One of the toughest things about learning a new language is becoming familiar with the local slang. This is particularly true in China, where 网民 (wǎng mín) - netizens love to come up with new, entertaining slang terms that confuse foreigners (and older Chinese!).
But, if you can master some of these words then your Mandarin will instantly sound more fresh and fluent. That’s why we’re introducing some of China’s hottest 俚语 (lǐ yǔ) - slang . In this blog post we’ve got six great words that describe people or social groups.
1. 吃货 (chī huò) – Foodie
When I first joined 微信 (wēi xìn) – WeChat (China’s Facebook) I was puzzled to discover that about half of the pictures my friends posted were of food. Often, these pictures were accompanied by the tag “我是吃货“ (wǒ shì chī huò) – I’m a 吃货 (chī huò) .
It turns out 吃货 (chī huò) > means someone who is passionate about food and loves trying out new dishes – i.e. a “foodie”. And lots of Chinese people like to label themselves 吃货 (chī huò) , posting pictures of food they’ve cooked and eaten on social media for other 吃货 (chī huò) to appreciate.
As a food-lover myself, I quickly joined in – now whenever I go out to eat I’ll spend a few minutes snapping pictures of whatever delicious dishes I’m eating to share online with my 吃货 (chī huò) friends.
2. 富二代 (fù èr dài) – Spoiled Rich Kids
Thanks to super fast economic development, China is now home to the second largest number of millionaires in the world (after the US). People who were poor farmers in the 1970s are now successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, and investors.
The sons and daughters of these new millionaires (and billionaires) are known in Chinese as 富二代 (fù èr dài) 富二代 (fù èr dài)< has an expensive supercar and several diamond-encrusted watches, but no job – preferring to spend their parents’ money instead.
Chinese people even place second generation rich kids into different categories: 官二代 (guan èr dài) – literally “official second generation” are the sons and daughters of wealthy government officials, while the parents of 星二代 (xīng èr dài) – literally “star second generation” made their money in the entertainment business.
富二代 (fù èr dài) like 卓微 (zhuó wēi) – Weymi Cho have become famous by flaunting her wealth on social media and on the reality TV show 公主我最大 (gōng zhǔ wǒ zuì dà) > - Ultra Rich Asian Girls of Vancouver (in Chinese, the show’s name is literally “My biggest princess”).
But, fame often backfires for 富二代 (fù èr dài) , who are generally viewed as spoiled and irresponsible. 王思聪 (wáng sī cōng) – Wang Sicong, son of a real estate and entertainment billionaire, attracted criticism and ridicule from all around China when he posted a picture of his pet dog wearing two gold Apple watches online.
3. 土豪 (tǔ háo) – Newly Rich (and lacking in taste)
Another word that’s often used when talking about China’s newly rich is 土豪 (tǔ háo) . The character 土 (tǔ) literally means “earth”, or “land”, and is associated with China’s poor, unsophisticated rural areas. 豪 (háo) is part of the word 豪华 (háo huá) – luxurious, or sumptuous.
Used together, these two characters refer to flaunting wealth in a very unsophisticated, vulgar way. For example, when a friend of mine described entering the home of well-off Shanghainese family to find a waterfall in the hallway and a fake tiger skin rug in the living room, my first reaction was “很土豪 (hěn tǔ háo) – really 土豪 (tǔ háo)” !
Amusingly, the gold iPhone color is now known in China as 土豪金 (tǔ háo jīn) – 土豪 (tǔ háo) gold, because of the way rich Chinese rushed to buy the gold iPhone 5S when it first came out.
4. 文青 (wén qīng) – Artsy, Hipster
While San Francisco and London have hipsters, Beijing has 文青 (wén qīng) . Short for 文艺青年 (wén yì qīng nián) – literally “literature and art young people”, 文青 (wén qīng) are known for their love of books, theatre, and quirky indie music.
文青 (wén qīng) tend to be less cool and fashion-focused than their Western hipster cousins. Instead, the 文青 (wén qīng) dream is to open a coffee shop where they can spend their days writing essays and poetry, or displaying their latest photography, while serving the occasional customer.
文青 (wén qīng) are known for being sensitive and romantic, but nonetheless are criticized by parents and potential partners for choosing creative, spiritual pursuits over making money.
5. 女汉子 (nǚ hàn zi) – Strong, “Man-like” Woman
At badminton courts in China it’s pretty common for strangers to challenge each other to matches. One day my friend and I asked a couple of intimidating-looking guys if they wanted to play against us. Our would-be opponents looked at me skeptically, obviously wondering if they should be playing against a petite blonde Western girl. “Don’t worry”, my friend said to them, “她是女汉子 (tā shì nǚ hàn zi) – she’s a 女汉子 (nǚ hàn zi) ”.
Literally “woman-man”, 女汉子 (nǚ hàn zi) doesn’t sound like a particularly flattering expression. But, being a 女汉子 (nǚ hàn zi) is generally considered a positive thing and most Chinese women will be pleased if you say ““她是女汉子 (tā shì nǚ hàn zi) – she's a 女汉子 (nǚ hàn zi) ” . A 女汉子 (nǚ hàn zi) is a woman who is strong and not afraid to take care of herself. Apparently, in addition to my competitive attitude to badminton, I’m also a 女汉子 (nǚ hàn zi) because I drink beer and don’t let my male friends pay for me in a restaurant.
6. 萌 (méng) – Cute
Think about a typical Japanese cartoon character – huge eyes, cutesy clothes, and a baby-like expression – and you’ll understand what 萌 (méng) means. Borrowed from Japanese, 萌 (méng) refers to a particularly helpless, child-like form of cuteness.
萌 (méng) is usually used to describe women and girls, although it can also be applied to other cute things like kittens, puppies and baby pandas.
While 女汉子 (nǚ hàn zi) are respected for their strength, people who are 萌 (méng) are valued for their sweet, baby-like innocence. The great expression 卖萌 (mài méng) – acting cute (literally “selling cuteness”) describes someone who is deliberately acting 萌 (méng) , for example by putting on a helpless, kitten-like expression, wearing a schoolgirl outfit, or eating a lollipop like a kid.
On Chinese social media I often come across pictures of young women with cutesy clothes and a baby-like expression (usually cuddling some kind of stuffed animal) - these are 卖萌照片 (mài méng zhào piàn) – acting cute pictures.
Have you tried out any of these slang words? Do you know any other cool Chinese slang? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section!