Poems about revolt, China's "fan economy" and crypto investors taking a feather as an order

slow Chinese 每周漫闻


Welcome to the Slow Chinese newsletter - 每周漫闻.

It’s a weekly serving of useful words and phrases from the news for Chinese language learners who lack the time and motivation to keep their language skills going.

This week….

  1. Poem of the week: from Meituan CEO

    反诗 (Fǎn shī) - poem about revolt


    吊打 (Diào dǎ) - overwhelm

  2. Internet words of the week: fan groups go mad over milk

    饭圈 (Fàn quān) - fan groups, ‘chaotic fan groups’


    打投 (Dǎ tóu) - ‘fans voting for the favourite stars online or in TV shows to push them up the rankings’

  3. Colloquialism (俗语) of the week: Chinese media reaction to Elon Musk Dogecoin joke

    拿着鸡毛当令箭 (Názhe jīmáo dāng lìngjiàn) - take a chicken feather for a warrant to issue orders

Thanks for reading!

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1. Billionaire Internet entrepreneur, Tang Dynasty poem about revolt and social media reaction

I don’t think I could have asked for a better combo for this newsletter!

Meituan founder and CEO, Wang Xing, caused anxiety in China’s capital markets, media and among netizens when he published a poem about the overthrow of the Qin Dynasty last weekend:

焚书坑 (Fén shū kēng) 

竹帛烟销帝业虚, (Zhúbó yān xiāo dì yè xū) 

关河空锁祖龙居。 (Guān hé kōng suǒ zǔ lóng jū)

坑灰未冷山东乱, (Kēng huī wèi lěng shāndōng luàn)

刘项原来不读书。 (Liú xiàng yuánlái bu dúshū)


On the Book Burning Pit

After burning of the books the Qin Empire became weak; 

The barriers guarded by the Dragon Emperor were left unguarded. 

Before the ash had cooled a revolt rose in the Mountain’s East,

The rebels Liu and Xiang were illiterate after all.

Interesting words:

  • 竹帛 (Zhúbó) - ‘bamboo - silk’; books - during the Qin dynasty books were made of bamboo a silk

    著之竹帛 (zhù zhī zhú bó) - record achievements of someone in a book

  • 祖龙 (zǔ lóng) - ‘beginning - dragon’; meaning Qin Shihuang - the first emperor to unite China;

    真龙天子 (Zhēn lóng tiānzǐ) - true son of heaven (no one can oppose him)

  • 原来 (Yuánlái) - originally [did not]; this line stands out - it reads as modern Chinese might do; also, it’s not clear if Liu Bang and Xiang Yu ‘originally’ did not and then did, or if they ‘never’ read books

On the Burning Book Pit is a 反诗 (Fǎn shī) - ‘poem about rebellion’ - of which there are many in Chinese.

The FT:

The original poem was written more than a millennium ago in the late Tang dynasty by Zhang Jie, who also drew from Chinese history to critique the then Tang emperor. 

Jie’s verses mocked the actions of an earlier emperor who attempted to quell dissent among intellectuals by burning books, only to have his dynasty overthrown by non-intellectuals.

Wang’s social media post comes as Chinese media and officials have piled into the official investigation into Meituan, criticising the company’s use of third party contractors to supply it with delivery riders.

Wang tried to clear up the confusion, explaining it was all about where the next competitive threat could come from:


The most dangerous opponents are often not who you expect. Meituan’s biggest competitor appears to be Ele.me. But it’s likely that an as yet unknown company or business model will appear out of nowhere, overturning the whole business model.

He’s referring to how riders are contracted, pointed out by the FT above, and also in last week’s newsletter.

Delivery riders are outsourced (外包), meaning they pay their own insurance. According to Chinese media speculation, if riders become full-time employees (雇佣关系), which is one possible outcome of current government investigations, the company pays insurance (社保) on their behalf, changing the whole business model potentially making it unsustainable.

Useful words

A post on Weibo by finance blogger and entrepreneur, 格隆 (Gé lóng), reacting to Wang’s poetic post is a quick read with some good vocab:

  • 吊打 (Diào dǎ) - ‘overwhelm’; Internet word short for 吊起来打 - ‘hang up and hit’

    吊打的节奏,能不跌? - with this overwhelming pace, it’s no surprise that [Meituan’s] shares have fallen [note: this could refer to the pace of government’s actions; or the pace of Meituan growth - I’m not sure which, what do you think?]

