27th International Conference on Yue Dialects

Logo for the 27th International Conference on Yue DialectsThe 27th International Conference on Yue Dialects (2023)

This conference — hosted by The Ohio State University — will be held virtually via Zoom on the evenings of November 30 to December 2, 2023 (Eastern Time Zone). The dates correspond to the mornings of December 1-3 (Friday to Sunday) in East Asia.

The conference Program is now online. Check it out!

Online Registration (free and open to the public):

Registration 報名表格

The International Conference on Yue Dialects, first launched in 1987 in Hong Kong by the Linguistic Society of Hong Kong and The Chinese University of Hong Kong, debuts this year as the first overseas event, outside China and its two SARs, Hong Kong and Macau! We at The Ohio State University are honored to serve as the 2023 host of this prestigious conference series. We look forward to welcoming presenters and attendees from around the world with interest in linguistic research on Cantonese and other Yue dialects.

As part of the conference, we are excited to welcome three keynote speakers. Continue reading

Mao and character reform, revisionist history on CCTV

Source: Language Log (11/7/23)
Mao and Chinese Character Reform: Revisionist History on CCTV
By David Moser

Just when you thought CCP propaganda couldn’t get more absurd, China Central Television (CCTV) has aired a short TV series in which Confucius and Karl Marx actually meet up for comradely chat about ideology. In typical fantasy time-travel style, Marx simply appears miraculously at the Yuelu Academy (estab. 976) in Hunan, and is warmly greeted by Confucius to chants of “A friend visiting from afar is a great delight.” (有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎?) The two gray-bearded philosophers then sit down together to discuss how their respective theories seem to merge harmoniously to form an ideal basis for governing China.

This bit of historical cosplay is part of Xi Jinping’s “Soul and Root” (魂和根) propaganda campaign, introducing the notion that Marxism and Confucianism – the “Two Combines” (兩個結合) – must be integrated to form a unified national identity, with Marxism being the “soul” and traditional culture, including Confucianism, being the “root.”

This awkward conjoining of the two philosophies is a bit of a shotgun wedding. There is the obvious fact that the Confucian emphasis on social roles and class hierarchies are in conflict with Marxism’s ultimate goal of eliminating class distinctions. And more uncomfortable is the fact that the May 4th intellectuals (including Mao himself) despised Confucianism, viewing its stultifying conservatism and dogmatism as a major cause of China’s weakness during the waning years of the Qing dynasty. The TV series at least acknowledges this tension in passing. For interested readers, Ryan Ho Kilpatrick provides a succinct summary of this new Party propaganda push at the China Media Project site. Continue reading

Visual language of official press

Source: China Media Project (10/20/23)
The Visual Language of China’s Official Press
Understanding the political messages of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) requires much more than mere summary and translation — and more even than close textual readings. Here’s a walk through the basics, looking at today’s edition of the Party’s flagship newspaper.
By David Bandurski

In the official Party-state media in China, design is driven by politics — and it is a crucial aspect of the political discourse. Want to see this principle in action? Today’s edition of the People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) offers a prime example.

The oddest and most prominent feature of the front page of the People’s Daily today is the large vertical headline running down the left-hand side. The headline, which announces that top leader Xi Jinping met with international leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, ties the rest of the headlines on the page together. All are announcements of separate meetings, each with a different foreign leader.

As has been the case all week in the official state media in China, the top story is the Belt and Road. Coverage has touted its great benefits for participating countries, and for the entire world — emphasizing the growing economic and political centrality of China and its top leader.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the global infrastructure development and trade promotion program, which has been a pillar of China’s foreign policy, and the forum this week is the year’s most prominent opportunity for state-run media to roll out related domestic and international propaganda.

They have not missed the chance. Coverage of the Belt and Road Forum has eclipsed all other stories, including one of the world’s most pressing concerns, the unfolding conflict in Gaza and its potentially disastrous implications for security in the Middle East. Continue reading

Kingdom of Characters review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Gina Anne Tam’s review of Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, by Jing Tsu. The review appears below and at its online home: https://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/gina-tam/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, our literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, MCLC

Kingdom of Characters:
The Language Revolution That Made China Modern

By Jing Tsu

Reviewed by Gina Anne Tam

MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September, 2023)

