You're not listening, conspiracy theories and unhealthy competition

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻


Welcome to this week’s Slow Chinese 每周漫闻.

It’s a lovingly prepared serving of nutritious language tips, new words, idioms and phrases from the week’s China news for Chinese language learners.

Thanks to those readers who responded to my survey last week. It’s still live and I would really appreciate hearing from you if you haven’t already responded - follow this link to the Google Form. It takes one minute to complete.

In this week’s newsletter:

  1. Conspiracy of the week: Tesla in China

    罗生门 (Luō shēng mén) - a ‘Rashomon’ affair (a deepening plot where each character has their own version of the truth)

  2. Internet word of the week:

    内卷化 (Nèi juǎn huà) - unhealthy competition

  3. Wolf warrior idioms of the week: “you’re not listening”

    装聋作哑 (Zhuāng lóng zuò yǎ) - pretending to deaf and dumb

  4. further reading:

    人口负增长 - negative population growth

    中英乒乓外交 - UK-China Ping Pong Diplomacy

Before kicking off, if you are chatting about anti-trust investigations into Meituan, Tencent and others, here are some essentials you’ll need:

  • 反垄断调查 (Fǎn lǒngduàn diàochá) - anti-trust investigation (also, anti-monopoly)

  • 二选一 (èr xuǎn yī) - the practice of forcing merchants to use one of two platforms

  • 进行监管约谈 (Jìnxíng jiānguǎn yuē tán) - “invited to engage in a regulatory chat” (to be invited to have a chat 约谈 is more serious than it sounds; there’s also 被谈话 or 被请喝茶 which are a bit more informal)

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1. Conspiracy of the week - Tesla in China: 罗生门 (Luō shēng mén) - ‘Rashomon’

This newsletter first discussed Tesla’s ‘pot throwing’ (甩锅 Shuǎi guō) in China on 8 February.

Since then, Tesla has continued to be accused of the pot throwing by Chinese consumers. But recently things have become more complicated.

Some commentators say that it’s become a:

罗生门 (Luō shēng mén) - ‘Rashomon’ story

Rashomon is a cult Japanese film from the 1950’s. Its plot revolves around different characters giving subjective, alternative, self-serving, and contradictory versions of events.

国内的“造车新势力”蔚来和汽车零部件供应商伟巴斯特也先后卷入其中,并上演了“罗生门” China’s new force in the domestic EV market, Nio, and its supplier, Webasto, have been drawn into this issue - it’s becoming a Rashomon story [where all sides have their own version of the truth]

Since demonstrators wearing T-shirts saying “malfunctioning brakes” (刹车失灵 Shā chē shī líng) protested on top of a Tesla at the Shanghai Auto Show last week things have moved on quite a bit:

  • Tesla made a statement:

    “our attitude is that we do not compromise (绝不妥协 - Jué bù tuǒxié) with unreasonable complaints”.

  • State media accused the company of throwing the pot and being arrogant:

    特斯拉恶意甩锅是对中国消费者的无理傲慢 - Tesla’s malicious throwing of the pot at the Chinese consumer is unreasonable and arrogant

  • China’s Political and Legal Affairs Commission followed up (that’s when you really do need to pay attention):

    不在乎“赚中国人钱、撞中国人命” - [Tesla] does not care about taking money from, and taking the lives of, the Chinese people

  • Tesla apologised:

    “We apologise deeply for having not resolved the problem with the car owner in a timely manner”.

This is where most English language media coverage stops. But there’s more intrigue in the Chinese media:

  • The Auto Show demonstrator gained access on Media Day (媒体日), with a media pass issued by Chinese auto parts manufacturer, Webasto (伟巴斯特), a suppler of Nio (蔚来汽车), Tesla’s main Chinese competitor. Not only that, the demonstrator arrived at the Auto Show venue in a Nio car.

  • Nio and Webasto made statements saying the demonstration was nothing to do with them. The protester, after being released by police, said she was acting on her own, apparently buying her ticket from a ticket tout (who has since been arrested).

  • But Tesla representatives say there’s more:

    女车主的维权很”专业“,感觉她背后有人 - this consumer rights protection lady is very professional, it feels like there’s someone else [much more powerful] in the background

Whichever version of the truth you believe, there’s nothing like a good conspiracy theory (阴谋论 - Yīnmóu lùn) to get nattering with your Chinese friends, and pick up some new words.

Useful words

  • 维权 (Wéi quán) - rights protection

    特斯拉车顶维权女车 - the female consumer rights Tesla owner/protester who protested on the roof of the Tesla car [such a mouthful!]

