The work of Li Xiaoguai

Dear all,

My student assistants and I made a 15-minute-long short video entitled “Subversive Writing and Political Comics: The Work of Li Xiaoguai.” You may find it useful as a teaching material on the topics of Internet censorship, Chinese characters and Chinese writing, coded language in contemporary China, etc.

The Youtube link at:

For the artist’s statement, check out:

My article on Li has been recently published and here is the citation:

“Subversive Writing: Li Xiaoguai’s Newly Coined Chinese Characters and His Comic Blogging,” Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews (CLEAR), Vol. 40, 2018, 199-220.


Jin Liu <>

‘Low-level red’ and other concerns

Source: China Media Project (3/11/19)
“Low-level Red” and other concerns

“Low-Level Red” and Other Concerns

On the last day of February, a pair of new political catchphrases made their way not just into the Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper but into a central-level Party document. These were “high-level black,” or gaojihei (高级黑) and “low-level red,” or dijihong (低级红). Before we explore how these two terms emerged on the internet and then made their way into central Party documents (中央文件), let us first take a look at some of the key trends that could be noted in Chinese political discourse in February.

Slogans, Hot and Cold

According to the six-level heat index developed by the China Media Project, here is how various important political phrases appeared in the People’s Daily:

One important thing to note as we look at phrase frequencies is that during February the total number of pages in the Party’s flagship newspaper was reduced to eight in light of the Spring Festival holiday, meaning that the total number of articles was likewise reduced, and so word frequencies were about half of what might usually be expected and we don’t see any dramatic changes in the temperature of various keywords. Continue reading

Parallelisms for the future

Source: China Media Project (3/12/19)

Parallelisms for the Future

“Parallelism,” or paibi (排比), is a rhetorical method that when used with appropriate measure can strengthen an article, but when used carelessly can have exactly the opposite effect. This is the front page of the March 4, 2019, edition of the Study Times newspaper, published by the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party, which just this month was upgraded to a central-level news unit.

The Study Times article, pictured here, totals 6,399 characters, and it makes use of 42 parallelisms, or paibiju (排比句).

To use the unique lingo of Chinese Communist Party media, this is what we call a “response article,” or fanyinggao (反应稿),” a kind of formalized exercise in responding to the instructions or ideological demands of one’s superiors. The fanyinggao can be regarded as one of a number of unique “genres” of Chinese Communist Party writing. In this case, we have a “response article” from a group of young Party cadres taking a study course at the Central Party School’s Chinese Academy of Governance (国家行政学院), and they are responding to a speech President Xi Jinping gave to mark the opening of the course. Continue reading

Wang Qishan’s ‘a devil and a demon’ story

Source: NPR (1/29/19)
Analysis: Why A Chinese Leader Told The Story Of ‘A Devil And A Demon’
By Pallavi Gogoi

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan speaks at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. His message: The U.S. shouldn’t expect too much from China when it comes to cracking down on intellectual property theft. Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

China’s Vice President Wang Qishan likes parables. He offers tales from ancient China when he wants to make a point.

I discovered that last week at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, where Wang spoke and I listened intently on the translation headsets provided by the forum.

“In Chinese history, there was a story of a devil and a demon,” Wang said. He prefaced this by saying it’s a story he would often narrate to his former colleagues at the central bank where he oversaw financial supervision. Continue reading

English as a national language in Taiwan

Source: The Asia Dialogue (1/17/19)
English as a National Language
Written by Isabel Eliassen and Timothy S. Rich.

Image credit: CC by <cleverCl@i®ê>/ Flickr.

For several months, Taiwanese officials have been drafting plans to make Taiwan into a Mandarin-English bilingual nation. By 2019 the government hopes to have concrete policy goals in place. So far, the policies center around increasing the number of qualified English teachers in Taiwan, utilizing free online resources, and more intensive English classes starting at a younger age.

The administration aims to make Taiwan fully bilingual by 2030. Singapore, even with a British colonial influence, took 20 years to establish English bilingual policy, with schools teaching English alongside the first languages of Mandarin, Malay, or Tamil, so Taiwan’s 2030 goal appears quite ambitious. Even if Taiwan is not fully bilingual by that time, it will be clear whether the new policies have been effective or if they need to be revised. The government has also set several short-term goals, including having versions of government websites in English and encouraging government employees to use English at work. Continue reading

Patriotism of not speaking Uyghur

Source: Sup China (1/2/18)
The ‘Patriotism’ Of Not Speaking Uyghur

Urumqi No. 1 Primary school, 2018: Uyghur script “disappeared.” Photo by Joanne Smith Finley

Uyghur “patriotism” now requires the active disavowal of the Uyghur way of life. Vague euphemisms like “patriotism,” “harmony,” “stability,” “vocational training,” and “poverty elimination” gaslight the erasure of a native system of knowledge and the basic elements that make Uyghur life Uyghur: language, religion, and culture.

