Learning Chinese slang from a comedian and how to speak to investors like a Chinese billionaire

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻


Happy Saturday!

Here are my ‘Words of the Week’ - idioms, colloquialisms and slang to discuss this week’s news in authentic Chinese:  

  1. Idiom: Chinese merchants on Amazon not in a good place

    如坐针毡 (rúzuò zhēnzhān) - sitting on a matt of needles, nervous, on tenterhooks

  2. Colloquialism: Duan Yongping on Tencent being good for value investors

    隔手的金子,不如在手的铜 (gé shǒu de jīnzi, bùrú zài shǒu de tóng) - the bronze in your own hand is better than the gold in someone else’s  

  3. Internet word: China’s regulators continue cleaning up the online world

    彩虹屁 (cǎihóng pì) - rainbow farts; excessive online flattery of celebs

    And an idiom describing the atmosphere online:

    乌烟瘴气 (wūyān zhàngqì) - a foul atmosphere or environment

A quick word count: 

  • General words and phrases: 6

  • Internet / social media words: 7

  • Idioms: 9

  • Slang: 3

  • Colloquialisms: 1

  • Total: 26

PLECO DOWNLOADS: if you want Pleco flashcard downloads please reply to this email with two words: ‘Pleco please!’ If you emailed me last week, no need to email again. You’ll get them over the weekend.

Before diving in, here’s a sketch worth watching by comedian Zhāng Hàozhé (张灏喆), from the new season of Rock and Roast (脱口秀).

Zhang delivers Chinese fat jokes at their best.

There’s some good slang to bring more colour to your Chinese conversations:

  • 蔫 (Niān) - lost all spirit, hopeless

    当时就蔫了- I felt like there was no point

  • 蒙 (Méng) - decieve

    别蒙我 - don't try to pull a fast one on me

  • 绷不值 (Bēng bù zhù) - can’t stretch any more

    我就绷不住了 - I can’t take it anymore!

  • 草率了 (cǎoshuài le) - I was too quick to judge (popular phrase on Dou Yin meaning I made a decision too quickly and lost out)

    小伙子,草率了- I was too quick to judge, you had me there.

1. Chinese merchants on Amazon: “sitting on a carpet of needles” - 如坐针毡 (rúzuò zhēnzhān)

Amazon has banned more than 50,000 Chinese online merchants for fabricating reviews since May this year. Around half are from Shenzhen. 

Last Friday Shenzhen’s commerce bureau met Chinese online merchants to discuss what to do.  

One comment summed up nicely:


As good a business was last year for cross border e-commerce companies, it is as terrible for them this year

Useful words

You need to know these words to talk about this news story in Chinese:

  • 刷单 (Shuā dān) - creating fake reviews on e-commerce sites to increase customer trust and sales

    亚马逊严打刷单下的跨境电商卖家如何自救 - how can [the Chinese government] help cross-border e-commerce companies impacted by Amazon’s aggressive measures against fake reviews

  • 宅经济 (Zhái jīngjì) - working from home economy

    “宅经济”的兴起正重塑全球生活消费习惯 - consumer habits have changed with the rise of the working from home economy

  • 封号 (Fēnghào) - closing an online account

    亚马逊作为全球最大的电商平台,突然封号 - as the world’s biggest e-commerce platform, Amazon has suddenly closed [seller] accounts


Two idioms about entrepreneur experiences - from the highs to the lows:

  • 一夜暴富 (Yīyè bào fù) - get rich overnight

    卖家们从去年的“一夜暴富”瞬间跌入谷底 - sellers have fallen from the heights of last year’s ‘overnight success’ to the bottom in a flash

  • 如坐针毡 (Rúzuò zhēnzhān) - sitting on a matt of needles, nervous, on tenterhooks

    跨境电商卖家们如坐针毡 - cross-border e-commerce companies are on tenterhooks

And two more about already knowing something:

  • 不言而喻 (bù yán ér yù) - it goes without saying

    对中国卖家来说,其重要性不言而喻 - for China’s sellers, the importance goes without saying

  • 无人不知 (wú rén bùzhī) - no one doesn’t know

    刷单已经成为无人不知的捷径 - fake reviews has become the short cut that no one doesn’t know about


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2. Duan Yongping on Tencent: “buying gold at the price of bronze”

The ongoing crackdown on Chinese internet companies has hit share prices hard.

Tencent is no exception - with a 40% fall in Hong Kong listed shares in the last six months.

But Chinese billionaire entrepreneur and investor, Duan Yongping (段永平), has the following advice to investors:

  • 再跌再多买些 - the more it falls, the more [I] buy

And this is why:

有人非要把金子按铜的价钱卖给你时,你是不需要勇气的 - if someone insists on selling you gold at the price of bronze, do you really need to be that brave?

