And two must-have idioms to talk about your side hustle:

  • 一蹴而就 (Yīcù'érjiù) - overnight

    有关现实生活外平行生活的找寻,往往不是一蹴而就的 - finding a [better] parallel life is hardly ever achieved overnight, it takes time

  • 可有可无 (Kě yǒu kě wú) - dispensable

    把副业当成爱好去做,而不是一个可有可无的东西 - the side hustle is a passion project but it’s not a throw-away thing

2. Erke donation to Shanxi - colourful Internet slang and beautiful idioms

China’s Shanxi Province has been struck with severe flooding over the past week.

Chinese sportswear brand, Erke (鸿星尔克 - Hóngxīng'ěrkè), hit top rankings on social media following its low-key donation of supplies and cash.

The company was surprisingly trolled on social media for being a fake. But trolls were put in their place by sensible Netizens.

Social media comments are full of colourful Internet slang.

Social media comments

  • 酸 (suān) - ‘sour’, internet word meaning to be unpleasant or unfair to someone

    为啥要酸这个 - why are they moaning about this?

  • 欠抽 (qiàn chōu) - needs a good hiding; need to be taught a lesson

    你特么有钱自己捐啊!!就在这当键盘侠,欠抽 - you’ve got money why don’t you f*cking donate yourself? These keyboard warriors need to be taught a lesson

  • 杠精 (gàng jīng) - haters (also 杠 gàng - argue )

    杠精真多…请问杠精们又为灾区做了什么?- there are so many haters… what have they done to help people in the affected areas?

    • 抬杠 (táigàng) - disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing

      反正怎么都有一群键盘侠抬杠 - anyway they’re just a bunch of keyboard warriors who are arguing for the sake of it

  • 玩梗 (wán gěng) - talk in pointless trivialities; talk rubbish

    大灾面前还特么的玩梗 - they’re spouting this f*cking crap when there’s a major disaster happening?!

Idioms and colloquial phrases

Raising the tone somewhat, a short article in Sina discussing the Erke donation and reactions to it is packed with beautiful idioms and colloquialisms for different ways to talk about giving and charity.

Here are my favourite three idioms:

  • 投桃报李 (tóutáo bàolǐ) - give a plum in return for a peach; reciprocate

    以投桃报李,通过“买买买”来助其一臂之力 - customers are giving back to Erke by buying their products, giving a helping hand

    • 一臂之力 (yībìzhīlì) - give a helping hand

  • 桃李不言,下自成蹊 (táolǐ bù yán, xià zì chéngqī) - The peach and the plum do not speak, yet a path is born beneath them; a man of true worth attracts admiration

    人心之上有杆秤,桃李不言,下自成蹊 - people can see for themselves. Erke is a good company that’s got attention for doing the right thing

    • 杆秤 (gǎnchèng) - to see/know what’s right (it’s actually a kind of scales)

  • 慷慨解囊 (kāngkǎi jiěnáng) - donate generously

    网友纷纷慷慨解囊 - netizens donated generously to Erke [through their Weibo shop]

And two colloquialisms:

  • 行善不欲人知 (xíngshàn bù yù rénzhī) - do not need to be known for doing good

    鸿星尔克懂得为善不欲人知的道理 - Erke understand the importance of doing things without wanting to be in the spotlight

  • 有口惠而实不至 (yǒu kǒuhuì ér shí bù zhì) - nice sounding words but with no action

    鸿星尔克绝不是有口惠而实不至的情形 - Erke is definitely not all talk and no action

This is not the first time Erke made a donation to a flood-hit province in this way. Read this earlier issue of the newsletter to learn about social media reactions to its donation to victims of the Zhenzhou floods in July.


This week’s words of the week are from two articles:

2 x On trends words

  • 自拍馆 (zìpāi guǎn) - selfie venue

    自拍馆是一门好生意吗?- is the selfie venue a [viable] business?

  • 种草笔记 (zhòng cǎo bǐjì) - ‘seeding posts’ (published by ‘key opinion customers’ - KOCs)

    许多网红在短视平台和社交媒体上分享自拍馆视频和种草笔记 - lots of internet celebs share short videos and seeding posts on video platforms and social media

2 x Three-character combos

  • 三板斧 (sān bǎnfǔ) - ‘three board axe’; a clumsy/simple but effective way

    调侃性别,仍然是国产脱口秀屡试不爽三板斧 - jokes having a go at the opposite sex are still the tried and tested fall back for comedians on Rock and Roast

  • 主力军 (zhǔlì jūn) - main force, most important market

    自拍馆的消费主力军是年轻人 - the main market for selfie venues are young people

3 x Idioms

  • 欲盖弥彰 (yùgài mízhāng) - cover something up only to make it more conspicuous

    这可能也是一种对于「男子气概焦虑」的欲盖弥彰 - this might end up being used to cover up concerns about masculinity only to make the problem even more obvious

  • 水深火热 (shuǐshēn huǒrè) - in deep water and hot fire; in a really difficult place

    底层的女性依旧在水深火热之中 - women in society are in a really difficult position

  • 一地鸡毛 (yī dì jīmáo) - ground covered with chicken feathers; a mess, chaotic

    大家都满载着怒火继续攻击对方,留下一地鸡毛的同时还剩下大波流量 - they all continue to angrily attack each other. It’s messy, but at the same time it does generate huge web traffic.


In two recent newsletters I noted the evolving meaning of the character 媛 - yuán, ‘beautiful woman.’

Sixth Tone have an excellent article this week on its changing meaning. The writer does a much better job of explaining it than I did:

The Chinese word yuan refers to “beautiful women.” But the word’s recent usage, especially on social media platforms, is anything but complimentary.

[It’s used] to mock women […] as engaged in attention-seeking activities online… accusing them of flaunting fake wealth.

The emergence of the word yuan has transformed the original positive meaning into a derogatory one because male-dominated society has ambivalent attitudes toward women’s beauty: admiration and suspicion.

See earlier newsletters for more on different types of yuán:

That’s it for this week - thanks for reading.

All of the ‘words of the week’ are already uploaded onto…


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