  • 晦涩 (Huìsè) - obscure, hard to understand

    这么晦涩的诗 - such an obscure poem

  • 烤炙 (Kǎo zhì) - grilling; the sun is beating down [referring to conditions in cutting edge or new industries]

    风口烤炙,于谁都不易 - conditions are very harsh in these new industries [see the 20th Feb newsletter for explanation of 风口 - the next big thing]


Ge Long’s post also had three great idioms to refresh on or learn.

  • 瑟瑟发抖 (Sèsè fādǒu) - trembling

    投资者会吓得瑟瑟发抖 - investors are trembling with fear

  • 授人以柄 (Shòu rén yǐ bǐng) - pass the sword handle to someone else; give someone an opportunity to pick fault or attack - ‘make a rod for your own back’

    谁是大秦?谁是刘项?太容易授人以柄 - who is the Qin Emperor [in this situation]? Who is Liu Bang and Xiang Yu? He’s made it very easy for others to attack him on this

  • 浮想联翩 (Fúxiǎng liánpiān) - into into deep thought; makes the mind think of all sorts [see 17 April newsletter for this and more literary idioms]

    发这种令人浮想联翩的诗,真是欠妥的 - sending this poem which is so easy for people to have all sorts of ideas about, is really inappropriate

Further reading

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2. Chaotic fan groups go mad over milk

Earlier in the week, video-streaming platform iQIYI (爱奇艺) pulled the season finale of one of its flagship reality TV shows - Youth With You 3 (青春有你3). 

It’s a male idol show, in which the nine winners go on to make their debut as idols:

爱豆出道 (Ài dòu chūdào)

Sponsors and producers have come up with creative ways of driving fan engagement - and spending.

Fans gain extra votes to support their favourite stars by scanning QR codes on the milk caps of Mengniu Milk, the show’s sponsor. QR codes are on the inside of the cap. So to cash in fans have been buying boxes of milk cartons, opening them, scanning the QR codes and then tipping gallons of milk away.

It came to light in a video which did the rounds on social media during the 1 May hols in China last week.

[I have to say these don’t look like your typical ‘teenage male idol’ fans to me….]

China’s ‘fan economy’ (粉丝经济) is now huge business:

  • Between 2014 and 2016, Japanese and Korean idols became extremely popular in China which led to domestic names following

  • Four big Chinese stars, who first made it in Korea and before returning to China (called 归国四子 - Guī guó sì zi), came to represent a new type of celeb in China - ‘web traffic stars’ (流量明星 - Liúliàng míngxīng).

  • According to media reports, this industry is now worth more than RMB 130 billion. With the majority of fans living in first- and second-tier cities and born after 1995.

Useful words

A new dictionary should be invented to understand this trend.

Here is a small number of words that you need to know to have an informed conversation about China’s fan economy.

  • 饭圈 (Fàn quān) - fan groups [used in the negative; also translated as ‘chaotic fan groups’]

    牛奶事件再一次把‘饭圈’问题拉到了广大群众的视野里 - the milk issue has again brought the problems of chaotic fan groups to the attention of the general public

  • 打投 (Dǎ tóu) - ‘hit - vote’; meaning fans voting for their favourite stars online or in TV shows to push them up the rankings so they can win; it’s short for 打榜投票 (Dǎ bǎng tóupiào); another way to say it is 刷票 (Shuāpiào) - swipe votes.

    为打投偶像而倒奶的事引发网友强烈批评 - netizens have strongly criticised fans for wasting so much milk in order to support their favourite stars [on the TV show]

  • 追星 (Zhuīxīng) - ‘chasing stars’; fans following their favourite stars in TV shows

    诱导青少年无底线追星 - misleading teenagers to follow celebrities with no bottom line [on what they are willing to do]

  • 晒单 (Shài dān) - ‘share on social media’

    “花钱不是追星行为的终点,终点是晒单 - spending money is not the end objective of following [their favourite] celebrities, their objective is to share [what they have bought and how much they spent] on social media

  • 职粉 (Zhí fěn) - ‘professional fans’; China’s fan groups have led to an entire ecosystem; some fans have taken this on as a full-time gig

    “职粉”潜伏进饭圈,参与粉丝运营,利用粉丝愿意为偶像付出的信念 - professional fans covertly infiltrate fan groups, participate in operating those fans group [without the fans realising it], and use the fans’ belief in supporting celebrities [to coerce them into spending money]

  • 站姐 (Zhàn jiě) - ‘[fan] - station - girl’ - some fans become super fans within fan groups; they manage anonymous fan accounts basing themselves where celebs might be, take pictures of them and share via fan accounts; they can end up becoming money-making influencers themselves;

    站姐本人是隐身的,只负责发布拍摄到的偶像活动照片 - the identity of ‘the fan station girl’ is concealed; their role is to simply take photos of celebrities at events and share them via their fan accounts

