Hot words

Source: BBC Capital (8/10/18)
China’s rebel generation and the rise of ‘hot words’
By Kerry Allen with additional reporting from Stuart Lau

SHANGHAI, CHINA – AUGUST 05: (CHINA OUT) Girls take a selfie in a house where “flowers” cover all the space with the help of a projector at Plaza 66 on August 5, 2015 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Language Matters is a new column from BBC Capital exploring how evolving language will influence the way we work and live.

Mandarin Chinese is one of the most complex languages in the world. Opening a Chinese dictionary, you find around 370,000 words. That’s more than double the number of words in the Oxford English dictionary, and almost three times those in French and Russian dictionaries.

But these many words have been joined in recent years by a bunch of upstarts. Reci – literally translated as ‘hot words’: are slang terms that young Chinese are creating and using online to communicate how they really feel about current affairs and trends. Continue reading

Keywords in Chinese Internet Subculture (1)

My name is Xiqing Zheng, Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, University of Washington. I am currently an assistant professor at the Institute of Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and a participant (and consultant) of Peking University Internet Literature Research Forum.

As one of the fifteen authors of this book (I am the main author of the Danmei section),  《破壁书:网络文化关键词》 (My own translation of the title goes: The Book of the Shattered Shield, or probably The Book that Shatters Shields), I would like to briefly introduce it to the academic community of modern Chinese literature and culture, because the scholars of contemporary Chinese literature and culture are part of our target audience.

The idea of “shattered shield” refers to a phrase in Chinese otaku community, “dimensional shield,” which ultimately comes from the Japanese otaku community. Literally referring to the differences between the three-dimensional world (of the real people and everyday life) and the two-dimensional world (of the characters and the fictional worlds from Japanese media texts of anime, comics [manga], games, light novels, [abbreviated as ACGN in everyday use in China]), “dimensional shield” describes the semiotic break between the mainstream culture, and the fan/otaku subculture. While the “dimensional shield” is something that stops people from understanding each other, this book is written and edited to break the shield, attempting to establish a path of understanding through keywords definitions. Continue reading

Keywords in Chinese Internet Subcultures

Source: China Daily (7/18/18)
Decoding the language of the young
By Mei Jia | China Daily

Cover of The Book of Wallbreaking: Keywords in Chinese Internet Subcultures. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A new book tries to make sense of what the younger generation is saying, Mei Jia reports.

Peking University associate professor Shao Yanjun, 50, is not the first one to discover that the younger generation, growing up with smart devices and the internet, actually use a different language when they are online, and sometimes, offline too, which is not easy to understand for her and her peers.

Therefore she has become the first to direct and guide her doctoral and master’s students to write a book about keywords in Chinese internet subcultures.

A pioneer and established scholar on internet culture/literature studies, Shao began to give lectures on the campus about web novels and online literature in 2011. However, outside class, she felt at loss.

“Their language differed from what they used in class, and I noticed jargon,” she says.

“And sometimes the phrases seemed to be standard Chinese that you’re familiar with, but referred to different things,” she adds. Continue reading

Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Yan Liang’s review of Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories: A Parallel Text (Columbia UP, 2017), translated and edited by Aili Mu, with Mike Smith. The review appears below, but is best viewed online at: My thanks to Michael Berry, MCLC book review editor for translations, for ushering the review to publication.

Enjoy, Kirk Denton, editor

Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories:
A Parallel Text

Translated and edited by Aili Mu with Mike Smith

Reviewed by Yan Liang
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright June, 2018)

Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories: A Parallel Text. Translated and edited by Aili Mu with Mike Smith. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. pp. 528. ISBN: 9780231181532 (paper); ISBN: 9780231181525 (hard cover); ISBN: 9780231543637 (e-book).

Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories (2018) is a parallel-text (Chinese-English) collection of Chinese short-short stories translated and edited by Aili Mu in collaboration with poet and essayist Mike Smith. It is a delightful read for anyone curious about contemporary Chinese society. The English translations of the stories are smooth and graceful, despite Mu’s conscious choice—for the pedagogical sake of Chinese language learners—of translating the text more literally than literarily. With the addition of the parallel Chinese text and the thoughtfully designed teaching materials, including introductory essays, glossaries, reading questions, and author biographies, the book makes an easy-to-use and much-needed textbook for teachers and advanced students of Chinese language and culture. Continue reading

Proper nouns must be proper Chinese

Source: Sixth Tone (5/30/18)
Proper Nouns Must Be Proper Chinese, Say Authorities
Ministry mandates that housing developments with names like ‘California Town’ and ‘Norwegian Wood’ must find Mandarin monikers.
By Liang Chenyu

More than 75,000 place names around China have been changed because they were too exotic, strange, or hyperbolic, the Ministry of Education announced Monday.

Tian Lixin, head of the ministry’s department for standardizing Chinese language usage, told The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, that it is inappropriate to see names like “Venice” and “Rome” in Chinese cities.

On social platform Weibo, some users approved of the sweep. “There are so many beautiful words in [Chinese classics], why do you have to choose strange transliterated words?” But others disagreed: “Why does this bother you enough to police it?” Continue reading

Tibetan language erasure

Source: Sup China (5/22/18)
Tibetan language erasure
By Lucas Niewenhuis

In November 2015, the New York Times published a 10-minute video about Tashi Wangchuk, a Tibetan businessman, that followed him as he travelled to Beijing to advocate for the preservation of his ethnic language. In Tashi’s telling, the poor standards for Tibetan language instruction in his hometown of Yushu (Gyegu in Tibetan), Qinghai Province, and pushing of Mandarin language instead was tantamount to “a systematic slaughter of our culture.” The video opens with an excerpt of China’s constitution:

All nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and to preserve or reform their own folkways and customs. Continue reading

Taiwan’s laws on language

Source: Quartz (5/9/18)
Taiwan’s laws on language are showing China what it means to be a modern, inclusive country
By Nikhil Sonnad

Supporters react during a rally after Taiwan’s constitutional court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to legally marry, the first such ruling in Asia, in Taipei. All are welcome. (Reuters/Tyrone Siu)

Taiwan was once considered an economic miracle. Now economic progress there has slowed to a halt as China, Taiwan’s imposing neighbor, grows bigger by the day.

But in terms of social progress, Taiwan is decades ahead—showing people in China that a modern, multicultural, and tolerant Chinese society is possible.

Consider the difference between Taiwan and China’s language policies. Legislators in Taiwan are preparing to redefine what constitutes a “national language.” If the new definition is enacted, which is likely, Taiwanese—the local variant of the Minnan language of southern China—will receive equal treatment with Mandarin. That would be unthinkable in China, where Mandarin’s status as the sole standard language is absolute.

The Taiwanese language is everywhere in Taiwan. It is spoken at home by over 80% of the population. Would-be politicians feel the need to campaign in Taiwanese in order to win elections. Yet it has not been given the status of a national language. That is in part because the language has endured long periods of inequity relative to Mandarin, even in Taiwan. When the Kuomintang party arrived on the island in the 1940s, fleeing its losing battle with the Chinese communists, it banned the use of Taiwanese in schools and in the media, declaring that Mandarin should be the language of the island.

The new rule would change that, expanding on a separate act passed last year that gave several indigenous languages “national” status. Areas with large populations that speak Taiwanese will be allowed to use them in official documents and legal affairs. And the government will have an obligation to teach Taiwanese and the indigenous languages as part of the standard, 12-year curriculum, as well as to develop writing systems and dictionaries in those languages.

That level of commitment to minority languages would be impressive even for a Western country. In the United States, for example, it is hard to find national efforts to support any language other than English. But more than anything, the new rule reveals the growing cultural distance between Taiwan and China, and how much Taiwan has developed socially.

China doesn’t like the Minnan that can be heard in shops and food stalls across Taiwan. It considers Minnan, or Taiwanese, the language of the Taiwan independence movement. The prospect of possible retaliation from Beijing has long delayed Taiwan from giving the language a more official status.

China’s policies on minority languages, meanwhile, are stuck in the 20th century. Linguistically, China is extremely diverse. It is home to at least 100 distinct languages. Yet the Chinese government’s policy is based on the Stalinist assertion that a nation must have a single shared language, and that everyone in the nation must speak it. “A national community is inconceivable without a common language,” Stalin wrotein 1913. In 2000, China enacted a law to that effect, establishing putonghua—or “common speech,” as Mandarin is called in China—as the sole national language for the “unification of the country.” That means that Mandarin should come before all other languages.