Jing Tsu, Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution that Made China Modern New York: Riverhead Books, 2022. xix + 314 pp. ISBN: 9780735214736​ (Paperback); 9780735214729 (Hardcover); 9780735214743​ (E-book)

Jing Tsu believes that Americans do not understand China well. With an eye on deteriorating US-China relations in the past several years, the prolific literary scholar has repeatedly made public her concern about the information gap between China and the West, a reality she sees as increasingly dangerous. Scholars who have deep, lived experience in China, she contends, have an increasingly important responsibility. She states that the “days of armchair scholarship are over,” instead imploring fellow specialists to do all we can to help readers understand China on its own terms—as a place that is textured and complicated, not a two-dimensional caricature of a dangerous and threatening hegemon.[1]

It was to further this goal that Tsu wrote Kingdom of Characters: The Language Revolution That Made China Modern, a work that has topped best-seller lists and gained widespread attention by mainstream audiences around the world. The book is a history of Chinese language modernization as told through several compelling biographies placed vividly into the context of the tumultuous history of China’s twentieth century. It is meant, Tsu purports, to help bridge the understanding gap between the average American and citizens of China. Language, she believes, is a vector through which we can understand China today—from the state processes that control and shape culture, to the economics of technological advancement, to ideas about foreignness, nativity, and power. Continue reading

The Chinese People Have Stand-Up

Source: China Media Project (8/30/23)
The Chinese People Have Stand-Up
China’s crackdown on stand-up comedy in May this year was swift and decisive — as was the medium’s rise during the pandemic years. Taiwanese comedian Vickie Wang offers her inside perspective on why the format has struck such a chord with young Chinese audiences.
By Vickie Wang

When I first saw Ali Wong’s Netflix special Baby Cobra, I thought to myself, “I didn’t know Asian women were allowed to talk like this in public!” It was raunchy, frank, and hilarious — and it inspired me to go to comedy shows. In 2017, I began doing open mics at Shanghai’s Kung Fu Komedy club.

When I started out, the performers and clientele in Shanghai both skewed heavily expatriate. Most of the jokes hinged on how overwhelming it was to live in China as a foreigner, or even more cringe-worthy material about intercultural dating. Still, I was drawn to the bare-bones nature of the performance format. A dedicated venue with a dark room, good soundproofing, a spotlight, and a good sound system all go a long way. It also helps if the venue sells alcohol. But stand-up comedy doesn’t require a theater: it’s just a comedian with a microphone and an audience.

Kung Fu Komedy was one of the most prominent stand-up comedy venues in Asia at the time, and the only club in mainland China dedicated to stand-up, putting on English-language shows like mine most nights of the week. But by October of 2018, in the lead-up to the first China International Import Expo, the club was shuttered amid a wave of crackdowns on performers’ visas and liquor licenses. The secret to why this happened goes to the heart of what makes stand-up so engaging for performers like me as an art form — even without the glitz and glamor — and why it attracts so much attention from the public. Continue reading

Xi’s obscure nicknames

Source: China Digital Times (8/25/23)
Words of the Week: Xi’s Obscure Nicknames, from ↗↘↗ to ‘2-4-2’ to ‘N’ to ‘N-Butane

With hundreds of documented (and censored) online sobriquets, Xi Jinping is arguably the most nicknamed leader in recent Chinese history. To stay ahead of the censors, online Chinese have long resorted to using homophones, variant characters, intentional typos, and a range of typographical tricks when referring to China’s “core” leader.

Image shows the tonal marks for the three Chinese characters in Xi Jinping’s name. The order of the tones is rising (2nd tone), falling (4th tone), and rising (2nd tone).

Over time, as evading online censorship has become more difficult, the nicknames have trended toward the abstruse. When a recent “Soviet-style” joke about a man asking a genie to “make blah-blah-blah blah-blah-blah” went viral, the first string of three nonsense syllables were interpreted by many to mean “Xi Jinping,” and the second was thought to mean something like “hurry up and die” or “step down soon.” Despite the vagueness of the joke, references to it were quickly censored on social media and the original poster (@怪以德服人猫) had their account summarily deleted from Weibo for allegedly violating platform policy.

