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Some New Chinese Buzzwords You Must Know (1)

Mar.26, 2022

Some New Chinese Buzzwords You Must Know

Buzzwords, yes, today we are going to talk about trendy Chinese buzzwords!

Learning buzzwords is a super fun way to keep up with the hottest topics in Chinese society, and understand Chinese culture from many interesting angles.

I have selected a few interesting buzzwords for this series of articles. Today I'm going to share 2 of them with you. Let's get started!

Some New Chinese Buzzwords You Must Know

内卷/nèijuǎn: pointless competition

Like the origin of many other buzzwords, 内卷/nèijuǎn initially got popular among university students.

Some New Chinese Buzzwords You Must Know

Student using computer while cycling on university campus.

This is the photo which triggered a hot discussion on the Chinese internet in 2020

Soon after it was uploaded on social media, this visible sense of competition resonated strongly with a great range of people who are working under high pressure.

Amid this internet discussion, a concept called "内卷" was widely spread. Let's take a closer look at the word: "内/nèi" means "inside" and "卷/juǎn" means "to roll". "内卷" literally means "rolling to the inside".

What does this mean?

内卷 is not an original Chinese word. Its English equivalence is "involution". Involution is the opposite of evolution. It's a term that Clifford Geertz (American anthropologist) used in his famous agricultural research. Its principal thesis is that many centuries of intensifying wet-rice cultivation in Indonesia had produced greater social complexity without significant technological or political change.

Some New Chinese Buzzwords You Must Know

Indeed, 内卷, literally meaning "rolling to the inside", implies the increase of internal complexity, but there is actually no external advancement which can benefit social development.

On Chinese internet, there are a few vivid stories to help people understand this academic term. Here is one of them

Imagine you are watching a live performance, the person sits in front of you stands up to have a better view. What will you do? Of course you will have to also stand up in order to see what's going on. Same thing for people who sit behind you. Eventually everyone has to stand up and watch the show, however, nobody gets a better vision of the performance as a result.

Good interpretation of "内卷", right? Yes, in short, 内卷 refers to pointless competition.

Young Chinese people "love" the word "内卷" because it brings a new aspect to explain their daily anxiety and stress. They are tired of endless competitions. But this word shows to them that most of the competition that they are involved in is pointless.

Some New Chinese Buzzwords You Must Know

Statistics showsthat in the first half of 2021, the total number of applicants for the civilservice exam in all provinces

nationwide exceeded 152,500. But the number of people that eventually got employed was less than 3% of the total

applicant number.

USE OF 内卷 ↓↓↓

Bié nèijuǎn le, wǒ tài lèi le!
Stop this pointless competition. I am so tired!



the king of involution


Wǒmen gōngsī hěn juǎn。

There are endless cut-throat competition dramas going on in my company.

躺平/tǎngpíng: Lying flat

The public outrage on the internet towards "内卷" gives rise to the popularity of another buzzword - "躺平", the opposite attitude to "内卷".

Some New Chinese Buzzwords You Must Know

"躺" means "lying down" and "平" means "flat". I guess you can tell the meaning of this word already! Chinese people use this word to describe those who are tired of endless competition, instead, they choose to stop "running in the cage", to lie flat.

躺平 is the Chinese version of  "Low Desire Society". As a result of social development, more and more young people feel it is hard to earn enough for a decent lifestyle that the mainstream standard requires. That is, having a stable job, working hard, striving to buy a house, a car and having children.

躺平 reminds me of another buzzword that prevailed on the internet a few years ago - 佛系/fóxì: buddha-like mindset. To some extent, this type of buzzwords all reflect the increasing hardship that young people are going through to realize the social class transition.

It's interesting to see that, just over a decade, 躺平 lifestyle is threatening the Chinese core value of diligence which has been rooted in China for over thousands of years.

USE OF 躺平 ↓↓↓

Zài Shànghǎi yālì tài dà le, wǒ xiǎng huí lǎojiā tǎngpíng。
It's too stressful living in Shanghai. I want to loaf around in my hometown.

Gànmá zhème pīn, tǎng píng yǒu shénme bùhǎo de?
Why do you work so hard? Will it hurt you to just lie down?

That's all for today. We talked about 内卷 and 躺平. It's an interesting way to observe Chinese society, right? I have more to share in the future! Stay tuned!
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Some New Chinese Buzzwords You Must Know (1)