Chinese Internet Slang 101: How to Chat Online Like a Native
You’re ready to take the plunge.
Your Chinese friends have been bugging you for weeks to create a profile on some hip new site.
So you dive right in to Chinese internet.
You log in, look around, but then you realize there is a one very serious problem…
You can’t understand anything!
Welcome to the world of Chinese internet slang.
Just as English speakers use a whole dictionary of special words, contractions, memes and acronyms when chatting online, Chinese do the same.
While confusing at first, Chinese internet slang can be very rewarding to learn, and opens up a whole new sphere of communication with fellow Chinese netizens.
What’s more, Chinese internet slang really isn’t that hard to learn, following generally a few very simple rules, and requiring knowledge of only a few obscure memes.
Where Is It Okay to Use Chinese Slang?
So Chinese internet slang exists, and can be a fun way of communication. This being said, it’s worth understanding the places where it’s appropriate to use Chinese slang, and when you would be better served use a more conventional Chinese vocabulary.
Currently, the most likely place a Chinese speaker or learner would encounter internet slang is on 微信 (wēi xìn) also known by its English name WeChat. This is a hugely popular messaging and social media app, which has taken China by storm in the last few years.
Rather than mobile phone numbers, Chinese people are now more likely to exchange WeChat IDs and use this service to keep in touch with each other. Given that this is a popular form of informal, interpersonal communication in China, it’s a hotbed of Chinese online slang.
Like the rest of the world, social media portals are immensely popular in China. Websites like RenRen (similar to Facebook) and Weibo (similar to Twitter) are some of the most common ways that Chinese people communicate online.
Much of the internet slang currently in use originated on social media sites like these, and they continue to be filled with unique expressions which you would never find in offline media. While public profile pages are somewhat more formal, slang is particularly prevalent in the associated chat functions of these sites.
It would be an understatement to say that Chinese people take dating (and hunting for partners) seriously. As such, there are a huge number of popular dating apps, ranging from the more conventional, to so-called “hookup” apps like 陌陌 (Mò mò).
Within these apps, Chinese speakers generally use a large vocabulary of internet slang and popular double entendres to communicate and flirt with the opposite sex. On such apps, knowledge of slang is key to avoid embarrassing faux pas or accidentally offending a prospective partner.
Breaking The Code: Chinese Alphanumeric Slang
Probably the most common form of Chinese internet slang, and indeed the most confusing on first glance, is “alphanumeric” slang. This form of slang replaces Chinese characters or words with with Roman capital letters or numbers.
How Does It Work?
The primary purpose behind this kind of slang, similar to in English, is to reduce the number of keystrokes needed to build a word. For the capital letter acronyms, each letter corresponds to the first letter of a pinyin syllable. In this way, NB would be the internet slang form of niú bī 牛逼, a Chinese colloquial word meaning “Cool!” or “Awesome.”
Alternatively, for the numeric slang, numbers are used for words whose pinyin sounds somewhat similar to that of the character the number represents. For example, using this system, 7451 in internet slang means 气死我了 qì sǐ wǒ le (I am very angry), as the pronunciation of the numbers qī sì wǔ yī is very similar.
Obviously, both of these kinds of slang require a considerable amount of Chinese knowledge, as well as insider info into the “code” being used. This being said, there are only a limited number of words which are represented using this. Some of the more popular ones can be read below.
The best way to practice and identify this slang is to see it used in authentic Chinese situations. For that I recommend FluentU!
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Internet Slang Acronyms
- ZF – 政府 – zhèng fǔ (government)
Example: 那个ZF太腐败。 nà ge ZF tài fǔ bài (The government is too corrupt.)
- TMD – 他妈的 – tā mā dē (F’ing…) Literal: your mother
Example: 我的朋友TMD醉了。 wǒ de péng you TMD zuì le (My friend is f’ing drunk.)
- GCD -共产党 – gòng chǎn dǎng (Communist Party)
Example: GCD不让我们抗议。 GCD bú ràng wǒ men kàng yì （The Communist Party doesn’t let us protest.）
- GG -哥哥 – gē ge (brother/bro)
Example: 我的GG有一位非常漂亮的女朋友。 wǒ de GG yǒu yī wèi fēi cháng piào liang de nǚ péng you (My bro has a very beautiful girlfriend.)
