Dreamers choose 'meng' as their word of the year

Education Ministry's poll to choose the Chinese word of the year selects 'meng' for representing national hopes and achievements

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2012, 4:37am

The Chinese character meng, meaning dream, has been named "character of the year" on the mainland, putting poll organisers and much of the public on a collision course over how the word should be interpreted.

Meng won nearly 27 per cent of the 50,000 votes in a five-day online poll conducted by the Ministry of Education's National Language Resource Monitoring and Research Centre, the state-run Commercial Press and a web portal affiliated with state broadcaster China Central Television. A panel of experts compiled a shortlist of 10 Chinese characters from about 1,000 online submissions.

The organisers said yesterday that the word reflected the good fortune the country had been blessed with this year.

"The dream for an aircraft carrier, the dream for a Nobel prize … have all come true this year," they said.

The poll, in its seventh year, was inspired by a similar tradition in Japan, where people have voted for the single character that best reflected the collective memory or general mood of the country every year since 1995. The Japanese chose jin (gold) this year.

A similar poll organised by Far East Group, Want Daily and selected ping, meaning peace or justice, as Taiwan's Chinese character of the year on Wednesday.

In Singapore, more than 3,000 voters chose the Chinese character se, meaning lust or colour, as character of the year to reflect a year of sex scandals that have dominated media headlines.

The mainland's choice of meng, which conjures up a rosy and upbeat picture according to the poll organisers, met with an ironic response from many online commentators, who said the word was a reflection of the many things the public could only dream of.

"It's a dream that housing prices could go down and a dream that we could have safe foodstuffs or clean government officials," one internet user said.

Another wrote: "It's a dream that officials could disclose their assets and a dream that people's livelihoods can be improved."

In a similar online poll run by several institutions that are not directly state owned 62 per cent of votes had gone to bao (exposure) as of last night, reflecting the number of online vigilantes exposing official corruption.

Michael Anti, an independent media and culture critic, said that meng fitted the competing narrative because people had so many broken dreams.

"For one thing, it's been a time-honoured dream for an ordinary person in China to have a better life or career via hard work," he said. "But that dream is no longer there because you can only get there by having a rich father or a father with power."

Tsinghua University sociologist Li Dun said that the choice of meng as character of the year was in tune with the cheerful voice expressed in mainstream rhetoric.