Which is a creative use of this colloquial phrase:

  • 隔手的金子,不如在手的铜 (Gé shǒu de jīnzi, bùrú zài shǒu de tóng) - gold in the hand of another is not as good as the bronze in your own hand

    Similar to the English idiom: ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’

Useful words

The media commentary on Duan’s bullish approach to Tencent is good source of useful business-y three-character phrases:

  • 护城河 (hùchénghé) - moat; protective barrier [in business] (see 3 April newsletter)

    腾讯的护城河:通过社交媒体将流量货币化,他由此判定,10年后腾讯应该强大 - Tencent’s barrier to entry: it has monetised is social media traffic, he therefore predicts that in 10 years Tencent will still be strong

  • 抢破头 (qiǎng pò tóu) - do whatever they can to (related to the idiom 头破血流 - see 3 July newsletter)

    很多人抢破头都想进去 - lots of people will do whatever they can to get in


Two idioms about going against the grain:

  • 逆势而为 (nìshì érwéi) - going against the trend

    腾讯股价跌到年内最低,段永平却逆势而为 - Tencet has fallen to it’s lowest point in the year, and yet Duan Yongping has gone against the trend [and bought shares]

  • 硬着头皮 (yìngzhe tóupí) - force one’s self to do something, bite the bullet

    但无人接盘,只能硬着头皮继续做 - there was no one to take over, he just had to carry on doing it

And two more about saying too much and not enough:

  • 老生常谈 (lǎoshēng chángtán) - saying the same old things (see 老三样 in 24 July newsletter)

    这句话来自巴菲特的老生常谈 - this sentence is the same old thing from Buffet

  • 寥寥数语 (liáoliáo shù yǔ) - a few words, not much to say

    只有寥寥数语,"蛮好","值得一看" - he had virtually nothing to say, just ‘great’ and ‘worth looking at’


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3. New draft rules for unfair competition on the Internet: “a foul atmosphere” - 乌烟瘴气 (wūyān zhàngqì)

This week China's market regulator (SAMR) published draft rules in its continuing campaign to sort unfair competition in the internet sector.

There’s some useful words in the long list of anti-competitive practices:

  • 劫持 (Jiéchí) - hijack

    利用技术手段进行流量劫持” - hijacking traffic using technology

  • 虚构 (Xūgòu) - fabricate

    直播带货中虚构关注度 - fabricating audience levels of live e-commerce

  • 不兼容 (Bù jiānróng) - incompatible

    抖音短视频无法转发微信……这些构不构成“恶意不兼容”?- Tik Tok videos cannot be shared on Wechat - does this constitute malicious incompatibility?

Social media reactions

Netizens welcomed the draft rules:

  • 一把子 (Yī bǎ zi) - as handful, totally

    一把子支持 - I totally support this!

With some ‘colourful’ language to describe the problem:

  • 彩虹屁 (Cǎihóng pì) - ‘rainbow farts’ - internet word meaning excessive flattery and fawning over your favourite idol online

    在饭圈里,粉丝一开口就开始放彩虹屁 - the fans in chaotic fan groups are always flattering their favourite celebs

And an idiom to describe the online atmosphere:

  • 乌烟瘴气 (Wūyānzhàngqì) - a foul atmosphere or environment

    现在微博乌烟瘴气,早该整治了 - Weibo is a mess, it needs to be sorted

Finally, two more words to add to your internet terminology:

  • 营销号 (Yíngxiāo hào) - marketing account, also known as ‘YXH’ which builds large followings and markets products to that audience

    营销号总是发一些不实信息给人洗脑 - marketing accounts always share false information that brain wash people

  • 买水军 (Mǎi shuǐ jūn) - ‘buying a water army’ - paid for fans who create fake reviews and positive comments about certain celebs or products to push them up the rankings

    买热搜,买水军,买营销号现象是不是都应该严管 - buying hot search, paying for fan reviews, buying marketing accounts - shouldn;t these all be regulated much more aggressively?


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Doing your home work

These words from previous newsletters came up in the stories covered this week:

  • 杀熟 (Shā shú) - killing customers; giving existing customers worse deals than new ones

    See 8 May newsletter.

  • 抄底 (chāodǐ) - bargain hinting, buying shares at the bottom of the market

    See 31 July newsletter

And two idioms:

  • 瑟瑟发抖 (Sèsè fādǒu) - trembling with fear (also SSFD in social media speak)

    See 29 May newsletter.

  • 突飞猛进 (tūfēi měngjìn) - aggressive growth

    See 7 August newsletter.

That’s it for this week. 

Thanks for reading. 

Please do help share this newsletter with anyone who you think needs to brush up on their spoken, written, slang, idiomatic, poetic or classical Chinese language skills.

Thank you!

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