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The Most Popular Chinese words and phrases of 2008

Updated on April 15, 2009

Unlike the rest of the world where the most popular words of 2008 is economic-related, e.g. credit crunch and recession, each of the most popular Chinese words and phrases of 2008 relates a well-known big event/incident in China, most of them have political implications.


thunder, verb

be thundered means be surprised or horrified. When you see something disgusting or highly offensive, you are thundered. The word origin is unknown.

Very yellow, Very violent

In Chinese language, the colour yellow means vulgar and erotic.

The story behind the phrase is that a cute Beijing school girl claimed to find a "Very Yellow, Very Violent" web page on the CCTV news and got spoofed.

"The last time that I got on the Internet to search for information, a web page popped up suddenly. It was very yellow, very violent. I hastily closed the page." This is what a Beijing school pupil Zhang Shufan said during an interview that was broadcast on CCTV news on December 27, 2007.

It has given rise to some fun spoofs targeted at CCTV and the national anti-pornography campaign. Some netizens said that this was the first popular saying of year 2008.

I’m just here to buy soy sauce

The expression "What the hell has it anything to do with me? I'm just here to buy soy sauce." is sweeping the Chinese internet. It comes from Guangzhou TV in December 2007, when an average man on the street was asked his opinion about a pressing social issue. He gave this very candid and straight response.

This works very well with the Chinese sense of humor, and has just exploded in usage over the past year. It’s taken on some other meanings now without a clear definition. But I’d summarize it as I’m cynical as hell. As rumors of official corruption after the earthquake were swirling, the emotional young Internet crowd often turned to this phrase when they felt frustration, but had little else to add… at least without having their post deleted by censors. "More corruption? Whatever, who gives a $@*%, I’m just here to buy soy sauce."

This follows the Very yellow, very violent expression and becomes one of the most popular phrases of 2008 in China.

Running Fan

Like the speed at which China's most famous, or infamous, high school teacher ran from the earthquake, the word Running Fan was quickly spreading all over the Chinese Internet.

A teacher who fled a classroom, leaving his students behind when a massive earthquake hit southwest China found himself at the centre of a frenzied media debate. Fan Meizhong, a teacher at Guangya school in Dujiangyan, near the epicentre of the quake, was nicknamed "Running Fan" after he abandoned his students -- who all survived -- in the 12th May 2008, 8.0-magnitude earthquake.

Chinese netizens castigated him for his "cowardly" action, while others rushed to his defence.

The focus of the debate was not so much his spur-of-the-moment action but an online post he wrote 10 days after the quake, detailing what he had told his disappointed students following his dash for the door.

"I am a person that seeks freedom and justice, but I am not the kind of person that puts people first and is willing to sacrifice himself," Fan wrote on a social web portal. "In this fleeting moment of life and death, I could only consider sacrificing myself for my daughter, I would not care about other people, even if it were my mother, under this type of circumstance."

At a time when China has been busy portraying the heroic actions of ordinary people in the quake, his comments sparked outrage online.


Do you know why millions of internet users in China are doing push-ups?

When a new post was published on online discussion board, people would leave a very short comment, for example, “What the hell has it anything to do with me? I'm just here to do push-up!” Many people have registered new IDs named with phrases including or related to “push-up”.

The origin of push-up, with a political implication, has to be traced back to the riot in Weng’an, Guizhou on 28 June 2008. On that day, a crowd of more than 30,000 people set fire on a police office to protest that the local police were hiding up three young people, with potential tie to local officials, who were suspected to be responsible for the death of a 15-year-old school girl, Li Shufen. Li's parents claimed they raped and then killed their daughter, judged by her injured body. Rumors pointed that police exculpated for the real murders, saying the girl was only drowned.

Meanwhile, the censorship was launched, and administrators were working 24 hours a day to wipe out any related entry on the Chinese internet. But the videos and words of mouth were impossible to be taken out completely.