On October 27, 2018, Memtimin Ubul, a Communist Party deputy secretary of Kashgar’s Qaghaliq County, stated publicly something that had increasingly become the norm over the past two years in the Uyghur homeland. In the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, it was now officially unpatriotic for Uyghur state employees to speak or write in Uyghur language. In a statement that was circulated to more than 750,000 readers, the ethnically Uyghur state official wrote that any state employee who spoke Uyghur in public “should be classified as a ‘two-faced person.’” This is a charge that has resulted in the detention of hundreds, if not thousands, of Uyghur public figures, in addition to the untold number (possibly more than a million) who have been sent to “transformation through education” prison camps.

Memtimin wrote that the patriotic duty of state employees extended throughout all aspects of their lives. Patriotism should be present in the way they dressed, talked, and ate. Even in one’s home life, Uyghurs should refuse to speak Uyghur and instead speak Chinese. From his perspective, government employees had the “highest levels of knowledge and culture” in Uyghur society, and as such they had “immeasurable social influence.” It was therefore up to them to demonstrate what it meant to be patriotic Uyghur citizens. “Speaking the ‘language of the country’ should be the minimum requirement for patriotism,” he wrote. Chinese was no longer the language of Han people, but the language of reeducated patriotic Uyghurs.

A short documentary on rural Uyghur life in the county where Memtimin Ubul works as Party official. The documentary demonstrates the richness of Uyghur rural traditions before the mass detention of Uyghurs and the rise of new forms of “patriotism” across the Uyghur homeland. Continue reading

China discourse report 2018

Source: China Media Project (12/30/18)

China Discourse Report 2018

For 2018, we could say that the most important testing point (测试点) in China’s political discourse arena was the contraction of President Xi Jinping’s political “banner term,” or qizhiyu (旗帜语), “Xi Jinping Thought of Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (习近平中国特色社会主义思想), which was formally introduced at the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2017.

What do I mean by contraction?

This long and unwieldy political phrase is meant to be Xi Jinping’s political brand, forming and consolidating his legacy, and it is set apart from the banner terms of Xi’s predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, by including his name, an important mark of Xi Jinping’s power. But to become a phrase on par with previous legacy phrases like Mao Zedong Thought (毛泽东思想) or Deng Xiaoping Theory (邓小平理论), both of which “crown” (冠名) top Party leaders, this latest banner term would need to undergo a process of contraction. And of course the contraction we should expect is “Xi Jinping Thought,” which was strategically imbedded in the expanded “Xi Jinping Thought of Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” Continue reading

Memes of 2018

Source: Sup China (12/19/18)
Men Are All Pig’s Feet’ — And Other Chinese Memes Of 2018 That Reflect Our Times
A year in which online users saw through the BS and women said “Enough.”
By Frankie Huang

Memes have become a way to appreciate and participate in popular culture, a way to find solidarity, construct identity, and communicate with precision.

Memes like Distracted Boyfriend and BBQ Becky are products of their times, and when people look back on them, they’ll be seen as more than just clever tools of satire: they are snapshots of what captured the public consciousness at the moment of their inception. Continue reading

Plan to make Taiwan bilingual by 2030

Source: Taipei Times (12/5/18)
Bilingual by 2030, council says
Tamkang University professor Hsu Sung-ken said that the government should set the goal of having English as ‘a communication tool for the next generation’
By Wu Chia-ying and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Premier William Lai presides over a ceremony on Friday in Taipei to honor this year’s outstanding civil servants. Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times

The National Development Council yesterday proposed eight major policies to Premier William Lai (賴清德) in a plan outlining how to turn Taiwan into a Chinese-English bilingual country by the year 2030 to embrace global competition.

The plan, which the council delivered to the premier in a report, would devise key performance indicators for evaluating the effectiveness of the policies in a year.

The eight major policies are: making all official government Web sites bilingual, making official documents used by foreigners bilingual, providing bilingual frontline services in public settings, making the government’s public data available in English, making laws and regulations that pertain to foreigners bilingual, promoting bilingual services in cultural and educational settings, training civil servants to conduct business in English, and making professional and technical licensure exams available in English. Continue reading

Chinese language items

Source: Sup China (12/4/18)
Chinese Language

China rules / Language Log

“For the last few weeks, the New York Times has been running a hyped-up, gushing series of lengthy articles under the rubric ‘China rules.’ On a special section in the paper edition for Sunday, November 25, they printed this gigantic headline in Chinese characters — and made a colossal mistake.” Times editor Phil Pan responded in the comments.

“I’m so qiou” – The new Chinese ‘character of the year’ is ‘dirt-poor & ugly’ / What’s on Weibo
“A new Chinese character, created by netizens, has become all the rage on social media this week. The character is a combination of two characters, namely ‘穷’ (qióng) and ‘丑’ (chǒu). The first (穷) literally means ‘poor,’ whereas the second (丑) is used to describe something ugly.”

