The next big thing
Slow Chinese 每周漫闻
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This week’s theme is:
风口 fēngkǒu - ‘wind vent’
It’s a word you hear a lot in entrepreneur and investor circles in China, which we first discussed way back in the 20 February newsletter.
I translate it as:
The next big thing
Fēngkǒu was made famous by Xiǎomǐ founder, Léi Jūn 雷军, in an interview in which he said the following:
站在风口上，猪都能飞起来 zhànzài fēngkǒushàng, zhū dōu néng fēiqǐlái
“Even a pig can fly if it catches the right wind”
Meaning: any entreprenuer can make it if they’re in the right place at the right time to catch the next big thing.
Known as “flying pig theory” (飞猪理论 - fēizhū lǐlùn), these words have become immortalised in Chinese entrepreneurial legend.
Every entrepreneur in China worth his or her salt wants to become a flying pig on the winds of the next big thing.
But it’s not just about luck, it’s also about hot investment capital. A recent Chaoyang Trap Substack post gives an excellent understanding of the relationship between ‘wind vent,’ investors and entrepreneurs:
…real “vents” come on the back of venture capital. The wind that pigs are flying on is money: investors don’t just find wind vents, they make them, and that’s not going away any time soon, even if the industries change.
So, this week, we equip ourselves with the language to discuss two types of fēngkǒu in China:
The latest next big thing: the Metaverse
A big thing of the past: online KOLs, or wǎnghóng
And to finish up I dig into the archive to find some idioms to talk about explosive growth.
1. CONVERSATIONS WORTH CONSUMING
The Metaverse is the next big thing
For Chinese entrepreneurs and investors, the Metaverse is about as big as it gets in the search for the next big thing.
An article in 36Kr this week interviews four tech entrepreneurs on their views (in Chinese) on the Metaverse opportunity.
Like any opportunity of “wind vent” scale, they reckon there are four stages in its development:
概念期 gàiniànqī - conceptual phase = VC capital pours in
泡沫期 pàomòqī - bubble phase = explosive growth, chaotic market
幻灭期 huànmièqī - disillusionment phase = mass collapse, blood bath
稳定发展期 wěndìng fāzhǎnqī - stable development phase = consolidation, small number of players left
the Metaverse is very much still in the conceptual stage so the boom and bust is yet to come.
The article is packed full of useful vocab to throw into your conversations with ambitious entrepreneurs when talking about their imminent take-off.
珠峰 zhūfēng - Mount Everest; meaning: the peak of entrepreneurial achievement
对于一个想登珠峰的人，看见珠峰没什么价值，找到登山路径并制订好计划才是关键 - For those who want to get to the top of Everest, seeing the peak is not enough. Finding the route to the top and making a plan to achieve it is the key.
大火 dàhuǒ - ‘big fire’; got very big very quickly
使元宇宙彻底“大火”的，还是真正的互联网大佬 - What has made the Metaverse go absolutely crazy is the big entrepreneurs [talking about it]
一跃 yīyuè - ‘one jump’; in an instant [yī becomes second tone here]
从而使“元宇宙”一跃成为人尽皆知的热词 - Which made ‘the Metaverse’ become a hot word that everyone knew about in an instant.
龙卷风 lóngjuǎnfēng - ‘dragon-spin-wind’; tornado or a market frenzy
元宇宙刮起“龙卷风” - The Metaverse has caused a massive stir [in the entrepreneurial world].
汹涌澎湃 xiōngyǒng péngpài - surging
“元宇宙”的热潮正汹涌澎湃 - The surging wave of the Metaverse.
来势汹涌 láishì xiōngyǒng - turbulent
所以我们看待这种‘来势汹涌’，它既是必然也是必须 - So the turbulence seen [as a result] is inevitable but also necessary.
抢滩登陆 qiǎngtān dēnglù - landing on the beachhead; desperately trying to grab opportunities [military overtone]
诸多企业都在“抢滩登陆”投资和研发的动作 - There are many entrepreneurs are making desperate moves to invest in and develop [new tech].
Related: 跑马圈地 pǎomǎ quāndì - claiming markets through pre-emptive investments. Has a similar aggressive feeling of exploration and colonisation.
凡有井水处，皆能歌柳词 fányǒu jǐngshuǐ chù, jiēnéng gēliǔcí - where there are wells with water, the poems of Liu Yong can be heard; meaning: something that’s become so popular that everyone’s talking about it
大佬们均已表态要“进军元宇宙”，真可谓是“凡有井水处，皆能歌柳词” - All the big players have indicated they are planning to invest in Metaverse opportunities. This really is the thing everyone is talking about.
Background: Liǔ Yǒng 柳永 was a Northern Song poet who lived in the 10th century. He was a celebrity of this day - with his peoms known across China at that time.
大潮未退，谁在裸泳 dàcháo wèituì, shéizài luǒyǒng - only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked; meaning: entrepreneurs that talk a good game but are vulnerable or hold weak investment positions
企业害怕错过机会，带来过度投资，最终大潮退去裸泳者纷纷退场 - Entrepreneurs fear missing opportunities and end up over-investing. But when the tide has receded many of them disappear.
Background: this is actually not a Chinese colloquialism but is a famous line from American investor, Warren Buffet (巴菲特 bāfēitè). You’ll need a few good Buffetisms to hold your own in convos with Chinese entrepreneurs.
2. WORDS OF THE WEEK
Livestream e-commerce was the last next big thing
The Chinese Internet has had a number of fēngkǒu moments.
