Virtual Construction Supervisors and Depression Clouds: Here Are China’s Words of 2020

The internet's words of 2020 are here. Are you ready?

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7:58 PM HKT, Tue November 24, 2020 3 mins read

Every year, various Chinese media outlets release their “Top Ten Popular Words of the Year List,” identifying the terms that defined the preceding 12 months.

It’s a way to look back on the year, in a round-up that’s usually part internet slang, and part political buzzwords. This year’s list is stacked with all the strangeness you’d expect from 2020.


People Who Go Against the Mainstream

逆行者 ni xing zhe

Born in the flurry of reporting that followed the outbreak of Covid-19, this phrase refers to frontline workers who put themselves at risk to help contain the virus. The idea is that when everyone was staying home, these were the few who went against the current to keep society moving.

Virtual Construction Supervisors

云监工 yun jian gong

In early phases of the pandemic, China erected new hospitals at breakneck speeds in order to care for the sick. Local governments invited the public to take part as “virtual supervisors,” by livestreaming the construction process and picking cranes to cheer on.


Working People

打工人 da gong ren

The plight of China’s working class is front and center in 2020 — conversations around “996” work culture (one of last year’s words, meaning to work 9am – 9pm, 6 days a week) still hover in the air, with some companies going as far as monitoring employees’ bathroom use.

In an era of remote working and a public call for corporate accountability, things may be looking up for China’s working people, but this phrase was particularly popularized by a recent meme that captured young people’s disillusionment with work. Although the term can apply to “laborers,” it was embraced by all groups of workers in a tongue-in-cheek expression of enthusiasm for their jobs.


People With a Balance

尾款人 wei kuan ren

Buying on credit is a rising trend in China — payment platforms and ecommerce sites alike are offering specialized credit payment options.

In the midst of quarantine, buyers making online impulse purchases on credit are “people with a balance,” an increasingly large tribe.

The Next Wave

后浪 hou lang

Popularized in a controversial Youth Day video on Bilibili, “The Next Wave” refers to the next generation. In the four minute video, 52-year-old actor He Bing talked about how the younger generation stands on the shoulders of the generation before them. Some netizens found the video inspiring, plenty of others found it patronizing. Either way, hou lang became a meme overnight.


Sister (but in your best Hebei accent)

集美 ji mei

Kuaishou influencer Charming Teacher Guo invented a new way to say sister, normally jie mei. Her thickly-accented Hebei style “ji mei” quickly became mainstream internet language for referring to friends, enemies, and anyone else you would normally call “sister”.

Errand Person

工具人 gong ju ren

This is for when you feel like you’re being taken for granted. Maybe you’re an errand runner for your mom, or for your ungrateful boss. But most of the time, it’s used in romantic relationships to describe when one partner is being used by the other.

NetEase Depression Cloud

网抑云 wang yi yun

NetEase Cloud Music is a popular streaming service with a unique comments section — ostensibly inspired by the moody lyrics of their favorite songs, users post stories of personal hardship, depression, and loneliness. Netizens began calling the service “NetEase depression cloud,” a reputation NetEase is still trying to move past.



双节棍 shuang jie gun

In Mandarin, the characters for the word nunchucks also mean “double festival branches,” while the word for involuntary bachelors is “bare branches” (光棍儿, guang gun er).

This year, China’s National Day Holiday (which goes by the Gregorian calendar) and the Mid Autumn Festival (which is based on the lunar calendar) fell on the same day. Both holidays tend to include nosy relatives asking questions about marriage, so netizens dubbed the unfortunate double-hitter holiday “nunchucks.”

Professional Team

专业团队 zhuan ye tuan dui

In April, a video of Ghanaian pallbearers dancing went viral. China’s internet promptly dubbed the group a “professional team.” Don’t you want to be part of a professional team?

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Sound off on our question of the day!
Q: What’s the weirdest celebrity nickname Chinese netizens have come up with?

霉霉 (méi méi) - ‘moldy’ Taylor Swift

麻辣鸡 (málà jī) - ‘spicy chicken’ Nicki Minaj

舌婊 (shé biǎo) - ‘tongue bitch’ Miley Cyrus

甜茶 (tián chá) - ‘sweet tea’ Timothée Chalamet

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