Even the tonal marks used in Xi Jinping’s name (习近平, Xí Jìnpíng) have become a roundabout way to refer to him online. In May of 2023, Chinese Twitter and social media was abuzz about a sequence of three arrows ↗↘↗ said to represent the three tones (second/rising tone, fourth/falling tone, and second/rising tone, respectively) in Xi Jinping’s name. This usage had originated with a screenshot, purportedly from QQ, showing a post that read: “You know what’s depressing? When random netizens who do your job as a hobby are smarter and more competent than you.” Someone in the comments section had responded, “Those keyboard warriors are more competent than ↗↘↗.” Many who read the comment were shocked and amused that they managed to correctly interpret the three arrows as a reference to Xi Jinping, although others had to ask, “Can anyone explain this?” Among the comments of those in the know: “I understood that!” “How was I able to read that? Someone save me,” “God, I’ve been pronouncing it →↘→ all this time, guess my Mandarin isn’t that good,” and “I got it at first glance. Does this mean I’m going to hell?” Continue reading

Four Won’t Youth

Source: China Digital Times (7/20/23)
Word(s) of the Week: Four Won’t Youth (四不青年, SÌ BÙ QĪNGNIÁN)
Posted by 

A screenshot of the black-and-white chart described above features an X-axis, a Y-axis, and four quadrants, each containing a single Chinese character representing a mode of political behavior. There is also a Z-axis with the character “Xian,” representing the most extreme mode of behavior.

A screenshot of the black-and-white chart described below features an X-axis, a Y-axis, and four quadrants, each containing a single Chinese character representing a mode of political behavior. There is also a Z-axis with the character “Xian,” representing the most extreme mode of behavior.

Four Won’t Youth” (四不青年, sì bù qīngnián) is the latest appellation for discontented youth, who in this case “won’t date, won’t marry, won’t buy a home, and won’t have kids.”

Four Won’t Youth, like other similar terms (lying flatinvolutionKong Yiji), make the Party-state nervous. A document floating around the internet and purported to be from the Guangzhou branch of the Communist Youth League claims that of 15,501 surveyed youth, 1,215 could be classified as Four Won’t Youth. The document calls for an effort to transform these young people into “Four Will Youth,” who are willing to go out on dates, get hitched, purchase real estate, and procreate. Screenshots of the alleged document have been censored on Weibo. Continue reading

International Conference on Yue Dialects 2023–cfp

Dear all,

We are pleased to announce The 27th International Conference on Yue Dialects, which will be held virtually via Zoom on the evenings of November 30 to December 2, 2023 (Eastern Time Zone), corresponding to the mornings of December 1-3, 2023 in East Asia.

The conference URL:


The 27th International Conference on Yue Dialects is organized at The Ohio State University, in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. We at OSU are very excited to host this conference, as it will be the first time that this conference series — first launched in 1987 in Hong Kong by Linguistic Society of Hong Kong and The Chinese University of Hong Kong — is being held overseas, outside China and its two SARs, Hong Kong and Macau.

The theme of the conference is: Visions, Variation, and Vitality in Yue Dialects. We welcome abstracts for submission on all aspects of linguistics of Cantonese and other Yue dialects, and especially those associated with the theme of the conference.

The conference has invited 3 keynote speakers, two in Chinese linguistics and one in Chinese history.

Professor Dana Bourgerie 白杰理教授 (Brigham Young University)
Professor Gina Anne Tam 潭吉娜教授 (Trinity University)
Professor Holman Tse 謝浩明教授  (St. Catherine University) Continue reading

‘I Don’t Raise Pigs’

Source: China Digital Times (6/28/23)
Word(s) of the Week: “I Don’t Raise Pigs” (我不养猪 WǑ BÙ YǍNG ZHŪ)
By Alexander Boyd

“I don’t raise pigs” (我不养猪 wǒ bù yǎng zhū), a Hunan police station’s nonsensical comment on the death of a woman in their custody, is the latest incidence of “gobsmacking rhetoric” (léi yǔ 雷语) to go viral. “Gobsmacking rhetoric” is online slang that can be used to describe inappropriate official rhetoric that bowls over readers. In a popular culture context, it is solely humorous.