  • 特黑 (Tè hēi) - “Tesla hater” [you know you’re going to have a problem in China when a new word is invented to describe your haters]

    被指张女士是职业“特黑”  - Ms Zhang has been accused of being a professional “Tesla Hater”

  • “乌龙” (Wū lóng) - “own goal” [this is from Cantonese, which means to ‘make a mistake’, but it also sounds like the English, “own goal”] [you can also use it to say ‘it’s my mistake’ if you know you’ve cocked something up]

    但张女士在质疑数据不合理时闹出了一场“乌龙” - But in complaining about Tesla’s data not being accurate, Zhang ended up scoring an own goal

    抱歉抱歉,我闹了一个大乌龙 - I’m so sorry, I’ve really cocked things up

  • 黄牛票 (Huángniú piào) - scalper ticket (‘scalper’ is US English; ‘tout’ is British English)

    自己是买的黄牛票,黄牛已经被警察抓了 - she bought the ticket herself from a ticket tout, who has since been arrested

  • 口水战 (Kǒushuǐ zhàn) - “saliva war”; war of words

    这场日益升级的舆论“口水战”中 - this ever escalating war of words


There are plenty of great idioms in the recommended reading below. I’ve kept it to three which are relevant to conspiracy or rumour:

  • 扑朔迷离 (Pūshuòmílí) - “confusing” [confusingly, you can also flip this one to mean about the same thing: 迷离扑朔 - Mílí Pūshuò]

    剧情的发展超出预期,也越发变得扑朔迷离 - the plot has evolved beyond expactations, and it has become increasingly confusing

  • 蛛丝马迹 (Zhūsīmǎjì) - “ant-silk-horse-tracks”; clues

    企图从这些数据的蛛丝马迹中找到“刹车失灵”的证据 - attempting to find evidence in amongst all the tiny clues [hidden] within the data

  • 不胫而走 (Bù jìng ér zǒu) - “run without legs” - spread like wildfire (of rumours, gossip or media coverage)

    有关蔚来是特斯拉车主维权事件“幕后推手”的“阴谋论”不胫而走 - conspiracy theories about Nio being behind the Tesla owner consumer rights issues have spread like wildfire

Further reading

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2. Internet word of the week: 内卷化 (Nèi juǎn huà) - unhealthy competition

内卷化 (Nèi juǎn huà) was a popular Internet word of 2020.

The English translation is ‘involution’. Not very helpful or useful in my opinion.

The definition in Chinese is:

某个领域中发生了过度的竞争,导致人们进入了互相倾轧、内耗的状态 - fierce ‘over-competition’ in one sector which causes in-fighting and internal friction

So it’s better translated as:

“unhealthy competition”

It normally relates to internal competition in companies with pervasive 996 culture, or sectors like education where the competition is fierce.

An entertaining Sohu article (also in links below) is worth reading on the subject:

教育内卷 (Jiàoyù nèi juǎn) - unhealthy competition in education

The article describes the anxiety of Chinese parents and the huge pressure of Chinese children in school.

It follows an advert by a Beijing-based school drawing on the paranoia of Chinese parents to enrol their kids, or suffer the consequences of falling behind the competition.

It’s a fantastic play on words and Chinese characters for one thing.

  • 鸡肉卷 (Jī ròu juàn) - “chicken roll” (easy!)

  • 鸡内卷 (Jī nèi juǎn) - “chicken - internal - roll” (makes no sense at all!)

The only difference in the three characters is one less ‘人’ turning the 肉 (meat) of a chicken roll into 内 (internal) competition.

It’s roughly translated as:

鸡内卷 (Jī nèi juǎn) - “Child forced on steroids unhealthy competition”

The caption under it takes away any ambiguity:

  • 您来,我们培养您的孩子 - if you come we’ll cultivate your child

  • 您不来,我们培养您孩子的竞争对手 - if you don’t come, we’ll cultivate your child’s competition

This a great topic to dive into in Chinese with some quite unique vocab to challenge yourself with.

I’ve picked five words and two idioms.