Though under the pressure, not until 1 July did the Office of Information in Guizhou finally published an official statement. It changed no tone, still defended that the girl was drowned without being raped. Exactly this statement, which brought back what happened at the night of 21, in police’s point of view, gave birth to the great tide of push-up.

The investigation shows, at 8.00 pm 21, June, Li hang out with Wang, his boyfriend Chen, and Liu, a girl (4 altogether). After dinner, they chatted and walked to the Dayan bridge across the West Gate River. While talking with Liu, Li suddenly said: “I’ll just jump into the river, whatever. But if I am not dead, I’ll live on.” Liu had to pull Li back immediately to prevent her from suicide. Ten minutes later, Chen left. Liu, because he saw Li had already calmed down, started to do push-up on the bridge. When doing the third one, he suddenly heard Li crying “I leave”. Then Li jumped into the river.

3 hours later, her body was found.

3 push-ups, a fatal weapon, a curse, or a magic? At least this is the greatest fun people found from this statement, making people burst into laugh. Numerous suspicions had not been clarified. There was no explanation, but a push-up joke.

World of Warcraft players may be familiar with this picture. In the Chinese version of WoW game, 3 push-ups becomes a quest shown in the quest log.
World of Warcraft players may be familiar with this picture. In the Chinese version of WoW game, 3 push-ups becomes a quest shown in the quest log.

As the war of posting and post-deleting on the Internet, netizens were fed up with further struggle. Finally, a few minutes after the official statement, a post named "I am here to do push-up" showed up on the web, and the push-up campaign gained momentum in a crazy speed. Posts alike sprawled over the internet. This might be the only way in which netizens are able to allude to what they care, or just simply vent their anger and grief.

Give me 3 push-ups, I can push the earth. ——-Archimedes

To push-up or not to push-up, that's the question. ——–Hamlet

I have a dream, that one day black can do push-up freely, and nobody will ask why. ——-Martin Luther King

Famous saying were changed into push-up mode. Famous stories were replaced into a push-up plot. Celebrities pictured themselves doing push-up. People’s creativity silently but vividly fights against the censorship. Let's do push-up!

Grass mud horse

A Dirty Pun Tweaks China’s Online Censors

There is little doubt that the Internet clean-up in January 2009, under the guise of an “anti-vulgarity campaign,” is the most vicious crackdown in years. Not only are porn sites targeted, but countless sites, including online discussion forums, blogs, and instant messaging groups, which touch on current affairs and other political topics have also been shuttered. How do Chinese netizens really think and feel about such state online policing efforts?

The song of Grass Mud Horse on YouTube has drawn nearly 1.4 million viewers. A grass-mud horse cartoon has logged a quarter million more views. A nature documentary on its habits attracted 180,000 more. Stores are selling grass-mud horse dolls. Chinese intellectuals are writing treatises on the grass-mud horse’s social importance. The story of the grass-mud horse’s struggle against the evil river crab has spread far and wide across the Chinese online community.

The mythical creature whose name grass mud horse, in Chinese, sounds very much like an especially vile obscenity (Fuck your mother), while river crab sounds like harmony, which in China's cyberspace has become a synonym for censorship.

The grass-mud horse is an example of something that, in China’s authoritarian system, passes as subversive behaviour. Conceived as an impish protest against censorship, the foul-named little horse has not merely made government censors look ridiculous. The grass-mud horse has become an icon of resistance to censorship.


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    • profile image

      issues veritas 

      9 years ago


      Thanks for the clarification.

    • tony0724 profile image


      9 years ago from san diego calif

      Thanks for an Interesting hub Jim . It Is a shame that the Chinese Government Is so repressive . I hope you and your family are doing well !

    • jim.sheng profile imageAUTHOR

      Dalriada Books Ltd 

      9 years ago from UK

      Thanks, Jerilee.

      issues veritas, they're not idioms yet. Only time will tell.

    • profile image

      issues veritas 

      9 years ago

      Would these phrases be classed as Chinese Idioms?

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      9 years ago from United States

      How very interesting! I really enjoy reading some of your Chinese culture hubs.


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