Top Chinese words tell story of mass unease

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 December, 2011, 12:00am


The writing is on the wall: this year's most popular Chinese character and phrase reflect the public's growing discontent and anxiety over the country's situation, a recent poll has shown.

Kong (control), garnered the most votes as the character best describing the domestic situation, while shang bu qi, which means 'can't afford to be injured', was named the top domestic phrase in a survey of more than 3 million internet users. The poll was organised by the Ministry of Education's China Linguistics Resource, The Commercial Press publishing house and China Youth Daily.

Shang bu qi became a popular expression after it appeared in an online post early this year, and experts on the team that conducted the survey said the phrase encapsulated the people's worries 'despite material conditions having improved'.

They said it showed the 'scars of society' as people became more 'sensitive' to social injustice, government abuse and fatal accidents.

The word kong, meanwhile, appeared frequently in media this year owing to government efforts to curb inflation and cool the property market, organisers said. It has also been used to describe addiction, such as being a microblog addict or 'Weibo kong'. It replaced last year's hottest character, zhang (price rises).

In the international news category, zhai (debt) was the top character and ou zhai wei ji (European debt crisis) the top phrase.

Cai Changhong, a Commercial Press editor, said they organised the first poll five years ago to promote the Chinese language.

'Many people turn a blind eye to our mother tongue,' she said. 'We think this activity, to choose a character or a term as an epitome [of] the situation that year, can ... enhance people's appreciation of [the Chinese language].'

In a similar poll by, the mainland's answer to Wikipedia, xian (restrict or limit) was named the most popular character, while 'hold zhu' , meaning 'put something under control' - first used on a popular Taiwanese television programme - was the hit phrase.

The mainland government has tightened its grip on anything from property prices to the timing of TV advertisements.

Li Bochun, director of Beijing's Chinese Cultural Renaissance Institute, said the poll results revealed a 'mass anxiety', and urged the authorities to be more considerate of public opinion rather than 'resorting to knee-jerk reactions'.