Xiaomi's Secret Weapon

Slow Chinese Weekly 每周漫闻

Here’s the latest edition of the Slow Chinese 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.

This week

  • how to say the right things during Tomb Sweeping Festival,

  • Lei Jun on Xiaomi’s secret weapon,

  • and debating skills from chairman Rabbit.

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1. What to say during Tomb Sweeping Festival

Easter Sunday and Qing Ming Festival (清明节) - Tomb Sweeping Festival - fall on the same day this year.

I’ve made the mistake of wishing a ‘happy Qing Ming festival’ (清明节快乐!) before.

Apparently this is not the done thing.

So what do you say on Qing Ming Festival? The safest option is:

祝节日安好 (Ān hǎo) - wishing you a peaceful festival

There’s also:

安康 (Ānkāng) - [wishing you] good health; but there’s some debate about this, as it normally refers to society, not individuals

Or, you could say:

文明祭扫 (Wénmíng jì sǎo) - [wishing you] civil tomb sweeping

Some experts say it’s ok to wish a ‘happy festival’. There’s more on that here. With the suggestion that:

当我们去祝福快乐的时候,恰恰也代表着我们有战胜悲伤、困难的勇气,这也是一种积极向上的心态 - when we wish someone a happy festival, it can represent that we have had the bravery to overcome grief and difficulty; it’s about having a positive attitude.

Finally, if you’re looking for a good poem for this time of year, try this one by Tang Dynasty poet, Dù Mù (杜牧):

清明时节雨纷纷,Drizzling heavily on the Pure Brightness Day,

路上行人欲断魂。I travel with my heart lost in dismay.

借问酒家何处有,I ask a shepherd boy* - is there an Inn nearby?

牧童遥指杏花村。He points to towards Apricot Village, far away

*牧童 Mùtóng is normally translated as ‘cowboy’ but I prefer shepherd boy - feels more likely to bump into one of these in Tang Dynasty China.

2. New word: ‘secret weapon’ - 杀手锏 (Shā shǒu Jiǎn)

锏 (Jiǎn) is an ancient Chinese weapon, similar to a ‘mace’.

杀手锏 (Shā shǒu Jiǎn) is an unexpected, killer blow with a mace.

It’s translated as:

Trump card

Ace in the hole

Killer application

I prefer ‘secret weapon’.

It’s an advantage that is unique to the person or the company that only they know about.

It’s one way that Xiaomi’s announcement this week of its venture into the EV market was interpreted:

在造车这个领域当中,有那么多的竞争对手,为什么他们还敢进去?一定是有他们想好的必备成功要素,也就是他们的杀手锏 - With so many competitors how can Xiaomi still dare to enter such a busy sector? They must have a good understanding of what’s needed to succeed, in other words their secret weapon.

Chinese media reaction was measured, pointing to the huge challenges the company will face. Xiaomi does have its advantages too - lots of cash, plenty of useful patents for its new business and a loyal fan base eager to buy a ‘Mi-Car’. Fans are called 米粉 (Mǐ fěn) - a play on the word for flour rice, meaning ‘Mi Fans’.

These advantages are not its secret weapon, though. That will be something else that we don’t yet know about, but hopefully Lei Jun does.

Useful business words

Coverage of the announcement is a gold mine of useful words for talking about business and investment in Chinese.

I’ve tried to include just the few best ones, dividing them into: the basics, great three-character words about battles, fakes and stiff competition, and some useful business idioms.

The basics:

  • 赛道 (Sài dào) - ‘race lane’ [on a track] - sector or sub-sector; the focus of the business, often referring to a chosen new direction (this is a very popular term at the moment - if you don’t have a Sài dào you’re not a proper Chinese entrepreneur; and of course, your Sài dào should fit in to your overall ecosystem 生态圈 and be part of your platform 平台业务)

    是因为数字化世界的三条赛道 - it’s because of the three (sub) sectors of the digital world

    “新赛道”“新平台”“新生态”2020 年全国人工智能大赛正式启动 - “new direction, new platform, new ecosystem” - 2020 all China AI competition is formally launched

