How Many of These Top 10 Chinese Internet Buzzwords Do You Know?

Bright yellow sign that says 'Lockdown' is hanging on a metal fence with houses seen in the blurred background.

The 'last generation' is the most impactful Internet buzzword for young people in mainland China. The phrase was taken from a video circulating in Shanghai during lockdown. (Image: Sergii Sverdielov via Dreamstime)

The year 2022 is a year that many mainland Chinese people do not want to remember, especially when the Beijing authorities suddenly loosened the restrictions on epidemic prevention without any notice. As a result, many older adults died, and tragedies continued. This led to the use of new Internet buzzwords.

A few days ago, the official list of Internet buzzwords of the year was released on mainland media, and “Thank Q (Thank you very much),” “injustice,” and “small-town problem solver” were all on the list.

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But the Chinese public they have another list in mind, and the words on this list relate to a large number of incidents that the Chinese authorities try to keep under control, so naturally, they’re not going to make it to the official list of buzzwords. But even so, these sensitive or forbidden search terms are still spreading like wildfire in Chinese social circles at home and abroad. 

Please watch this video report from China Observer about Chinese internet buzzwords:


Here are the top 10 Chinese internet buzzwords; how many do you know?

1. Last generation

The “last generation” is the most impactful Internet buzzword for young people in mainland China. The phrase was taken from a video circulating in Shanghai during the lockdown. The video shows three epidemic prevention officers in white suits in front of a homeowner’s house, asking the young man and his family, who were in “close contact with COVID-19,” to be isolated and transferred.

The young man said: “We tested negative; you have no right to take us away forcibly; you can only take away the ones who tested positive; according to the law of public security and epidemic prevention controls, you can only pull away the ones who tested positive by force. So we are willing to take the risk ourselves and do not need your consideration; thank you.”

Then a person in a white protective suit with the word “police” on it threatened: “If you refuse to be transferred, you will be punished by public security. After the punishment, it will affect your next three generations!”

The young man immediately replied: “This is our last generation, thank you,” and shut the door on the three men. 

The expression “last generation” in the video quickly sparked empathy, with people sharing the video and repeating the word on social media, resulting in an investigation by authorities. As a result, Weibo directly blocked the phrases “#thisisourlastgeneration, thank you!” and “#LastGeneration.”

I was searching for these two topics and brought up irrelevant results. Another famous movie review blog tried to build on the topic “The Last Generation” by posting a still of “The Last Emperor,” which was also subsequently blocked.

The video also resonated with netizens. Below is some of what they said:

“This is so shocking; it is like thunder but silent.” “If [people] don’t even want a second generation, where would a third generation come from?” “The world does not want me; this is our last generation.” “Sorry, this is our last generation, thanks.” “Your reign ends with me, and the suffering you give ends with me.” “‘We are the last generation’ is also my declaration. You can live forever by yourself.”

In 2022, we indeed witnessed and experienced many things that are touching, absurd, helpless, and frustrating……all of them. But this off-the-cuff comment is probably the most provocative statement in the past few years and many years to come; it probably can best document this era. 

The WeChat account Tou Niu Daguan published an article saying: “How far do you have to push people to say ‘we are the last generation’! As the saying goes, there is no greater sorrow than the death of the heart! What makes people lose confidence in life is not hardship and poverty but the lack of hope. Feng Jicai once wrote in Ten Years of Madness that the real brutality is against the innocent.”

The article was deleted two hours after it was posted.

2. Secretly laughing

The phrase “secretly laughing” or “having fun in secret” is a sarcastic expression of discontent through official Chinese Communist Party discourse. Netizens use this phrase to satirize the difference between the harsh reality of the epidemic in China and the rosy picture painted by officials.

It comes from a statement made by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a press conference in December 2021: “If you can live in China during the fight against the pandemic, you should laugh in secret.”

During the closure of Shanghai in 2022, netizens used this phrase as a satirical reference to the disaster suffered by the people. They used the phrase “City of Love and Joy” to describe the situation.

The phrase “Surrounding America to Save Zhao” satirized the authorities’ anti-American propaganda during the pandemic. Subsequently, the term “secretly having fun” and related variants have been censored on major social media platforms. 