On June 14, a woman died in a Cili County police station. Police attributed the death to sudden cardiac death caused by malignant arrhythmia. The woman’s daughter then posted a video in which she alleged that her mother had died while under interrogation. The news went viral on Weibo, spurring investigative journalists to look into the claim. A reporter for Benliu News, a Gansu state-controlled outlet, called the police station in question to ask whether anyone had died there and received this odd response: “I don’t know. Our sow didn’t have a litter. I don’t raise pigs.” The bizarre police response massively increased attention on the case, prompting authorities to announce an investigation into the death. Many online called for the investigation to look into the “I don’t raise pigs” comment. The WeChat public account @犯犯之谈 posted an article titled, “She went in living, she came out dead,” that castigated the police for their bizarre comment:

“I wonder whether those officers are just used to treating the station like a pigsty and the people like swine, or whether that officer [on the phone] was putting on a performance and feigning mental illness? Oh wait, that’s right—if you’re mentally ill, you can get away with murder!” [Chinese] Continue reading

‘Eliminating the emperor’s cronies’

Source: China Digital Times (6/28/23)
Weibo Users Dub Wagner Group Rebellion a “Real-life Version of ‘Eliminating the Emperor’s Cronies'”
By Cindy Carter

An antiquated Chinese political phrase enjoyed a brief revival when it was dusted off and used by some online commentators to describe the series of events known variously as the “Wagner Group Revolt/Rebellion/Insurrection/Mutiny/etc.”

The phrase “eliminating the Emperor’s cronies” (清君侧, qīng jūn cè) refers to the removal of powerful but treacherous courtiers and officials from the ambit of a reigning emperor by another group claiming fealty to the emperor. For millennia, it has been used to justify all manner of palace coups, usurpations, and uprisings, including the Rebellion of the Seven States (154 B.C.E.) against the Han Dynasty Emperor Jing; the An Lushan Rebellion (755-763 C.E) that sought to topple the Tang Dynasty; and the Jingnan Campaign (1399-1402 C.E.), a three-year civil war between supporters of two rival Ming Dynasty claimants.

The phrase began popping up on Weibo over the weekend, following reports that troops from the Wagner Group, a private Russian paramilitary organization led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, were marching toward Moscow to challenge attempts by the Russian Ministry of Defense to subsume Wagner troops into its own command structure. Aware of Prigozhin’s close ties with Putin—and of Prigozhin’s long-running rivalry with top military brass, mainly Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and Armed Forces Chief Valery Gerasimov—some Chinese netizens described the incident as “a real-life version of ‘eliminating the Emperor’s cronies.’” Continue reading

‘Objects placed in a row’

Source: China Digital Times (6/6/23)
Word(s) of the Week: “Objects Placed in a Row” (物体排成一排, WÙTǏ PÁICHÉNG YĪPÁI)

“Tank Man” stands before a row of four enormous yellow rubber ducks.

The sight of a lone man standing before a row of tanks in Beijing is perhaps the most enduring image to emerge from the Tiananmen Protests of 1989. Photographs taken on June 5 of that year—one day after PLA troops crushed the protests, killing and injuring untold numbers of Chinese citizens—show an unidentified man dressed in a white shirt and black trousers and holding two shopping bags, standing before a line of tanks on Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue. The identity and fate of the individual who has come to be known as “Tank Man” are unconfirmed.

Images of Tank Man are completely censored on the Chinese internet and social media. This heavy-handed censorship has given rise to many variations on a theme, in an effort to evade censorship. Photoshopped permutations of the “objects in a row” theme are manifold: in some, the line of tanks has been replaced by enormous yellow rubber ducks, Lego figures, cartoon characters, or food items such as zongzi (glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves.) In others, “Tank Man” himself has been replaced by a cartoon or video-game character, a Lego man, a “grass-mud horse,” or another animate or inanimate object. Typographic and ideographic tricks also abound: strings of Chinese characters such as 占占人 and 占占占人 have been used to represent a person standing in front of two, three, or more tanks, while the combinations 占占点 and 占点占 resemble a person being crushed by tanks. In June of 2012, a Sohu Weibo user had their account blocked after posting this extraordinary string of characters representing a person being crushed under four tanks: 占占占占人 占占占点 占占点占 占点占占 点占占占 灬占占占占. Continue reading

Some indigenous people in Taiwan want to drop their Chinese names

F y i — btw, since the genocide, I’ve also dropped my Chinese name i used to have, … in my case, just can’t stand it thinking of those masses of people force-fed Chinese language and force-renamed with Chinese names, in the Uyghur concentration camps …. so I can understand the Taiwan aborigine people who do this. Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>.

