Sitting crooked, bumping porcelain and different ways to talk about a "low desire life"

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻

Hi

Happy Saturday and welcome to Slow Chinese 每周漫闻.

My words of the week:

  1. Social media comment of the week: netizens respond to Hu Xijin commentary on G7

    歪屁股 (Wāi pìgu) - crooked butt / arse, sitting crooked; ‘biased’

  2. Word of the week: extortion of Haidilao in Shenzhen

    碰瓷 (Pèng cí) - breaking porcelain; ‘extortion’

  3. Trending topic of the week: low desire life

    低欲望 (Dī yùwàng) - low desire

    And other social trends…

    丧文化 (Sàng wénhuà) - Sang culture

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A special thanks for Jordan Schneider, writer of the excellent China Talks Substack, for highlighting some recent Slow Chinese ‘words of the week’ in his newsletter. I really appreciate the support and it’s great to welcome some more subscribers!


Before kicking off, a video worth watching for language learners - 6 minute sketch by standup comedian Yang Li (杨笠) from yesterday.

Three good words:

  • 贼 (Zéi) - northern dialect for ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ - same as 非常 (it normally means theif, or traitor - but not here)

    我贼开心 - I was so happy

  • 气馁 (Qìněi) - be discouraged

    如果工作不是那么开心,大家不要气馁 - If your work isn’t going so well, you shouldn’t be discouraged

  • 气口 (Qìkǒu) - take a breath while singing (technical term); here it’s its used jokingly as Yang Li flips her sketch to an advert for Suning - the sponsor of the event

    大家应该能看出这个气口吧?- I think you’ve all spotted I’ve flipped from my sketch to an advert [for Suning]?

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1. Social media comments on Hu Xijin: 歪屁股 (Wāi pìgu) - biased

Hu Xijin published an article on Weibo shortly after the G7 communique was announced earlier this week.

He thinks the G7 are not so aligned on China:

美国和其盟国在对华问题上的利益分歧是巨大的。

The differences in opinions on China amoung the US and its allies are significant.

Social media reactions were two extremes - very supportive of Hu, or angrily accusing him of being biased against China:

胡锡进这个歪屁股骑墙派,墙头草!

According to Google Translate this means:

Hu Xijin has a crooked butt riding on the wall, [he’s a] wall head grass!

Breaking it down:

  • 歪屁股 (Wāi pìgu) - crooked arse / butt, sitting crooked; biased towards a certain party

    Normally used to describe someone who favours one of a couple: From the phrase:

    • 屁股坐歪了 (Pìgu zuò wāile) - sitting crooked

  • 墙头草 (Qiángtóu cǎo) - ‘grass on top of the wall’; someone who is easily swayed, opportunist

    From the phrase

    • 墙头草,随风倒 (Qiángtóu cǎo, suí fēng dǎo) - grass on top of a wall sways in the wind - a person who follows the crowd

  • 骑墙派 (Qíqiáng pài) ‘a wall rider’; sitting on the fence

    骑墙 was originally covered in 27 February newsletter


Useful words

Three words about plans with ill intentions:

  • 拉拢 (Lālǒng) win over (often with negative intentions, or to the detriment of someone else)

    美国拉拢盟国共同对付中国 - the US is winning over its allies to jointly deal with China

  • 图谋 (Túmóu) - plot

    美国有维护自己霸权的战略图谋 the US has a strategic plot to defend its hegemony

  • 搅黄 (Jiǎo huáng) ‘stir yellow’ - disrupt or interfere with a plan so it fails

    中国有在实质上搅黄美欧“统一战线”的很大空间 - China actually has a lot of room to disrupt the ‘united front’ of the US and its allies

Links

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2. Word of the week: breaking porcelain 碰瓷 (Pèng cí)

This is a story of extortion (讹 - É in Chinese) of a restaurant chain involving a customer and two dead cockroaches - 蟑螂 (Zhāngláng).

From Whatsoneweibo:

[a] man in Shenzhen has been arrested after trying to pull a scam in Haidilao hotpot restaurants twice in one day. The man, Mr Cai (蔡), visited two different locations of China’s Haidilao chain of hotpot restaurants within twenty-four hours, and both times he managed to ‘discover’ a cockroach in his hotpot.

Three Chinese phrases that weave this story together.

First, extortion is not new in China….

  • 碰瓷 (Pèng cí) - ‘breaking porcelain’; faking an accident to claim for compensation, extortion

    去海底捞碰瓷的绝对不止一人 trying to extort Haidilao is not just a one-off

    • The story of 碰瓷 (Pèng cí) - or 碰碎瓷器 (Pèng suì cíqì) - is about the once elite military force - the Eight Banners Brothers (八旗子弟) - which had become ineffective and corrupt at the end of the Qing Dynasty.