The buzzwords 'secretly laughing' or 'having fun in secret' are sarcastic expressions from a statement made by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a press conference in December 2021.
The buzzwords ‘secretly laughing’ or ‘having fun in secret’ are sarcastic expressions from a statement made by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a press conference in December 2021. (Image: via Wikipedia)

 3. Soft spot

The term “soft spot,” in its literal sense, became popular again after a video went viral in late November 2022 of several staff members of a Beijing street office discussing how to deal with residents who resisted epidemic prevention measures.

In the video, these staff members mentioned: “Some day find a dark place and detain him for three days.” “We need to embroil his son.” “His son is his soft spot.” “Yes, you are the one who has lost trust, and your son will have no future.” “Put the blame; let’s blame provocation.” “Let’s see what sort of blame is appropriate for him.”

The caption in the video is dated November 20; the location was in the second neighborhood committee of Tiantongyuan South Street, Changping District, Beijing.

The video sparked outrage among netizens and was called a “meeting of ghosts” and a “soft-spot video.” The video was then deleted from the Internet. 

Writer Xu Kaizhen said: “His soft spot is his son” This is such a horrible statement that I believe it will send shivers down everyone’s spine after hearing it.

Even more frightening is that the person who said this is not the governor, mayor, or chief justice, but a resident committee member we usually don’t see as an official! Power makes him arrogant to a brutal degree; are you not surprised? Who is encouraging this? Who is secretly supporting it?”

4. One-key three actions

“One-key three actions” originated from the video website Bilibili, a platform similar to Youtube. The original meaning is simultaneously pressing and holding the button to like, give coins, and favorite a video. 

In the run-up to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October, netizens also used the phrase “one-click for three consecutive terms” to refer to Xi Jinping’s re-election since it was widely believed that he would seek and win a third term as general secretary.

At the same time, the word “key” sounds like the word for “cheap” or “lowly” in Chinese, so when netizens use the phrase “one click, three actions” to refer to Xi’s re-election, it has an apparent derogatory meaning. 

On October 23, at the first plenary session of the 20th Central Committee that immediately followed the 20th National Congress, Xi Jinping, not surprisingly, broke the precedent set by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao and “won” his three consecutive terms.

5.  Do not XX unless necessary

The slogan of “Do not leave the house/area/city/boundary unless necessary,” “Do not gather unless necessary,” and “Do not dine out unless necessary,” are common slogans of the authorities in implementing the epidemic prevention policy. However, these words are not just slogans, but were used to restrict the personal freedom of citizens.

The “No XX unless necessary” policy has evolved into various versions. The “If not necessary, do not leave school,” turned the school into a prison, and the university students who were controlled to the point of madness could only crawl into the sports field in protest; “If not necessary, do not return home,” turned going back to one’s hometown for the New Year into a crime. 

6. Let it rot

The phrase “let it rot” came from the NBA league, referring to some teams deliberately losing to lower their ranking as much as possible to have a better position in the next year’s summer league. The English original meaning is to have some strategic loss. 

In Chinese, the meaning is more similar to the phrase:  “to smash a cracked pot,” referring to when things can no longer go in a good direction; they do not try to change it or control it and just let it develop toward a wrong approach.

It expresses a growing lack of interest in the present and future in China as severe competition, government control, and social expectations leave many young people despondent.

In 2022, netizens’ frequency of using the word “let it rot” even exceeded that of the buzzword “laying flat,” which reflects the change in people’s mentality in the three years of the epidemic.

7. The world doesn’t want me anymore

In early 2022, a video hit the Internet on the mainland, showing a woman from Feng County, Xuzhou City, Jiangsu Province. She has eight children but is mentally unstable and chained up in a broken house. Since the woman’s identity cannot be determined, she is unanimously called the “chained woman.”

The chained woman’s case involves several mysteries, such as the abuse and trafficking of women, and the incident quickly attracted the Chinese people’s attention. But the Chinese official media rarely reported the case details, except for some official announcements. As a result, netizens relentlessly pursued the responsibility of the government and society in the incident.

In a video, the woman with the filthy appearance uttered several unclear sentences out of her missing teeth, one of which was: “The world doesn’t want me anymore.” The ruling also became a necessary word for netizens to avoid Internet censorship when discussing the chained woman incident.