Source: LA Times (5/2/23)
Some Indigenous people in Taiwan want to drop their Chinese names: ‘That history has nothing to do with mine’

Indigenous performers pose for photos during a traditional annual performance

Indigenous performers in Taipei, Taiwan, pose for photos during an annual traditional performance at the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall on Aug. 20, 2022. (Sam Yeh / AFP via Getty Images)

TAIPEI, Taiwan — The name on his government ID when he was growing up — and how his classmates, teachers and baseball teammates knew him — was Chu Li-jen.

At home, however, he was always Giljegiljaw Kungkuan, or “Giyaw” for short, the Indigenous name bestowed on him by his grandmother.

By the time he was a teenager, he wanted to go by his Indigenous name all the time, as a matter of pride. But his parents worried that abandoning his Chinese name would only cause him trouble in a Chinese-dominated society.

In 2019, he finally made it his legal name with the Taiwanese government after Cleveland‘s MLB franchise — grappling with its own name issues — invited him to spring training. He wanted to ensure that come the next season, the letters emblazoned on his jersey would read: “GILJEGILJAW.” Continue reading


Source: China Media Project (3/30/23)
CCP or CPC: A China Watchers’ Rorschach
The choice to use either CCP or CPC for China’s ruling Communist Party has become politically charged, but how did this distinction arise — and does it even matter?
By Ryan Ho Kilpatrick

On a cold January evening in 1931, He Yeduo (贺页朵) pledged his life to the Chinese Communist Party. The 45-year-old Jiangxi peasant was barely literate, but at the oath-swearing ceremony on a Red Army base in the Jinggang Mountains, the “cradle of the Chinese revolution,” he took out a piece of red cloth and began writing.

A quarter of the Chinese characters he wrote, professing his faith to the then-embattled and apparently doomed guerrilla forces in his native province, were misspelled. But at the top of the cloth, now regarded as a divine relic of the revolution, are three perfectly formed letters, the name of the organization he would die for: “C.C.P.”

Nine decades later, these three letters have become an unacceptable slur to many supporters of He’s beloved Chinese Communist Party. Continue reading


Source: China Digital Times (2/13/23)
Word of the Week: Huminerals (人矿 RÉN KUÀNG)
Posted by 

The new word “humineral” (人矿 rén kuàng) has taken the Chinese internet by storm and is now a sensitive word subject to censorship. First introduced in a now-censored Zhihu post on January 2, 2023, “humineral”—a portmanteau of 人 rén (“person”) and 矿 kuàng (“ore,” “mineral deposit,” or “mine”) in the original Chinese—describes a person relentlessly exploited by society until they are eventually discarded on the refuse pile. The original Zhihu post elucidated 10 tenets of the “humineral,” three of which CDT has translated below:

1. Huminerals: You are a resource, not a protagonist. You are a means, not an end. Your life’s work will go towards the fulfillment of others instead of the pursuit of your own desires.

2. The life of a humineral can be divided into three stages: extraction, exploitation, and slag removal. Investment in your education over your first decade or so is oriented at extracting your potential—turning you into usable ore. The middle decades are a process of exploitation and consumption. When you’re finally useless, they’ll use the least polluting method possible to dispose of you.

8. Huminerals power the motors that turn the wheels of history. Huminerals have few other choices: either fuel history’s engine, or be ground beneath its wheels. Of course the inverse is true. If huminerals were to stop propelling history, then those other huminerals who abstained would not be crushed. Yet there are always huminerals who see more value in a lifetime of being fuel than to risk being flattened.  [Chinese] Continue reading

How to Read Chinese Drama in Chinese


Patricia Sieber (The Ohio State University) is co-editor (together with Guo Yingde, Wenbo Chang, and Zhang Xiaohui) of a new book entitled How To Read Chinese Drama in Chinese: A Language Companion (Columbia University Press, 2023). Intended as a language textbook complementing How To Read Chinese Drama: A Guided Anthology (Columbia University Press, 2022), it is the first guided primer that focuses on traditional drama. Featuring excerpts from iconic traditional plays, individual chapters supply an English introduction, extensively annotated excerpts, a modern Chinese translation, bilingual cultural exercises, and a bilingual roster of dramatic conventions. The book is designed to be alternatively used as a textbook in the advanced modern Chinese or in the classical Chinee classroom, as a companion in a Chinese literature course for advanced learners and native speakers of Chinese, or as a springboard for deeper engagement with traditional Chinese theater for specialists and interested general readers alike.