  • 同侪 (Tóngchái) - piers

    当粉丝成为饭圈一员后可能就不再是独立的消费者了,会在同侪压力下投身集体行动 - when fans become a part of fan groups, they are no longer independent consumers; they will [be forced to] participate in group activities under pier pressure

  • 氪金 (Kè jīn) - spending virtual money on or in computer games or TV shows

    氪金的实质是一种炫耀性消费,粉丝凭借大量氪金的经济实力攀爬权力阶梯 - spending virtual cash is a kind of ‘show off consumerism’ - the more fans spend the higher they climb within fan groups

  • 白嫖 (Bái piáo) - ‘white prostitute’; meaning fans who say they are loyal fans but expect to get things for free; or gamers who expect to not pay for in-game purchases

    就是花的钱越多才越有话语权,比较忌讳‘白嫖’ - the more they spend the more influence they have; and they reject those fans who try to blag freebees

  • 吸睛牟利 (Xī jīng móulì) - attracting eye-balls to make profit

    是以浪费为代价的吸睛牟利 - attracting eyeballs through causing waste

Further reading

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3. Musk on Dogecoin - “it’s a hustle” (骗局 - Piànjú)

The price of Dogecoin (狗狗币 - Gǒu gǒu bì), a digital currency invented as a joke in 2014, tumbled by a third on Sunday after Elon Musk called it a “hustle” (骗局) on Saturday Night Live.

China's gossipy media went into overdrive.

I found a great article about it on Sina which translated the story well.

Two words if you want to chat about it with your Chinese friends:

  • 加密数字货币 (Jiāmì shùzì huòbì) - encrypted digital currency; ‘cryptocurrency’

    全球主要加密数字货币中,仅22个币种在过去24小时内上涨 - of all cryptocurrencies globally, only 22 have increased in value in the last 24 hours

  • 狗狗币教父 (Gǒu gǒu bì jiàofù) - the ‘dogefather’

    马斯克在节目中扮演“狗狗币教父”上演了一个小品 - Musk played the dogefather in a sketch on the show

And two very useful colloquialisms (俗语):

  • 两害相权取其轻 (Liǎng hài xiāng quán qǔ qí qīng) - lesser of two evils

    暂停比特币支付应该只是特斯拉本着“两害相权取其轻”的策略作出的选择 - temporarily stopping the payments using Bitcoin is only Tesla taking a choice based on the strategy of doing the lesser of two evils

  • 拿着鸡毛当令箭 (Názhe jīmáo dāng lìngjiàn) - take a chicken feather for a warrant to issue orders; meaning treat casual marks as an order and make a big fuss about it

    虽然你可以把《周六夜现场》看做是《欢乐喜剧人》,但谁让币圈就是一个“拿着鸡毛当令箭”的圈子呢 - even though we can consider the Satuday Night Live sketch was a joke, who knew that the cryptocurrency circles would take Musk’s words for real?

There are plenty more stock-market words related to this story but I’ve decided to hold onto those until next week. I’ve already covered more than enough in this week’s newsletter.

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Odds and ends

This week, two corrections from last week’s newsletter:

键盘侠 (Jiànpán xiá) - keyboard warrior

Thanks to one reader who pointed out that my translation of this word last week could be better translated as

Keyboard warrior

I translated as Internet troll which is not quite right.

The best I have come up with for how to say troll in Chinese is 网络喷子 (Wǎngluò pēn zi) - ‘Internet sprayer’

赔笑脸 (Péi xiàoliǎn) - laughing along painfully

I didn’t exactly get this one wrong, but it does need more explanation.

It’s an invented word - based on another one that sounds the same.

Here’s a comment by a sharp-eyed reader from my LinkedIn post earlier this week:

I initially thought it was 陪笑脸 as I have seen it used before. 陪 means to accompany, so logically it makes sense as one way to appease a demanding customer is to keep him company with a smile on your face.

The common meaning of 赔 means to compensate for a loss which seems illogical in the phrase and so it seems like 赔 is a spelling mistake of 陪.

Did a check & discover that 赔笑脸 is the right word and not 陪笑脸 as you cannot parse it as [陪][笑脸] but it shd be [陪笑][脸]. 陪笑 is actually a word on its own which means to smile apologetically or obsequiously.

Here is my stab at a response:

My understanding of it is that 赔 is used here intentionally as a play on the word 陪笑脸. Meaning two things: 1) laughing along unwillingly; 2) while doing so also losing out financially (赔钱的业务).

Is this right, wrong or somewhere in-between?

What do you think?

That’s it for this week. 

Thanks for reading. 

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

Thank you!

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