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Popular New Chinese Slang Explained

JINNA WANG | JUNE 12, 2019

Languages are constantly evolving. Slang words are constantly being developed, changed, or brought back into fashion. 

Some slang words obtain instant stardom from the mouths of Chinese celebrities, while others are products of internet culture, made popular by millions of Chinese netizens. 

Chinese slang can be light-hearted fun, but are also indicative of hot issues in Chinese youth culture and society. Knowing the latest slang will certainly help Chinese learners tap into modern Chinese culture and understand the way people think and speak.

Here are 8 of the most popular new Chinese slang!  

* TIP: If you want to try using this slang but aren't sure how to type in Chinese, check out this post for step-by-step instructions to set up a Chinese input keyboard on your device.

1. 锦鲤 (jǐn lǐ) – Koi Fish

Koi fish - 锦鲤 (jǐn lǐ) - has always been a symbol of prosperity and luck in traditional Chinese culture.  

But the meaning was taken to a whole new level when Alipay launched a “Chinese Koi Sweepstakes” and one lucky winner was awarded an over-the-top bundle of prizes including an iPhone X, airline tickets, private flying lessons, food and spa treatments and more.

Due to the popularity of the contest, it has become common practice to post a picture of 锦鲤 (jǐn lǐ) - koi - when people need a little more luck, such as before an exam or prior to an interview. 

2. 巨婴 (jù yīng) – Giant Baby

巨婴 (jù yīng) – giant baby - is typically used to describe adults who exhibit ridiculously immature behavior.  

This phrase became popular due to the rising number of online videos showing bad behavior on public transportation. 

In one example, a Chinese woman was recorded occupying someone else’s seat on the train from Hunan to Guangdong, and shouting and refusing to leave when directed by the train attendant. 

3. 确认过眼神 (què rèn guò yǎn shén) – confirmed with my eyes

“确认过眼神 (què rèn guò yǎn shén)” are lyrics from a Chinese pop song by singer JJ Lin, where he sings “确认过眼神,我遇上对的人 (què rèn guò yǎn shén wǒ yù shàng duì de rén) – confirmed with my eyes, I met the right person for me."

The phrase was first used online by a netizen mocking people from Guangdong for their stinginess in giving a 1RMB 红包 (hóng bāo) - red envelope. 

(Learn more about 红包 (hóng bāo) and important rules for gift giving in China with this lesson.)

Since then, the phrase has been used to confirm when something is definitely true: “I confirmed with my eyes that you are the one I love” or “I confirmed with my eyes that this hand bag is real.”

4. 店小二 (diàn xiǎo èr) – waiter

店小二 (diàn xiǎo èr) is an old-fashioned word for “waiter” in antiquated Chinese. 

Recently, however, the phrase was used by the Chinese government in a new effort to showcase the government’s effort to support private enterprises

This term was used in official government communication to demonstrate a more “service-oriented attitude.”

5. 教科书式 (jiào kē shū shì) – by the book

Similar to the English phrase “by the book,” the expression "教科书式 (jiào kē shū shì)" became popular online when a recording was posted of a Shanghai police officer using force to arrest a man driving without a license. 

Some people accused the officer of using unnecessary force, while others defended him and said that he was just going "by the book.”

6. 官宣 (guān xuān) – official announcement

Another phrase popularized by celebrities, 官宣 (guān xuān) was used by actress Zhao Liying and actor Feng Shaofeng to share the news of their marriage.  

Zhao posted a photo of the couple along with their marriage certificates on Weibo, with only “官宣 (guān xuān)” as the caption. 

官宣 (guān xuān) has been traditionally reserved for only official government announcements, but now is used tongue-in-cheek for personal announcements as well.

7. 米兔 (mǐ tù) – #MeToo

This slang phrase follows the Chinese way of using words that sound alike in place of each other. 

“米兔 (mǐ tù)” which literally translates to “rice rabbit” was created as a substitute for the “#MeToo” movement, the social pushback again sexual harassment which started in the United States but quickly gained traction worldwide. 

8. 家里有矿 (jiā lǐ yǒu kuàng) – family has a coal mine

Having a coal mine is a stereotype of many of the nouveau-riche in China. 

This phrase, "家里有矿 (jiā lǐ yǒu kuàng) - family has a coal mine, started trending online due to the popularity of an internet meme of the famous Chinese comedian, Zhao Ben Shan. 

Today, the phrase is used to poke fun at people who are spendthrifts, throwing away money on gambling and luxury goods. 

Another version of this phrase is: "家里开厂子 (jiā lǐ kāi chǎng zi) – family owns a factory."

Want to learn more fun Chinese slang?

Check out this post to learn Top 5 Chinese Food Related Slang.

And check out this post for Chinese Slang Words Guaranteed to Impress Your Friends!