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A Peek Behind the Curtain: China’s 7 Most Popular 2020 Memes

Posted by Noah Hynam | Dec 2, 2020

2020 has been a huge year for memes worldwide due in part to the effects of Covid-19 leading people to shift large parts of their life online. With over a billion people active online, China was home to many new memes and phrases that illustrate the challenges, uncertainty, and general malaise that has been 2020.

Quarantining at home was a major catalyst, bringing new meaning and humor to otherwise older sayings and phrases. These have acted as a release valve, venting the collective pressure of a society under strain, and providing a welcome cathartic avenue of expression.

Youth Digest  (青年文摘) magazine have published their list of 10 phrases that exemplified life online in China throughout the year.

1. Working people (打工人 dǎgōngrén)

Work environments for young ambitious young people have been a source of stress since time immemorial and China is no exception. Some colorful phrases used to refer to themselves include  “livestock of the company” (社畜 shèchù) and “overtime dogs” (加班狗 jiābāngǒu).

Recently an older term, once used to refer to foreign workers working blue-collar jobs, gained popularity among the white-collar workers in large cities. It’s used as a passive-aggressive way to complain about how stressful their work environments have become in the shadow of Covid.


“Good morning working people” (Image:

2. Professional team (专业团队 zhuānyètuánduì)

Our next meme is one that crossed all borders and was huge in both the East and the West. Beginning in March, several compilation channels began including footage of dancing Ghanian pallbearers set to EDM song ‘Astronomia’ and it quickly began to spread.

The juxtaposition of the upbeat celebration of a life now ended against the backdrop of the changing world of Covid-19 filled people with a macabre joy and a sense of wonder about the future. On the Chinese internet, the term professional team was settled on to describe pallbearers in their synchronous jig of the dead.



3. The coming wave (后浪 hòulàng)

This term comes courtesy of a video published to honor the 101st anniversary of the May Fourth movement which saw student-led protests leading to an anti-imperialist pro-nationalist movement in China. The video is summed up well by this quote “Dear people of the coming wave, it’s as if all of the wealth, all of the knowledge, experience, wisdom, and art that humanity has been collecting for thousands of years has been prepared as a gift specifically for you,” spoken by narrator Hé Bīng 何冰.

In the context of negative sentiments that circulated in 2020, this was lampooned by a younger generation who feel there is little upward mobility and opportunity for them in today’s China. Sarcastic references to the video began to spread in a similar fashion to how Trickle Down economics is often disparaged online in the West by a similarly young and opportunity starved generation.



4. Balance-owed people (尾款人 wěikuǎnrén)

Mention live streaming in a Western context and most people’s minds will jump to gaming. In China however, there has been a trend towards what marketers have dubbed ‘Live streaming eCommerce’. LSE sees influencers from TikTok, Snapchat et al. live stream both their shopping trips and the trying out of their new products and clothes. This has become an extremely popular way for Chinese consumers to discover new products and get personable and real-time reviews in a social environment complete with live chat.

This new trend however has caused a rise in purchases being made beyond the buyer’s means, leading to many purchases being made on credit or simply leased to keep up. This has become so commonplace that the new term balance-owed people was birthed to label people who over-reached and are unable to pay their dues come end of month. We feel this term will endure as advertisers continue to pump dollars into this growing form of sponsored influencer marketing.


5. Errand boy/girl (工具人 gōngjùrén)

This self-deprecating phrase came about from the workers and unrequited lovers who felt taken advantage of. It also began to see use in a disparaging context for people who work hard in relationships or the office and see little to no progress or reward. Another example of the attitudes present in this generally bummer of a year.



6. “NetEase depression cloud” (网抑云 wǎngyìyún)

NetEast Cloud Music is China’s answer to Spotify, a hugely popular music streaming and sharing platform. Interestingly, it also has a reputation for being a dumping ground for (mostly fabricated) melodramatic user stories that relate to the song’s lyrics in one way or another.

It’s easy to imagine then that 2020 saw an uptick in the often disheartening comments getting posted here, so much so in fact that NetEast was required to begin moderating the comment section and sequestering comments that sounded implausible to try and lift the depressive cloud that covers the platform.


“Time is up” Image:

7. Double festival branches (双节棍 shuāngjiēgùn)

Chinese parents pressuring their adult children who haven’t yet produced grandchildren is a common trope in media, and this is for a reason. Men who without children are often referred to as bare branches (光棍儿 guānggùnér) as they have yet to contribute to the family tree.

This term is thrown around mostly during the holiday/festival seasons when most extended families gather to celebrate, fueled by a generous offering of public holidays from the government. Much to the chagrin of China’s bachelors, this year saw two major holiday festivals land on the same week, doubling the intensity at which they received the ire of parents seeking to become grandparents. The National Day Holiday (interestingly a week-long holiday) and Mid-Autumn Festival (basically Chinese Thanksgiving and the second most important holiday) both occurred together at the beginning of October this year, seeing families spending longing than usual in the close confines of their family home.



Bonus from Taiwan: “I’m just trash” (我就爛 wǒjiùlàn)

Our final entry hails from the island of Taiwan. Not immune from the fatigue and effects of covid-19, the youth of Taiwan have produced this enduring phrase that sees widespread use on the country’s university political discussion boards. It captures the self-deprecating essence of youth not meeting the exceedingly high expectations placed upon them in modern society. Often accompanied by the image of a smiling person, it's little wonder why this meme continues to be popular.


Much of this post’s content was sourced from China Daily. To see the original article go here

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