Memes are not unique to the Western world – in China, netizens are just as passionate and competitive about memes as the American meme-lover. While Americans generally meme for jokes and sarcasm, the Chinese meme as a way to express themselves. For example, when you’re upset, instead of texting “ :(” or a sad emoji, you would more likely send this meme in a text bubble:
Since memes are widely appreciated on both ends, Project Pengyou is here to help you build bridges to China by understanding the 表情 (Biaoqing, Mandarin for ‘meme’) world. Here are 8 popular memes trending in China, where they came from, and how to use them like a true Meme Shifu (Master)!
1. Pouting cutely
小拳拳捶你胸口 (I’ll pound your chest with my tiny fists)
SOURCE: Early 2017, a female netizen shared a screenshot of a conversation with her imaginary husband; the tone she used super cutesy and sweet. “小拳拳捶你胸口” was one sentence that resonated with the audience, and since then, many netizens have used this meme when chatting with their partners (or even friends, to annoy them).
METHOD: Use when you’re upset to show dissatisfaction in a cutesy way or to annoy your friends.
2. Expressing indignance/ helplessness
我可能XX了假XX (I may have gotten something fake)
SOURCE: A gamer loved drinking, and when he lost a game, he would blame it on the alcohol by claiming “我可能喝了假酒 I may have drank fake alcohol”. This was a case of blaming the society/ the world for one’s on predicament. The meme soon took off with extensive and creative variations, from “我可能上了假大学 I may have went to a fake university” to “我可能交了假男友 I may have a fake boyfriend”
METHOD: Use when you are frustrated with society, the world and/or your predicament.
你的良心不会痛吗 (Does your conscience not hurt?)
SOURCE: Both prominent Chinese poets from the Tang Dynasty, 杜甫Du Fu and 李白 Li Bai were good friends. Early 2017, netizens tracked their works dedicated to each other, and to their surprise (and indignation), while Du Fu dedicated at least 10 pems to Li Bai, Li Bai never returned the gesture. What’s more, Li Bai dedicated one of his most popular poems to 汪伦Wang Lun, his other friend, as a goodbye sentiment. This led to netizens rising on the behalf of Du Fu (despite the fact that both poets are long dead), demanding an answer from the apparently heartless Li Bai, “你的良心不会痛吗 Does your conscience not hurt?”
Fun fact: Li Bai is on the receiving end of the same treatment: He dedicated at least 5 poems to 孟浩然 Meng Hao Ran, who in turn dedicated his work to 王维 Wang Wei, another poet. Such complicated relationships!
METHOD: Use when you have been wronged, or witness injustice (Scale of the matter is of little importance. You may ask Hitler if he had a conscience, or you could ask the friend who wouldn’t give you the last bar of chocolate).
METHOD: Cheekily surprise someone with information they were not aware of.
5. Feeling touched
老铁 扎心了 (Bro, that went straight to the heart)
SOURCE: In 东北话 Dong Bei Hua (Northeastern Mandarin), “老铁” means “铁哥们”, which roughly translates to “close friend”. In the literal sense, it refers to “the iron-hard relationship between two brothers”. This meme came about when during a live streaming session, a bunch of boys from Dong Bei appeared on screen. A viewer commented, “老铁 扎心了”, commenting on how emotional he was feeling.
METHOD: Use when something resonates strongly with you, and tugs on your heartstrings.
6. Challenging an idea
你尽管XX， XX了算我输 (Go ahead, try your best to XX; if XX happens, count it as my loss)
SOURCE: The original version emerged as a trending comment on Weibo: “你们尽管复习，考到了算我输 Go ahead, study all you want; if you get the grade you want, count it as my loss”.
METHOD: Use when you strongly believe something won’t happen, and want to challenge the opposition, sounding either confident and powerful (on good occasions) or snobbish (when you can’t pull it off).
7. Expressing disbelief/disapproval
7. 还有这种操作？(It works this way too?!)
SOURCE: Initially popular in the gaming world, this meme started off as a comment on special gaming methods or hacks. The phrase was commonly used when gamers witnessed new ways to achieve a goal in games, and exclaim in wonder. Soon it evolved into a negative angle, used more often to express disapproval than wonder.
METHOD: Another way to interpret this meme is “还有这种套路”，the word 套路 referring to schemes or strategies, a.k.a unwritten rules. For example, when told that you were ripped off by a salesperson (maybe they lied to you), you could go “还有这种操作?! It works this way too?!”
8.[HONORABLE MENTION] 你有freestyle吗 (Do you have a freestyle)
SOURCE: Kris Wu’s 有freestyle吗 (Do you have a freestyle)has been all over the Internet since early June; it would be pretty hard to miss. This became a catchphrase after he mentioned it multiple times in the show 《中国有嘻哈》(The Rap of China).
METHOD: If you have a freestyle, freestyle this freestyle meme. Oh, or could it be…