    • By then the well-paid ‘Bannerman’ spent their time gambling and boozing, paid for through extortion of unsuspecting members of the public. One tactic was to carry a fake expensive piece of pottery on a horse and cart and intentionally allow others - often in a rush - to bump into and smash it, claiming the full value of the original from them.

Second, there are plenty of colourful ways to express how you feel when on the receiving end of extortion.

  • 够喝一壶 (Gòu hē yī hú) - ‘enough to drink one pot of tea’ - too much; more than enough; too difficult

    把活老鼠放在用餐区任它乱跑,也海底捞喝一壶了 - taking a live rat and letting it run around in the restaurant is too much for Haidilao to take

Third, but as one of China’s biggest restaurant brands, Haidilao has to take the pain:

  • 欲戴皇冠、必承其重 (Yù dài huángguàn, bì chéng qí zhòng)

    If you want to wear the crown, you must bear its weight


Idioms

Two idioms describing the customer, and the restaurant.

  • 单刀赴会 (Dān dāo fù huì) - attend a meeting with enemies with only one’s sword - the customer (used ironically here)

    不知道“单刀赴会”的他,看到海底捞在他对面,良心会不会痛 - having turned up on his own to pull a fast one on Haidilao, looking at the restaurant in front of him, can his conscience really not feel anything?

  • 树大招风 (Shù dà zhāo fēng) - a tall tree catches the wind; a famous person attracts criticism/trouble - the restaurant (normally used on its own)

    Also:

    • 冤大头 (Yuāndàtóu) - ‘injustice-big-head’ a person or company deceived on account of generosity

      伴随海底捞的知名度达到餐饮业TOP1,也就成了餐饮业冤大头TOP1 - As Haidilao has become the top 1 restaurant brand, it has also become the sector’s biggest target

Links

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3. Trending topic of the week: a low desire life 低欲望生活 (Dī yùwàng shēnghuó)

Some young people in Chinese cities are choosing to give up on urban life and go to the countryside to live a low desire life.

低欲望生活 (Dī yùwàng shēnghuó)

From Sixth Tone this week:

Near the end of May, a first-person essay about ditching the urban rat race and relocating to a mountain village [to lead a ‘low desire life’] went viral on the Chinese internet… the piece described the author’s experiences since relocating to a remote rural corner of the eastern Zhejiang province. Revolting against the norms of modern urban life, she disclaims all interest in buying a house, going out with friends, working overtime, eating junk food, or buying nice things.

In the original essay the writer, Xià bīngbáo (夏冰雹) explains why she’s had enough with life in the city:

我牺牲了最宝贵的青春年华,牺牲了属于自己的时间,严重损耗了生理健康和精神健康

I sacrificed my most precious youth, I sacrificed my own time, and severely damged physical and mental health.

An article in The Paper uses a colloquialism to conclude that escape to the countryside is not the answer, it is merely…

  • 他人之酒,浇心中之块垒 (tārén zhī jiǔ, jiāo xīnzhōng zhī kuàilěi) - Use the wine of others to wash away their own worries; numb the pain but not address the fundamental

    It’s from the original colloquial phrase:

    借他人酒杯,浇自己块垒 (Jiè tārén jiǔbēi, jiāo zìjǐ kuàilěi) - use the wine cup of others to wash away the pain


More on social trends

In addition to low desire life (低欲望生活), lying flat (躺平) and involution (内卷), there are three other related social trends:

  • 丧文化 (Sàng wénhuà) - ‘Sang’ culture

    A subculture popular among young people in China, caused by negative emotions of pessimism and despair. It is spread on the Internet through text, video, and emojis

  • 佛系 (Fó xì) - Buddah-like Mindset

    An Internet word and cultural phenomenon that became prevalent in 2014, influenced by Japan. It means is to have no desires (无欲无求), no sadness or joy (不悲不喜), calmness and peace of mind, and a life attitude of pursuing inner peace.

    Other words:

    • 佛系青年 (Fó xì qīngnián) - Buddhist Youth; urban kids that reject the fast-paced lifestyle of the city

    • 佛系防疫 (Fó xì fángyì) - Buddhist Pandemic Prevention; how the Chinese media and social media users in the UK sarcastically described the UK’s inital response to the Pandemic

  • 隐形贫困人口 (Yǐnxíng pínkùn rénkǒu) - invisible poverty-stricken population; hidden poor

    Urban residents who earn enough to survive but consumption exceeds their income; spending money on food, clothing, gym, spas and other daily expenses, leaving no money at the end of the month.