The official rules in China don’t ban minority languages. And the same law that established Mandarin as the national language states that citizens “shall have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.”

But in many cases, the Communist Party perceives minority languages as being in conflict with higher-priority concerns, such as the nationwide promotion of Mandarin, national sovereignty, and cultural unification of the kind that Stalin advocated.

“If you promote the use of those [minority] languages in public domains, then the government might have a different view,” says Minglang Zhou, a professor at the University of Maryland who studies minority language policy in China. “They think that threatens the use of putonghua, and citizens’ identification with the Chinese nation.”

The Tibetan language is a good example of how these priorities shake out in practice.

“If you look at Tibetan, you can see this gradual shift from using Tibetan for instruction in classrooms to using Chinese,” Zhou adds. This is mostly the result of the 2000 language law. China might allow minority groups to develop their own languages, but the national effort is focused on getting 80% of citizens speaking Mandarin.

The two goals can be mutually exclusive. Mandarin-speaking teachers are sent to areas where Chinese is not spoken as well, and where they might not be able to speak the local language. The result is that in Tibet, the local language is, at best, relegated to a language class, and not used as the medium of instruction.

In addition to challenging the primacy of Mandarin, the party views the Tibetan language as a threat to Chinese sovereignty and identification with the nation of China. It doesn’t want citizens seeing themselves as Tibetans first. A strong Tibetan language movement might bring that about. China may claim that minorities have the right to develop their languages, but it also put on trial an activist who wanted more Tibetan in schools, accusing him of “inciting separatism.”

Essentially, China is not concerned with making minority languages more frequently spoken. It wants them to be preserved as interesting bits of Chinese history, like artifacts in a museum.

Therein lies the difference with Taiwan. Giving Taiwanese equal status will allow the language to thrive in everyday life, whether in schools, official documents, or popular media. It is not meant to be a historical artifact. If Mandarin is preferred in some setting, it will be because it is a common language, not because it has been deemed so from on high.

Taiwan has had enough time being governed independently from China to develop its own identity. The renewed emphasis on the Taiwanese language is one symptom of that. At the same time, its language policies show how Taiwan has developed into a pluralistic democracy, even as China moves in the opposite direction, toward greater unification. Taiwan’s renewed promotion of indigenous languages tries to reckon with historical injustices, even as China arrests Tibetan language activists. Last year, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage as China shut down a popular lesbian dating app.

In addition to being an act of pluralism, Taiwan’s proposed language law probably has political motivations. It sends a message to China that Taiwan does not need, or want, to abide by Beijing’s rules. But it also shows people in China that top-down unification is not the only way to govern an ethnically and linguistically diverse country where Mandarin is the lingua franca.

HK says no to Mandarin

Source: SCMP (5/3/18)
Should Mandarin replace Cantonese in Hong Kong? No, says Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam, education secretary and mainland linguist all dismiss idea that Mandarin will be used to teach Chinese in city’s schools
By Su Xinqi/Sum Lok-kei

The debate over whether Cantonese was Hongkongers’ mother tongue has caused waves in the education sector. File photo

Hong Kong’s leader on Thursday dismissed a controversy over the use of Mandarin in public schools and whether Cantonese could be considered the city’s mother tongue as a “non-issue”, telling legislators her administration had no plan to change its policy on the language used to teach.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said two issues had caused waves in the education sector – the debate over whether Cantonese was Hongkongers’ mother tongue, and whether liberal studies should continue to be part of the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education exam. Continue reading

Why has Cantonese fallen out of favor

Source: SCMP (3/12/18)
Why has Cantonese fallen out of favour with Guangzhou youngsters?
In provincial capital, formerly known as Canton, grandparents and parents find themselves having to communicate with children in Mandarin
By He Huifeng

Fans of Chinese soccer team Guangzhou Evergrande hold up banners during its AFC Champions League match with Hong Kong’s Eastern at Mong Kok Stadium in April last year. Photo: AFP

Cantonese is being spoken by fewer children and teenagers in Guangzhou, with locals and defenders of Cantonese heritage concerned that middle-aged and older Cantonese speakers are having to communicate with their children and grandchildren in Mandarin at home.