These are China’s top ten words of the year / Radii China

Chinese magazine Yǎowén Jiáozì 咬文嚼字, which is translated variously as “Correct Wording” and “Chewing Words,” turns a critical eye to the misuse and abuse of language in Chinese society. It has released its top 10 popular words of 2018 list, which are explained by Radii China.

2018’s hottest buzzwords

Source: World of Chinese (11/28/18)
What are 2018’s hottest buzzwords?
Official and netizen-submitted nominations for 2018’s buzzword phrase of the year
By Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

It’s that time of year again. Soon, China’s language authorities will declare 2018’s hottest buzzwords and slang—“进博会 (World Import Expo)” and  “板门店宣言 (the Panmunjom Declaration)”—while netizens react with confusion.

The annual search has four categories—Domestic Word, Domestic Phrase, International Word, and International Phrase–that seek to nail down the words, characters, and phrases most widely used.

Official contenders (besides the two above examples) include “幸福都是奋斗出来的 (happiness comes from efforts),” “改革开放四十周年 (40th anniversary of reform and opening-up),” “宪法修正案 (constitutional amendment),” “港珠澳大桥 (Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge),” “平昌冬奥 (Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang),” “中非命运共同体 (a community of shared future for China and Africa),” “5G,” “正当防卫 (justifiable defense),” and “e-sports (电竞).” Of course, these are just the official contenders, and everyday speakers may have very different opinions on what constitutes the pandian of the year. Continue reading

‘Add oil’ makes it into the OED (2,3)

I also have the similar question as Tina: the usage of “jiayou” as a cheer should be much earlier than 1960s. According to this article, the slang was first created on Qinghua campus in the 1920s, and later popularized by the CCP in the 1930s. But it’s still not clear if the “you” originally means “cooking oil” or “machinery oil,” or both.


Jin Liu <>


Came across this on WeChaot about the origin of “add oil.” I did not try to verify its authenticity. Some might find it interesting.

Liang Shi
Miami University












‘Add oil’ makes it to the OED (1)

Just a note that while the article on ‘jiayou’ being added to the OED states “jiayou” is believed to have originated as a cheer at the Macau Grand Prix during the 1960s, readers of early 1950s PRC-reportage will be familiar with the use of the phrase in stories centred on mutual encouragement of comrades, particularly related to campaigns to overcome nature/environmental hardships when opening up ‘virgin land’ or bringing film to the countryside.

I’ve often wondered if the phrase was a reflection of a vernacular term being taken up in CCP reportage, or if the term emerged to reflect particular modes of socialist modernization premised on incorporation of industrialization/machinery/oil & electricity into everyday life.

Tina Chen <>

‘Add oil’ makes it to the OED

Source: SCMP (10/18/18)
‘Add oil’ entry in Oxford English Dictionary is just latest Cantonese phrase to hit mainstream
A look at the process and significance of landing a place in the world’s most authoritative record for the English language
By Ernest Kao

“Add oil” has been made an official term in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). It follows a long list of other Cantonese terms and phrases to have entered the mainstream “Hong Kong English” lexicon and later wriggled into the world’s most authoritative record for the English language.

But why is a dictionary entry such a big deal? How does the process work? And what does it tell us about Hong Kong English and its place in the global family of English varieties?

“Add oil” – what does it mean?

It represents the metaphor of injecting fuel into a tank, or alternatively, stepping on an accelerator to propel a vehicle forward. But the use of “add oil” as an expression of encouragement is a creation of Cantonese: ga yao, or jiayou in Mandarin. Often accompanied by exclamation marks, it is a versatile phrase Chinese speakers use to express encouragement, incitement or support, somewhere along the lines of “keep it up” or “good luck”. It is believed to have originated as a cheer at the Macau Grand Prix during the 1960s. Continue reading

Languages and Scripts in China–cfp

CFP: “Languages and Scripts in China,” Workshop at Columbia University
“Languages and Scripts in China: New Directions in Communications and Information History.” Workshop at Columbia University on April 19, 2019.

This workshop aims to articulate a new path in studying the history of languages and scripts in China. Although this inquiry has been part of a long historiographical tradition, the past decade has seen an unprecedented growth in revisionist scholarship. New perspectives on the making of Mandarin as a national language, transnational histories of script reforms, and the significance of media technologies as well as large-scale infrastructures have been some of the major themes that animated recent literature on languages and scripts in China. How can we critically reflect on this contemporary interest in the history of linguistic technologies? What does it mean to study languages and scripts in the twenty-first century? What are the possibilities and pitfalls in pondering the multi-lingual and multi-scripted landscape of China?

This workshop will bring together advanced doctoral, postdoctoral, and early career researchers in an effort to rethink Chinese history as part of the nascent scholarship on the global history of communications and information. As the workshop is designed to explore the multiplicity of scripts and languages in China, researchers whose work engages with non-Han scripts and comparative/transnational perspectives are especially encouraged to apply. Fields of inquiry include but are not limited to the following topics: Continue reading