    Also: 月光族 (Yuèguāng zú) - see 29 May newsletter for more on this


Useful idioms

The Paper article uses contrasting idioms to great effect.

Here are two.

  • 南辕北辙 (Nán yuán běi zhé) - go south by driving the cart north; self-defeating, a pointless exercise

  • 殊途同归 (shū tú tóng guī) - reach the same goal by different routes; arrive at the same end by different means 

    想象背后,是南辕北辙还是殊途同归? Is the thinking behind [this decision] futile, or will it achieve the intended goal?

Links

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Recommended Reading

Here are two things I read this week worth sharing.

  • China Media Project: China’s Political Discourse May 2021: From “Involution” to “Lying Down”

    This is a great read for anyone wanting to keep their finger on the pulse on new and relevant Chinese words and trends. Many of the words about social trends covered here are also in recent Slow Chinese newsletters.

    In recent years, a number of buzzwords reflecting the social mentality have become popular in China… [including] “Buddha-like” (佛系), referring to a life lived with a sense of indifference, “low desire” (低欲望) and “laborer” (打工人), which can also be translated “commuter.” In a sense, “lying flat” is a continuation of the notion of “Buddha-like” living that has been much discussed in the past two years, expressing passive resistance to current pressures and ways of living. 

    The most recent development in this evolving fabric of words relating to existential concerns is the transition to “lying flat” from the popular word “involution” (内卷), or “turning inward,” a term that refers to a hopeless environment of white-hot work competition in which one does not grow or progress but merely spins in place, becoming more and more exhausted in the process. Last year there was growing discussion of the so-called “996 culture,” the idea that employees should expect to work from 9AM to 9PM six days a week. There was also growing bitterness over the “chicken child” (鸡娃) phenomenon, the idea that parents must exhaust themselves to pay for the raising of children, and must encourage and push them extremely hard at their studies, but with ever diminishing returns. This term arose from the notion of “drinking chicken soup” (喝鸡汤) as a source of health and nutrition, and from the idea of “injecting chicken blood” – a real therapy used during the Cultural Revolution, but here a reference to trying everything – to turn one’s children into dragons (of success, of course). 

  • SCMP: China’s Wolf Warrior diplomacy is our justified defence – get used to it, says outspoken diplomat

    Coverage of the interview with Chinese Ambassador to France, Lu Shaye, highlighted in Sinocism. There are a ton of idioms in this interview, including a deeper interpretation of the old one about hiding and biding - from a Chinese perspective:

    • 韬光隐晦 (Tāo guāng yǐnhuì) - keep a low profile; biding time

    And adds another one:

    • 有所作为 (Yǒu suǒ zuòwéi) - make a difference, achieve something, do something big, take action

    The meaning of the two idioms, according to Ambassador Lu:

    邓小平同志在讲“韬光养晦”的时候,还有后半句话——“有所作为”。现在我们这个时代,更多把重点放在了“有所作为”,而且我们是不得不“有所作为”

    When Comrade Deng Xiaoping talked about "hiding one's capacity and biding time", he still had the second half of the sentence -"make a difference." Now in our age, more emphasis is placed on "doing something", and we have to "do something" [now]

    +++

    我觉得“韬光养晦”用毛主席的一句话讲是最准确的,就是毛主席在1949年七届二中全会讲的“两个务必”:务必使同志们继续地保持谦虚、谨慎、不骄、不躁的作风,务必使同志们继续地保持艰苦奋斗的作风。“韬光养晦”实际上讲的是这个意思,就是在实力不强的时候,我们要埋头苦干,不要到处去出风头,去挑头扛旗,没什么必要,而且也没有这个能力。

    I think "hiding one's capacity and biding time" is most accurately understood using Chairman Mao's words in the "two musts" in his speech at the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee in 1949: [he said] Comrades must continue to be humble, cautious, not arrogant and have a non-irritable style of work; they also must ensure they continue to maintain the style of hard struggle. "Hiding one's capacity and biding time" actually means this, that is, when our strength is not strong, we have to keep our heads down and work hard, don't go out in the limelight flying the flag. It is not necessary, and we had no such ability.

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That’s it for this week. 

Thanks for reading. 

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

AND FINALLY…. 

  1. Please do help share this newsletter with fellow Chinese learners and China watchers… this really helps me.

  2. If you discover any interesting new words, or find articles or news stories you think would be good for this newsletter please share them! (the second article this week was a tip off from one plugged-in reader).

  3. And if you spot any mistakes please tell me where I’ve got it wrong. I’ll correct them.

Thank you!

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