Commonly Seen Numeric Slang Expressions
- 88 bā bā – 叭叭 bā bā (Bye bye!)
Example: 我必须睡觉！88！wǒ bì xū shuì jiào! 88! (I have to sleep! Bye bye!)
- 995 jiǔ jiǔ wǔ – 救救我 jiù jiù wǒ (Help me!)
Example: 995！我不知道怎么做！995! wǒ bù zhī dào zěn me zuò (Help me! I don’t know what to do!)
- 520 wǔ èr líng – 我爱你 wǒ ài nǐ (I love you)
Example: 我觉得你真可爱 – 520！ wǒ jué de nǐ zhēn kě ài – 520! (I think you are really cute – I love you!)
How to Insult Using Chinese Internet Slang
As with many languages, Chinese has a huge number of specific slang insults used in its internet slang. While it might not be ideal to be constantly throwing these around, they are worth knowing for the odd occasion when you are truly annoyed at somebody.
Additionally, and probably more importantly, it is very useful to know these kinds of words to be able to follow the comments of other people—especially when they are complaining online.
- 土豪 tǔ háo – Rich yet uncultured people, often those who are have grown up poor, and then become rich later in life, and live a life of pointless conspicuous consumption.
- 富二代 fù èr dài – Literally the “rich second generation,” fù èr dài are the sons and daughters of well-connected business and political figures. Their extravagant lifestyles are mocked by the general population.
- 火星人 huǒ xīng rén – Someone who is very strange, or weird. Literally, “somebody from Mars.”
- P民 pī mín – “Rabble.” Used to describe the way the Chinese government views the people.
- 凸 tū – Due to pictographic similarity, this character functions as an emoji representing giving somebody the finger.
- 五毛党 wǔ máo dǎng – There is a widely believed theory (with some supporting evidence) that the Chinese government pays online posters to write pro-government posts. They are known as the wǔ máo dǎng or “50-cent party” due to the fact that they are allegedly paid 50 cents per pro-government post.
- FQ 愤青 fèn qīng – This is a disparaging term used to describe overly nationalistic young people who buy into government propaganda more than others.
Chinese Slang to Avoid the Censors
One final category of slang seen on the internet is that which is intended to fool the censors. China’s internet is notoriously controlled and restricted. Alongside the censorship of political topics, the Chinese government also actively censors words which it considers to be overly rude or insulting.
Posts using such banned words find themselves rapidly removed from social media, and should a user draw too much attention from the authorities, they could find their online accounts removed too.
The Mythical Creatures of Baidu
The good news is, the Chinese have developed a whole new vocabulary of homophone-based slang to get around this kind of censorship. This slang has developed into its own unique internet meme, called “The 10 Mythical Creatures of Baidu,” with Baidu being China’s search engine equivalent to Google. These mythical creatures are the names of strange animals which are pronounced in very similar ways to censored words.
“River Crabs” (和谐/河蟹 hé xié/hé xiè）
Among the most common of the “Mythical Creatures” is the river crab (河蟹). Pronounced in Mandarin as hé xiè, this word sounds very similar to the word Harmony/Harmonize (hé xié).
The word “harmonize” began to be censored due to the fact that it was used to describe something being actively censored (eg. “This popular Weibo account was harmonized”), and as such Chinese internet users began using the word “river crab” in its place.
“The Grass-mud Horse”（草泥马/肏你妈 cǎo ní mǎ/cào nǐ mā）
Another very well-known Chinese “Mythical Creature” is the so-called “Grass-mud horse” (草泥马). Pronounced in Mandarin as cǎo ní mǎ, this word sounds very similar to 肏你妈 (cào nǐ mā), a crude Chinese insult meaning “f&$k your mother.”
The Grass-mud horse has grown to become a popular meme of its own in China, used to ridicule government censorship of often mundane content.
A Whole New World of Internet Slang Awaits
Now you know at least the basics of Chinese internet slang, and it really wasn’t that hard, was it?
Regardless, equipped with knowledge of the basic rules of this slang vocabulary, if a word comes up online that you don’t know, you will be able to quickly identify if it’s slang or just a wholly new word.
So what are you waiting for?
Get online and start using Chinese internet slang as soon as possible. A whole new world awaits!