  • 跻身 (Jīshēn) - to rank among

    小米跻身于世界五百强 - Xiaomi ranks among the world’s top 500 companies

  • 押上 (Yāshàng) // 压上 (Yā shàng) - ‘to be bet on’ // ‘to put on’ - two slightly different ways to say the same thing, with exactly the same pronunciation but slightly different meaning

    押上我 “所有声誉” - I'll bet my entire reputation [on this]

    我愿意压上人生所有积累的战绩和声誉 - I’m willing to put all of my life experience and reputation into this (used more broadly than ‘to bet’ but basically means the same thing)

Three-character essentials

Three-character combos in Chinese are great fun - more flexible than idioms, often less formal so more used in spoken Chinese and a good way to make your Chinese sound more impressive by dropping a few into conversation, generally as nouns at the end of a sentence.

There are lots of them in the Xiaomi story:

  • 屠杀战 (Túshā zhàn) - bloody war [of price]

    特斯拉Model Y国产版降价近16万,掀起了电动汽车市场的价格“屠杀”战 with the launch of Tesla’s domestically produced Model Y, it’s started a bloody price war in the China EV market

  • 护城河 (Hùchénghé) - ‘moat’, barrier to entry [in business]; similar to 门槛 Ménkǎn (but that’s more about separating yourself from the competition; a moat is more about protecting your patch)

    显然,AIoT业务要成为小米商业模式的护城河 - clearly, its AIoT business will become a protective barrier to entry within its business model

  • 门外汉 (ménwàihàn) - outsider, lamen, not qualified

    在智能电动汽车领域算是“门外汉” [Xiaomi] is an outsider / non-expert in the Smart Car sector

  • 瓷器活 (Cíqì huó) - ‘porcelain task’, extremely challenging technical task; meaning: ‘if you’re not qualified don’t even bother trying’ [this is a reference to ancient Chinese porcelain technology which used something like a diamond drill to repair broken pieces - very technical]

    造车更是一件需要核心技术的瓷器活儿 - automotive manufacture is technically extremely challenging and should not be tried by those that aren’t qualified to do it

  • 佼佼者 (Jiǎojiǎo zhě) - ‘hall of fame’; English: ‘who’s who’ [Note: first two characters both become second tone]

    这场造车盛宴,聚集了各领域的佼佼者 this automotive industry showdown has brought together the who’s-who of all sectors

  • 山寨机 (Shānzhài jī) - fakes (山寨 ‘copycat’ is one word in Yu Hua’s brilliant book China in Ten Words)

    各种山寨机的冲击 attacks from so many fakes [in the market]

  • 甩帽子 (Shuǎi màozi) - ‘throw the hat’ - remove the label of

    雷军想让小米甩掉“中低端”的帽子 - Lei Jun wan’t to get rid of Xiaomi’s ‘low end’ brand

Useful Idioms

These three idioms are all useful in business settings.

  • 生生不息 (Shēngshēng bù xī) - never ending energy; the main title of this year’s Xiaomi event

    但这位“劳模”如今仍保持高速运转,生生不息 - This ‘model worker’ still manages to maintain a high operating speed and never ending energy

  • 屡创新高 (Lǚ chuàng Xīn gāo) - repeatedly hit new heights

    小鹏造车新势力交付量屡创新高 - new momentum to Xiaopeng’s manufacturing means that it has managed to continually increase its output [repeatedly hit new heights]

  • 初出茅庐 (Chū chū máo lú) - ‘just come out of the thatched cottage’ - idiom from a Warring States period story; ‘meaning no experience’, or ‘just entered society’; English idiom: ‘wet behind the ears’

    对于初出茅庐的小米来说 - As far as the completely inexperienced Xiaomi [in automotive industry] is concerned….

  • 以其人之道,还治其人之身 (Yǐ qí rén zhī dào huán zhì qí rén zhī shēn) - ‘deal with others as they deal with you

Chairman Rabbit (兔主席) used it to describe the combative approach of Chinese domestic media, which is well received by its audience, good for business and helpful for attracting eyeballs.