The authorities silenced many netizens concerned about the chained woman incident, including the “Wu Yi Ancient City” who went missing in March last year because they went to Xuzhou Feng County to visit, follow, and follow up on the chained woman incident.

On June 24, 2022, there were rumors on the Internet that they were sentenced to eight months in prison for alleged provocation and nuisance, but there was still no news from the person concerned or their family.

Many other concerned netizens tried to visit the chained woman in Dongji Village, Feng County, but they were blocked by the police.

A senior journalist said that the authorities shielded the traffic of Dongji Village, where the incident took place, in the name of epidemic prevention and forbade reporters and people from approaching. Various Hong Kong and Taiwan media reports showed that Dongji Village was not only surrounded by iron, but the People’s Armed Department of Feng County even sent suspected militiamen wearing military coats to guard the entrance of the village. 

In the run-up to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October, netizens also used the phrase 'one-click for three consecutive terms' to refer to Xi Jinping's re-election since it was widely believed that he would seek and win a third term as general secretary.
In the run-up to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October, netizens also used the phrase ‘one-click for three consecutive terms’ to refer to Xi Jinping’s re-election, since it was widely believed that he would seek and win a third term as general secretary. (Image: via Wikipedia)

8. Li Jiaqi’s Paradox

“Li Jiaqi’s Paradox” means that if a person wants to stay out of the political taboo zone, he must know all the political taboos.

The paradox began when Li Jiaqi, a well-known Chinese influencer, promoted a tank-shaped ice cream to viewers during a live broadcast on Taobao on June 3.

The tank was one of the symbols of the June 4 massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the display of the tank-shaped ice cream on the eve of June 4 undoubtedly triggered a sensitive nerve among the Chinese authorities. Li Jiaqi then abruptly stopped broadcasting, claiming that there was a technological problem. Afterward, he went silent for over three months, only to return on September 20.

It is widely believed that Li Jiaqi and his team, born in 1992, may not have been aware of this history beforehand. Therefore, some netizens have concluded the “Li Jiaqi paradox,” meaning: “If a person still in his prime wants to stay out of political taboo areas, he must know all the political taboos. This means a person who does not insult China knows everything that could offend China like the back of his hand. 

9. Run (润)

The Chinese pinyin for “run” is run, which also looks like run in English, so “run” is almost equivalent to emigration in the Chinese context. However, it mainly refers to emigration due to dissatisfaction with political factors and the inability to change.

 China’s strict epidemic prevention policies have been in place for nearly three years since the beginning of 2020. However, in those three years, nucleic acid testing, lockdown, silent management, and QR health code have become the norm, and many Chinese people have grown weary of this life.

At the beginning of this year, the strict zero-COVID policy caused a severe disaster; in addition, Xi Jinping’s re-election, China’s continued economic downturn, the frequent explosions in the real estate industry, and salary freezes and layoffs in large factories have made people generally pessimistic about China’s future.

 In this situation, more and more people are thinking about the question of “run,” and there are various ways to “run.” Some people apply for schools abroad, find jobs overseas, invest, or apply for long-term stay visas. Some people even choose to stow away.

The countries they choose to “run” to include the United States, Europe, Australia, Canada, and other developed countries, along with countries like Thailand and Malaysia, which have also become immigration destinations.

10. Unfortunately, it’s not you

“Unfortunately it’s not you” is a love song by Malaysian singer Liang Jingru, whose lyrics express regret after losing a lover and have no political connotation.

In 2012, Fang Binxing, the father of China’s firewall, posted on Weibo to mourn the death of a computer science professor, resulting in many netizens commenting on the song title in the comment section to express their curse on him. Since then, “Unfortunately, it’s not you” has been associated with a death curse.

After the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, many netizens on Chinese social media, including WeChat and Weibo, began to re-post the audio of “Unfortunately, it’s not you” and used these words to express their discontent with the Chinese leader subtly.

Some netizens on the music-playing platform QQ Music said: “Unfortunately, it’s not you; everybody understands this meaning.” Some netizens also used “Xu Junping,” similarly pronounced as “Xi Jinping,” to say: “Xu Junping, unfortunately, it’s not you.” Chinese music websites, including Netease Cloud Music and QQ Music, have subsequently banned song sharing. 

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