The buzzwords that grab eyeballs in 2022

Yao Minji
Those who made it through the Omicron wave and are destined to work are being referred to as the "heaven-chosen laborers."
Yao Minji

"Congratulations," my boss coughed over the phone on Christmas Day.

"You're 'heaven-chosen!'"

And then she proceeded to assign me six pages of year-end stories to do after most of my colleagues are down with COVID-19.

"Heaven-chosen laborer" (tian xuan dagong ren 天选打工人) is the most popular buzzword in December, reserved for those who have survived the Omicron wave thus far and are destined to work.

Shepard dog, the only one in the family forgiven by Omicron and charged with taking care of every other "goat," is another one who enjoys life despite its hardships. Because the Chinese pronunciation of goat (yang) is the same as COVID-positive, the sudden popularity of goat-related emojis is understandable.

Fortunately, we are entering the rabbit year rather than the goat year; just imagine seeing and hearing "yang, yang, yang, yang, yang, yang, yang" everywhere, all the time.

The buzzwords that grab eyeballs in 2022

The Chinese pronunciation of goat (yang) is the same as COVID-positive.

Then, there are "iron bulls," who look after the family when they are in need.

You also have my boss, who is most likely proofreading this line right now.

She has Schrodinger's Omicron, which includes all of the symptoms and antigen tests between yin (negative) and yang (positive). Netizens are now joking that this batch can freely move between the human world (yangjian) and the underworld (yinjian).

The Chinese character for negative is yin (阴), which, like yin in tai chi, has a million meanings, one of which is the underworld. Positive is yang (阳), as in tai chi.

Buzzwords are often culturally specific and easy to misunderstand when translated. They also show how people feel about a certain time or event and why it's so popular.

Shanghai Daily has selected some of the most popular words that were a hit in 2022.

Ice-cream assassin


How much should an ice cream cost? 5 yuan? 50? 500?

Early in the year, people on the Internet were shocked by the prices of "randomly chosen, plain-looking ice-cream cups" that "hit the wallet like a fatal blow." These luxury ice creams, which can cost at least 30 yuan (US$4.3), are referred to as the ice-cream assassin.

The buzzwords that grab eyeballs in 2022

Chicecream, or Zhong Xue Gao, dubbed "Hermes of ice cream," is a typical "ice-cream assassin."

It has been a trending topic in the last two summers as customers noticed that ice cream was becoming ever more expensive. This year, though, a heated argument was reignited on social media platforms, prompting many users to submit photos of older, cheaper brands.

Chicecream, dubbed "Hermes of ice cream" and a typical "ice-cream assassin," had to justify its commitment to food safety, which reignited the debate. Zhong Xue Gao, as its Chinese brand name, was compelled to issue a statement when a video of its star items withstanding a lighter flame without melting went viral.

In July, the Administrative for Market Regulation released a new rule mandating that goods must be sold with a clearly marked price tag or the shop could be fined up to 100,000 yuan, prompting netizens to trend the phrase "no more hiding for ice-cream assassin."

Black technology


Xin Jifei, a food YouTuber, started posting videos with the hashtag "keji yu henhuo'er" to show how the food industry can use synthetic ingredients to cut costs and make more money.

The buzzwords that grab eyeballs in 2022

A screenshot of Xin Jifei's black technology series

In one video, he demonstrated how white sugar and additives can be used to imitate honey, how jelly and synthetic chemicals may be sold as pricey bird's nests, and how milk tea can be manufactured without milk.

Black technology is an imprecise translation of his characteristic phrase, "This is pure keji yu henhuo'er," a scathing representation of the cheap "magic" fusion of synthetic substances.

In a matter of weeks, his videos went viral, gaining Xin 8.3 million followers on Douyin (Chinese version of TikTok), and by the end of September, the hashtag "keji yu henhuo'er" had accumulated more than 1.5 billion views.

Many netizens, horrified by the black technology, vowed to never order takeout again, while others slammed him for spreading unwarranted worry over a small number of negligent food business professionals.

The buzzwords that grab eyeballs in 2022

Students at a remote county in western China's Guangxi Province

Small town swots


Many successful business people from humble backgrounds have described themselves as "small town swots," a term used to describe people from remote areas who work extremely hard to get into a good university, hoping that it will change their lives forever.

It popped up online again this year, with a layer of sarcasm claiming that "small town swots" lack broader vision and social resources, no matter how hard they work later. They are mocked for being only good at answering exam questions and lacking in real-world skills and strategic thinking.

It sparked heated debates among "small town swots," whether successful or on their way to success, and those who ridiculed them.

The buzzwords that grab eyeballs in 2022

Shanghai residents enjoy smoke & fire vitality at a night market in Songjiang District in October.

Smoke & fire vitality


Yan huo qi literally means "the smoke and fire from cooking food," but it is also used to describe the joyful hustle and bustle of daily life, especially in Chinese cities with thriving hospitality industries.

The phrase is especially popular when describing the restoration of vitality to pandemic-hit areas after the containment of COVID-19.

Mental internal friction


In July, a video of a disabled 66-year-old Chinese man in a village went viral, and many young urban people hailed it as a cure for their stress.

The 11-and-a-half-minute video called "How Erjiu Cured My Mental Internal Friction Back in the Village for Three Days" shows a disabled man named Erjiu, which means "second-eldest uncle."

The buzzwords that grab eyeballs in 2022

A screenshot of "How Erjiu Cured My Mental Internal Friction Back in the Village for Three Days"

In just a few days, it had more than 3.5 million likes and nearly 24 million views on the video site Bilibili. It spread quickly through Chinese social media, making "erjiu" and "mental internal friction" popular phrases.

Erjiu was a young genius who did well in school as a child. However, he could not use his left leg after a high fever that was misdiagnosed and treated with the wrong medicine. He was sad and stayed in bed for a year. Then, he watched a carpenter work for three days and picked up the skill.

But Tang Hao, his nephew who made the video, said Erjiu was more than a carpenter because he could fix everything from a toy car to an electrical socket patch panel.

Erjiu's tenacity, despite his life's challenges, touched millions of young people, including his nephew. Living in a highly competitive urban environment, they frequently become overly anxious over trivial matters, resulting in self-inflicted mental infliction.

No. 600


The number 600 is perhaps the hottest on China's e-commerce sites and social media platforms this year. Products bearing the number or logo of a green street sign fill these sites, thanks to the newly gained popularity of 600 Wanping Road S.

The buzzwords that grab eyeballs in 2022

Shanghai Mental Health Center became an unexpected e-celebrity, with many authorized products including moon cake.

It's home to the Shanghai Mental Health Center. Once a place that locals shied away from, it has become an unusual e-celebrity and spiritual home. It is a result of the center's innovative ways of introducing mental health, following an increase in anxiety and depression worldwide triggered by the pandemic, and improved public awareness of mental health.

The center has collaborated with a number of institutes to create crossover products, from mooncakes to face masks, all of which sold out within days, sometimes in hours, while unauthorized products continue to fill the Internet.

Group-buying leaders


What is the one item or person you cannot live without?

In April and May, numerous Shanghai citizens would have responded with tuanzhang.

During the city's lockdown, many local residents found it more difficult to spend money than to earn it, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Those in the same neighborhood often banded together to create economies of scale by purchasing in bulk. Therefore, a group-buying leader with organizational skills was required, particularly one who could scout uncommon products such as green onions, fresh vegetables, ice cream and cola.

The buzzwords that grab eyeballs in 2022

A group-buying leader and several volunteers organize the neighborhood's purchase at a residential compound in Yangpu District in May.

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