Trending slang reflects the modern notions of China's youth
By Tao Xing  ·  2021-12-31  ·   Source: NO.1 JANUARY 6, 2022
Representatives of the Chinese Communist Youth League members and Young Pioneers salute the Communist Party of China (CPC) and express their commitment to the Party's cause at a ceremony marking the CPC centenary at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on July 1, 2021 (XINHUA)

In summer 2021, veteran sprinter Su Bingtian, endearingly dubbed the "flying man" by fans, set a new Asian record at 9.83 seconds in the men's 100-meter dash during the Tokyo Olympics semifinals, making him the first Chinese athlete to qualify for the event's final. Following his achievement, some people in China hailed Su as YYDS, acronym for yongyuan di shen.

YYDS literally translates as eternal god and describes an outstanding person or thing, rather similar to the saying GOAT (greatest of all time) in English. The origin of YYDS comes courtesy of famous esports player Shiny Ruo. He shouted out "Uzi, YYDS!" to his idol Uzi, a retired esports player in the League of Legends.

With the power of the Internet and their knack for quick adoption and adaptation, Gen Z quickly took this word and used it in daily conversation to praise their idols or simply describe something they are fond of. They used YYDS on their chat tools and social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo. You can even see people commenting YYDS on Bilibili's bullet screen—a commentary system unique to the Bilibili ecosystem, where viewers leave so-called bullet comments, or danmu, that scroll across on-screen content.

Similar to YYDS, juejuezi or brilliant (with a capital b), too, is used to express admiration. Nevertheless, this buzzword comes with an edge as it may bear some negative connotations, signifying someone or something is exceedingly terrible, depending on the context. The phrase originates from Chinese talent and reality shows, where it is used to commend contestants or guests on the shows.

Both YYDS and juejuezi are listed in the 2021 top 10 popular Chinese cyber slang phrases, unveiled by China's National Language Resources Monitoring and Research Center, an institution administered by the Ministry of Education, on December 6, 2021.

Through intelligent information processing technologies and expert evaluation, all of the aforementioned digital buzzwords were selected from a large cyber corpus including nearly 1,100 million bullet commentaries and 350,000 forum posts. Some of them echo phenomena being widely discussed in Chinese society, whereas others are used by China's youth to express their thoughts and feelings.

Young desire 

July 1, 2021, saw the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), not just marking a big day for the Party itself but also an important milestone for all Chinese people and the development of the country. To underscore this year of "red celebration," a host of themed cultural products were released, The Age of Awakening, a popular TV drama revolving around famous scholar and politician Chen Duxiu (1880-1942) and other main CPC co-founders in 1921, being one of them. The series proved China's ultimate must-watch in the first half of 2021, according to review platform Douban.

The phrase "we'll make China strong" also related to the red spirit, stems from the solemn promise made by representatives of primary and middle school students during the Tiananmen Square ceremony denoting the CPC centenary in Beijing on July 1.

The inclusions of The Age of Awakening and "we'll make China strong" illustrated the connection between Party and people as well as the aspirations of the Chinese youth, one Beijing Youth Daily commentary read on December 8, 2021.

In addition, the commentary added how double reduction also represented netizen concern and support for newfangled and moral policymaking.

A new guideline known as double reduction was distributed by the central authorities in late July 2021 to reduce the excessive burdens of homework and after-school tutoring for primary and middle school students over the course of the next three years. The policy in the long run intends to promote all-round and healthy student development.

Express yourself 

Similar to YYDS, pofang, loosely translating as overwhelmed, hails from the realm of online gaming and originally signified a defensive line had been breached. In the netizen context, it can also mean someone has watched something so moving that it broke down their psychological barricades.

July 27, 2021, the Tokyo Olympic Games. "Can I flip again?" were the first words to leave Chinese gymnast Lu Yufei's mouth after she took a tumble during her uneven bars repertoire at the women's artistic gymnastics team final.

Her reaction quickly became a trending topic on Weibo, earning more than 100 million views. Many netizens expressed both their worry that the athlete might have been hurt in the painful-looking fall as well as their admiration for her resilience to get back up following the physical and mental knockdown.

"I am simply overwhelmed by her words," many netizens wrote. The phrase pofang is mostly used for emotional content like in early November 2021, when China's EDward Gaming won the 2021 League of Legends World Championship in Iceland, or the touching scenes of a movie, animation and TV series. 

Jiang Xi, a young woman who works for a Chongqing media outlet, told Beijing Review she would also use YYDS in her daily chats on social media.

"I think these cyber buzzwords are a direct reflection of modern Chinese youth, and indicate a way for them to express themselves," Jiang explained, "We all grow up in this fast-developing digital society, which shapes our perceptions of the self and the world by large."

Another two slangs include "I didn't get it, but I'm still shocked," a comment from film director Ang Lee regarding a 1960 movie by Swedish director Ernst Ingmar Bergman. The term was then transformed into an emoji to express confusion at something. "Not harmful, but extremely humiliating" first came into being to describe the situation of a woman in a short viral video clip who seemed lonely when having dinner with two men. The men were seen happily digging their chopsticks into the dishes and engaging in entertaining conversation, all the while ignoring the woman's presence. It later evolved into a means to describe awkwardness and even humiliation.

Despite being a creative way of expressing their mood of the moment, all these watchwords also mirror the young attitude towards the developing world and society. Just take metaverse, for example, the concept that applies to a modernistic society wholly immersed in virtual technology as well as an echo of young hopes and dreams for the future. 

Lying down, a term to describe those youngsters who have given up on ambition and do the bare minimum to get by, pointing to either those from well-to-do families or those who believe whatever will be, will be. Its concept counters that of 2020's neijuan, or involution, the catchphrase designating irrational or involuntary competition, pushing people to the edge of burnout.

Different people hold different opinions on the lying down phenomenon. A report on the South China Morning Post read that this type of attitude "has permeated Chinese society in recent years as many young people have become tired of the notion of working themselves to the bone when facing social competition."

Jiang, on the other hand, believes lying down is a way of relieving the pressures of daily life and fine-tuning the mindset—hitting the reset button, one might say.

2021 Top 10 Popular Chinese Cyber Slang Phrases 

YYDS (yongyuan di shen): eternal god

juejuezi: brilliant (with a capital b)

juexing niandai: The Age of Awakening 

shuangjian: double reduction

pofang: overwhelmed

yuanyuzhou: metaverse

tangping: lying down

shanghaixing buda, wuruxing jiqiang: not harmful, but extremely humiliating

wo kanbudong,dan wo dashou zhenhan: I didn't get it, but I'm still shocked

qiangguo you wo: We'll make China strong

(Source: China's National Language Resources Monitoring and Research Center) 

(Print Edition Title: 2021 Cyber Buzzwords) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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