The reasons for the rapidly declining popularity of Cantonese – spoken by more than 60 million people round the world – among the Pearl River Delta’s young people were complex and linked to political and economic changes in the area, they said.

At taxi queues, bus stations, restaurants and street corners in delta cities such as Guangzhou, the Guangdong provincial capital formerly known as Canton, Shenzhen and Dongguan, grandparents can often be heard speaking to their grandchildren in strongly accented Mandarin, while young parents also switch from Cantonese to Mandarin when talking with primary pupils and teenagers. Continue reading

Lexicopedia Manchu

Online Lexicopedia Manchu

The team of would like to make you aware of the online Manchu lexicopedia . Although still in beta, it is already ready to use.

It now includes Jerry Norman’s Comprehensive Manchu-English Dictionary, as well as the Qing Mirror lexicon of the Qianlong court. Over 20 modern and Qing-contemporary lexicons will follow in the coming months. For this project, works together with Helsinki University, Tohoku University (K-dic database), Georgetown University at Qatar, Leiden University, as well as ca. ten database volunteers.

So, for anyone learning or reading Manchu sources, try It works on any device. For questions or feedback, please do not hesitate to email

Léon Rodenburg
Fresco Sam-Sin <>

PS: if you wish to follow the addition of sources, then follow our FB

Gaming slang enters popular culture

Source: World of Chinese (3/7/18)
Slang for Noobs
The chatter of the online gaming community has become part of popular Chinese culture
By Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

China is already one of the world’s largest and most rapidly growing online gaming markets. According to Statista, a market research and business intelligence portal, the country’s online gaming sector was worth 216 billion RMB in 2017 and is estimated to reach 324 billion RMB by 2020.

Whether PC or mobile games, people are increasingly turning on fantasy role-playing hits such as Honor of Kings or South Korea’s gory “battle royale” phenomenon Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, currently known as the “world’s hottest video game” (the latter has also been given a “socialist makeover” in China, AP reported).

In the process, many gaming terms and jargon have begun to embed themselves into Chinese popular culture and language (much like “Easter egg,” “pwn,” “noob,” “frag,” and other terms have in English). For example, during this year’s Black Friday, phrases like the following were repeated ad nauseum on online banner ads:

Black Friday promotion: all products seckilling for 50 percent off!
Hēiwǔ cùxiāo: Suǒyǒu shāngpǐn wǔ zhé miǎoshā!
黑五促销:所有商品五折秒杀! Continue reading


The 30th North American Conference on Chinese Linguistics (NACCL-30) will be held at The Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus, Ohio. OSU is the birthplace of NACCL and the home of the largest East Asian Linguistics Program in the continental U.S., with M.A. and Ph.D. in both Chinese Linguistics and Japanese Linguistics. See details below.

NACCL-30 Conference  
Dates:  March 9-11, 2018
Venue: The Blackwell Inn and Pfahl Conference Center
2110 Tuttle Park Place, Columbus, Ohio 43210
Program:  Pre-final Program
Email: Continue reading

Script reform and modernity–cfp

Script Reform and Modernity in East Asia
Panel at Modern Language Association Convention in Chicago
January 3-6, 2019

What role do scripts play in the shaping of literary cultures? How have script reforms across Asia affected the development of modern literature and national languages? From the creation of Korean Hangul in the fifteenth century to the adoption of a modified Roman alphabet in Vietnam in the nineteenth century to the promulgation of simplified characters in China in the early twentieth century, nearly all Asian countries have undergone significant script reform within the past 500 years. How have nationalism, colonialism (or anti-colonialism), education, democracy, and aesthetics contributed to these transformations? What conservative movements have opposed these reforms, on what grounds, and with what degree of success? What common themes emerge as we consider cases from across Asia, and what phenomena stand out in particular cases? In the hope of sparking a broadly comparative conversation, the panel welcomes papers on script reforms from across Asia. Please send 250 word abstracts to Rivi Handler-Spitz by March 16, 2018.