Useful words

  • 打鸡血 (Dǎ jī xuě) - “inject chicken’s blood”; it means ‘to motivate’ or ‘pick yourself up’ as previously discussed in 10 April newsletter. But here it means something more like ‘parents forcing their kids to work hard at all costs’; it can also be translated as ‘on steroids’

    从小被打鸡血长大的孩子 - the child has been made to grow up on hard work by their parents

    上初中以后已经不需要妈妈打鸡血了,她能做到“自己鸡自己” - After graduating to middle school she no longer needed her parents to force her to work hard; she could “inject chicken’s blood [motivate] herself” to do it

  • 鸡娃 (Jī wá) - [injected blood] “chicken baby” - slang for a child who is forced to work hard by their parents

    没有人比鸡娃的父母,更能理解深陷教育内卷的煎熬与无奈 - no one can appreciate the pain and helplessness more than parents of “chicken babies” falling into the trap of unhealthy competition in education with their piers

  • 学霸 (Xué bà) - straight A student

    父母竭力将孩子培养成一个超级学霸 - parents do all they can to train their kids into a super straight A student

  • 起跑线 (Qǐ pǎo xiàn) - starting line

    想赢在起跑线上的“鸡娃”们,最终还是归于平凡,消失在了茫茫人海中 - The "chicken babies" who want to win at the starting line will eventually become ordinary people disappearing in the faceless sea of people

  • 陨落 (Yǔnluò) - fall [behind]

    曾经的学霸长大后“陨落”成常人的例子比比皆是 - there are many examples of once straight-A students growing up and becoming just another average person


  • 望子成龙、望女成凤 (Wàng zǐ chéng lóng, wàng nǚ chéng fèng) - hoping for your son to become a dragon and your daughter to become a Phoenix [wanting the very best for your kids]

    给孩子打血,望子成龙、望女成凤的“虎妈”“狼爸”们为了孩子能读好书,不断地给孩子安排学习和活动,不停地让孩子去拼搏 - injecting ‘chicken’s blood’, wanting their kids to achieve their very best, Tiger Moms and Wolf Dads continually arrange [extra] studies and events so that they can do the best in their education, forcing them to work hard [at all costs]

  • 争先恐后 (Zhēng xiān kǒng hòu) - striving to stay ahead, and fearing falling behind; scrambling

    难怪鸡娃父母们如此争先恐后,生怕落人一步了 - no wonder the parents of “chicken babies” are scrambling so much as they fear falling behind [the others] just a single step

Further reading

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3. Wolf Warrior Idioms of the week: “you’re not listening”

This week MFA spokesperson Zhao Lijian’s has continued his campaign on Fukushima nuclear waste water issue.

In a press conference earlier in the week, there are two good idioms about not listing:

  • 装聋作哑 (Zhuāng lóng zuò yǎ) - pretending to deaf and dumb

    日方必须诚恳面对国内外的质疑和反对,不能再继续装聋作哑 - Japan must sincerely face the concerns and objections of the international and domestic community, it cannot continue to play deaf and dumb

  • 置之不理 (Zhì zhī bù lǐ) - to ignore

    日本不应对全球海洋生态环境和各国人民的健康安全置之不理 - Japan cannot ignore the health and safety of the natural environment and the people of all countries

Further watching:

  • Youtube:

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4. Further reading

A couple of other things that caught my eye this week:

  • Wechat: 假如人口负增长,中国经济超过美国的预测还成立吗 (if China’s population does have negative growth, can its economy still overtake the US?). Long interview with Yi Fuxian (易富贤) a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, following the FT report on China’s population decrease. Useful words:

    七普 (Qī pǔ) - China's seventh national population census (short for: 第七次人口普查)

    二胎化 (Èr tāi huà) - two-child policy (introduced in 2016)

    灌水 (Guànshuǐ) - irrigation; “infating the numbers” (also 有水分 Yǒu shuǐfèn - extra water, margin added in (also means inflated the numbers)

  • Chinese Embassy in the UK: 杨晓光临时代办与英国知名乒乓球运动员海德斯交流“乒乓外交” - looking back on 50 years of Ping Pong Diplomacy. This newsletter first covered US-China Ping Pong Diplomacy on 8 February. There was also UK-China Ping Pong Diplomacy in 1971 too, when an England Ping Pong team visited China in that year, meeting Premier Zhou Enlai:


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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.

Finally, please do help share Slow Chinese with anyone who you think needs to brush up on their spoken, written, slang, idiomatic, poetic or classical Chinese language skills:

  • With colleagues and friends,

  • students you know from the past or present,

  • in Chinese language learning groups (Wechat, FB),

  • and on social media channels 

Thank you!

If you need more new words than what’s already here, let me know by replying to this email and I’ll send you the extras I decided not didn’t include here.

They include lots of idioms and gossipy words about conspiracies and more useful words from China’s population discussions.

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