Two recent ones are:
网红经济 wǎnghóng jīngjì - Internet celebrity economics, or Internet KOLs
电商直播 diàn shāng zhíbò - live-stream e-commerce
A characteristic of fēngkǒu opportunities is some entrepreneurs and celebrities can shine brightly for a moment and then burn spectacularly.
But occasionally some manage to jump from one wind vent to another.
One Internet celebrity, Xuě Lí 雪梨, managed to cross over from being a KOL in the early days of Taobao, into live-stream e-commerce before it was a big thing.
An article on the Wechat channel Dú móu 毒眸 ‘Poison Eye’ has an exposé on how Xuě Lí has spent her career jumping from one 风口 to the next (in Chinese) but was eventually caught out:
The live-stream e-commerce market was very chaotic due to the high profits and the lack of regulation. Xue Li’s tax evasion is something that is surfacing as regulators become more active.
The article has some essential vocab for discussing the next big thing - with a focus on an important part of the process: experimentation and risk taking.
试水 shìshuǐ - test the water
雪梨是最先试水淘宝直播的第一批网红之一 - Xuě Lí was one of the first Internet KOLs to try live-stream e-commerce on Taobao.
水花 shuǐhuā - splash; meaning: make waves
在尚未掀起太多水花的直播领域，摸索自己的流量密码 - [She] started trying to find the secret to generating web livestream e-commerce web traffic before there were too many players in the market.
Related: 涟漪 liányī - ripples
丢进小池塘里的石子，泛起了一片又一片涟漪 - Throwing a stone into a pond will create ripple after ripple
抢占 qiǎngzhàn - seize
作为淘宝头部网红，雪梨本比李佳琦、薇娅更早有机会抢占直播赛道 - As a top KOL on Taobao, Xuě Lí could have had the opportunity to grab market share in the livestream sector well before Lǐ Jiāqí and Wēiyà.
踩雷点 cǎi léidiǎn - “step on thunder”; step on a landmine or make a bad error
雪梨没能抓住风口，还踩在了雷点上 - Xuě Lí did not manage to seize the “wind vent” opportunity and in fact got it really wrong.
一个又一个 yīgè yòu yīgè - one after the other, time and time again [this phrase comes up all the time when discussing wind vents]
抓住了一个又一个风口，成为电商行业的领头者 - Seized one next big thing after another, becoming the leader in the e-commerce industry.
Language tip: this is a really useful structure that makes your Chinese sound so much better. Slow down as you drop it and pause after you’ve said it for rhetorical effect.
More: see ‘ripples’ example above for the same structure with different counting word.
跃跃欲试 yuèyuè yùshì - eager to give something a go
温州人的商业基因让雪梨跃跃欲试 - Xuě Lí’s Wēnzhōu genes meant that she was willing to give it a go.
精耕细作 jīnggēng xìzuò - intensive farming; meaning labour intensive, hard work or figuratively as ‘the old ways of working’
在这个激烈的环境下，如果再依靠过去的精耕细作，其实已经跟不上这个环境了 - In this highly competitive environment, if you solely rely on the old ways of working, you cannot compete.
山呼海啸 shānhū hǎixiào - ‘mountains calling and seas whistling’; meaning: loud and overwhelming (usually negative)
雪梨就因为刷单事件上了热搜，负面新闻山呼海啸而来 - There was loads of negative media coverage after Xuě Lí hit the top of the social media rankings when she was caught out inflating her numbers.
Note: 刷单 shuādān can mean ‘fake customer reviews’ or fake customer purchases with the purpose of making sales numbers look better than they are. See 30 October newsletter for more.
From the archive: idioms about rapid growth
Reading about ‘the next big thing’ this week, I came across some idioms from the archive to describe rapid or explosive growth.
雨后春笋 yǔhòu chūnsǔn - shoot up like bamboo shoots after a spring rain; meaning rapid growth of a new industry or trend
由元宇宙所引发的新投资或新产品，更是如雨后春笋般涌现 - New investments or new products triggered by the Metaverse have sprung up like bamboo shoots after a rain.
Background: the equivalent in English is ‘springing up like mushrooms after rain’
More: See 9 October newsletter for more on this idiom and how Megatron teaches us to deal with rude tourists.
如火如荼 rúhuǒ rútú - like a raging fire
大三那年，眼见着淘宝店如火如荼 - Her Taobao shop was a raging success while she was still at her third year in university.
See 13 November newsletter for more on this idiom when we first learned how to hold a conversation about the Metaverse.
一夜爆红 yīyè bàohóng - overnight success [yī becomes second tone here]
元宇宙并非是“一夜爆红”的概念，此前已在网上掀起过一波讨论热潮了 - The Metaverse is not something that’s just sprung up overnight. There’s already been a wave of intense discussions about it on the Internet before.
See 20 February newsletter for more on this idiom and when we first discussed ‘the next big thing’
Recommended reading: Dao Insights
Still not had enough of consuming content about China’s Metaverse and its explosive business trends?
Dao Insights has a number of good articles on it, including a helpful explainer on how Chinese investors see the two stages of its development:
The first phase… a real-life simulated virtual world in social and entertainment activities featuring a 3D immersive experience. With the help of virtual avatars, daily life extends into the parallel online world, creating an authentic experience for the users. In this phase, the metaverse is found mainly in gaming.
Then… the next stage, where the simulated world further expands across different industries. New technologies like augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality will alter how people work, shop, and enjoy all other services. The boundary between the real and virtual worlds starts to blur in this phase.
The Dao Insights newsletter is a helpful and quick read for catching up on the main consumer business news of the week too.
That’s it for this week - thanks for reading.
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