Similar idioms include:

以牙还牙,以眼还眼 - Yǐ yá huán yá, yǐ yǎn huán yǎn

- ‘a tooth for a tooth; an eye for an eye’

But not to be confused with this one:

己所不欲,勿施予人 - Jǐ suǒ bù yù, wù shī yǔ rén

- ‘do to others as you would have done to you’ [said in the positive sense]

“Deal with someone as they deal with you” is attributed to Zhu Xi (朱熹), the 12th Century Song Dynasty philosopher, writer and poet.

Further reading

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3. Debating tips from Chairman Rabbit

If you have an interest in UK-China relations but don’t yet subscribe to the Beijing To Britain newsletter, then you should. It’s essential and enjoyable reading.

Last week it looked at an 25,000 character essay by Chairman Rabbit (兔主席), the pen name of Ren Yi (one of Ren Zhongyi's grandsons). The marathon article is a collection of ponderings based on several conversations, meetings and dinners between Rabbit and four British friends.

There’s some great language and rhetorical tools in there that can be used to have a debate in Chinese.

Setting the scene

To kick things off it’s always good to get people relaxed, point out similarities and understand how they think.

  • 活络 (Huóluò) - loose, relaxed

    表达这个观点也是为了抛砖引玉,让他们更加活络 - to kick things off I used this point to make everyone more relaxed

  • 雷同性 (Léitóng xìng) - similarities

    没有机会再展开香港运动和美国民粹右翼运动的雷同性 - I didn’t have the opportunity to go into the fact that there are similarities between the Hong Kong movement and American populism

  • 褒 (Bāo)….. 而贬 (Ér biǎn) …… hold up….., and put down…… .

    褒西方文明,而贬美国政治,是与英国人及欧洲沟通的关键 - talking highly of European civilisation and putting down American politics is a key to communicating effectively with Brits and Europeans

Setting traps

And then there’s setting some rhetorical traps. In addition to 设-ing a 陷阱 (Xiànjǐng), a trap, there’s also other ways to say similar things:

  • 扔炸弹 (Rēng zhàdàn) - throwing grenades

    笔者先提出了一个问题,扔了个炸弹 - the writer kicked off the conversation by posing a question, throwing a grenade [to get things going]

  • 埋雷 (Mái léi) - laying landmines

    Trump在就任的最后一段时间在中美关系上“埋”了许多“雷” during the last phase of his presidency, Trump laid a lot of landmines within the US-China relationship

  • 中圈套 (Zhòng quāntào) - falling into trap

    其实是中了Trump的圈套 - they actually fell into Trump’s trap


There’s also some good ways to talk about misunderstandings.

  • 费解 (Fèijiě) - difficult to understand

    上述中国官方口径及媒体的行为非常令人费解 - the position expressed by China’s state media, and their behaviour is very hard [for them] to understand

  • 心结 (Xīn jié) - knot in the heart / a difficult feeling

    许多中国人陷入了一个心结 - this is a challenging issue for many Chinese

  • 颗粒度 (Kēlì dù) - granularity

    讲得没有那么多的颗粒度 - I didn’t speak with such granularity [at the time]


And then there are idioms about talking too much, not saying anything and not changing your mind.

  • 口口声声 (Kǒu kǒu shēng shēng) - say over and over again, banging on about

    英国人是傲娇的,口口声声说与美国价值观绑定 - British can be arrogant, banging on about how their values are bound to those of the US

  • 呼应寥寥 Hūyìng liáoliáo - said nothing; there were ‘tumbleweeds’ - technically not an idiom, but useful - comes up a quite a lot on MFA press briefings

    但得到英国友人的呼应寥寥 - the Brits had nothing to say about this - they fell silent

  • 轩然大波 (Xuānrándàbō) - uproar

    引起轩然大波 - this caused quite a stir

  • 各执一词 (Gè zhí yī cí) - each sticks to their own [opinion / position]

    双方各执一词 - neither party changed their position

  • 鸵鸟战术 (Tuóniǎo zhànshù) - ostritch tactics; putting your head in the sand

    认为中国目前是不坦诚,是“鸵鸟战术” - they believe that the US is not sincere and is putting its head in the sand

Further reading

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That’s it for this week. 

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