Summary statements

A review of China’s favourite phrases for 2016

Wang Jianlin, Chairman of Wanda, speaks at a news conference for the opening a Wanda movie park in Wuhan

Wang: his words went viral

The Oxford English Dictionary selected “post-truth” as its Word of the Year for 2016. The neologism describes a political era in which the presentation of facts is considered less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal beliefs.

For its own ranking of the year’s top buzzwords, the Chinese magazine Word Quibbler led with similarly political offerings: “supply side” topped the list, an abbreviation of “supply side structural reform”.

According to Xinhua the phrase was first proffered in November 2015, during a meeting of the Party’s Leading Group on Finance and Economics (see Page 8 for more of the gathering’s influence), which is chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Since then “supply side” became a standard feature of government financial reports. And in May last year the term even appeared to hint at a rift between Xi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (see WiC325).

Xi’s pre-eminence was further exemplified in 2016 when he was labelled the “core leader” of the Party: an honour only bestowed upon the likes of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

That said, “core leader” did not make Word Quibbler’s list. Instead, there was room for “craftsman spirit”, a concept introduced by Li in his government work report in March to encourage Chinese manufacturers to pursue innovation.

Xinhua noted that “supply side” and “craftsman spirit” were the only government-inspired buzzwords to make Word Quibbler’s top 10 ranking, while the rest have all been popularised by the Chinese press or social media.

For instance, netizens were bemused by the personal advice from Wang Jianlin. The Wanda boss suggested during an interview that in order to be successful people should first set “a small target” and achieve that. But the billionaire proposed earning Rmb100 million as a reasonable first goal. “A small target” became a euphemism for wildly unrealistic expectations, and made Word Quibbler’s ranking.

Last year Wang demonstrated his ambition by achieving a number of “small targets” such as purchasing Hollywood studio Legendary, as well as Dick Clark Productions. As Wang made his moves on Hollywood, the value of the Chinese box office astounded many pundits in the first half of the year, but a scandal over fraudulent ticket sales cast doubt over its growth and then generated the newly-named phenomenon of “ghost tickets” (see WiC317).

“Prehistoric powers” was another popular phrase that sounds spookier than it is. This alliteration shot to popularity during the Rio Olympics when swimmer Fu Yuanhui said she had used her “prehistoric powers” to qualify for the 100 metre finals (see WiC336). The term is now used to refer to any impressive amount of power.

TV shows inspired two more buzzwords last year. The suddenly controversial Dad, Where are we going? spawned the notion of xingerdai, or second-generation celebrities, which joins the ranks of fuerdai and guanerdai (see WiC322), while Descendants of the Sun (see WiC318) popularised the expression liaomei – literally to ‘pick up’ women. Perhaps in response to the increase of errant Casanovas, taolu found its way onto the list too. The term originally referred to any standardised sequence of martial arts moves but was embellished last year to indicate moments when people are using clichéd chat-up lines, or “tricks”.

Meanwhile, the BBC compiled its own list of Chinese buzzwords for 2016 and included “meteorological disaster”, a term that gained popularity in late December. That phrasing is how the Beijing municipal authorities have proposed to classify local smog, arguing that it is partially caused by natural weather conditions.

As Beijing continues to choke under some of its heaviest pollution (see this week’s Talking Point) this buzzword could find itself enjoying longevity as we enter 2017.

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