Chinese Slang: Temper Tantrum 101

Thursday, February 16, 2012 | By:

Annoying!” The girl shakes her head violently as her boyfriend tries to hug her. “Don’t be like this,” he pleads. “Annoying jerk! Annoying jerk!” The couple gets barely a look from passersby. A little tantrum on the street is a common sight in China; it’s a staple of any healthy relationship.

Flash to a couple’s bedroom. “I’m sooo hungry,” the wife giggles menacingly. The husband’s pupils widen, following her as she walks to the bed and unfolds the blankets. “I hope you enjoyed your dinner,” she continues. “I didn’t eat enough because I saw you liked it so much. Some snacks from downstairs would be nice!”

Chinese women are masters of the temper tantrum art known as sajiao (撒娇). The term is difficult to translate, but it refers to the above types of whining. Some associate it with the word taoyan (讨厌, annoying), hollered to men by their drama queens. Sajiaoing is a kind of game—when done well it can win great affection from male suitors; when done poorly it strikes fear in their hearts.

They fear it because it works—it’s a form of manipulation. The hungry wife above was sajiaoing to get her husband to buy her food. Many use the technique to judge their man’s commitment. As one girl says, “If my boyfriend won’t do something I really want him to do, I sajiao. Sometimes, even if I don’t really want something, I’ll whine a bit. I want to see that he loves me and is responding to my needs.”

Other women, like Xiao Yu, a graduate student, feel that too much sajiaoing can hurt a relationship. “I sajiaoed too much with my first boyfriend,” she says. “In the beginning, he responded well. But after while he broke off the relationship. I really was overdoing it.”

While Xiao Yu scared her man off, sajiaoing just the right amount can be the way to a man’s heart. “If a woman sajiaos well, she is sexy,” says one man. “What I mean by well is that you can’t even tell she is sajiaoing until it’s too late, until you’ve been fooled by your own emotions.”  Sajiaoing is a thrilling way to flirt, a battle of wills that calls for wit and subtlety.

A wealth of techniques are used to sajiao, so whether you’re a temptress-in-training, or a man trying to combat its evils, read on to gain a bit of savvy.

The Falling Tone Ma

In this approach, the lady remains steadfast in her (usually unreasonable) demands, often tagging a drawn-out whiny ma (嘛) to the end of her sentences. (Pronounced with a falling tone similar to a child whining, “Whyyy?”)

This skirt is nice isn’t it? Come on, say it’s nice!
Zhè tiáo qúnzi zhēn hǎokàn, shì bùshì? Nǐ kuài shuō hǎokàn, hǎokàn ma!

Ok ok, it’s nice. Just a little expensive.
Hǎo ba, hǎokàn. Jiùshì yǒudiǎn er guì.

You think it’s nice right? So buy it, buy it!
Nǐ yě juéde hǎokàn, duì bùduì? Nà mǎi ma, mǎi ma, mǎi ma!
你也觉得好看, 对不对?那买嘛,买嘛,买嘛!


Silver-Coated Bullets

This tack consists of putting the other person on a pedestal and making yourself look pathetic. We call this the “silver-coated bullet” (糖衣炮弹 tángyīpàodàn).

Ohh, I’m so useless!
Āi, wǒ zhēn méi yòng!

What’s wrong honey?
Zěnmele, qīn’ài de?

I just finished cleaning and my arm hurts. If only I was strong like you…
Wǒ cái gānggāng dǎsǎo wán fángjiān, gēbo jiù suānle, wǒ yàoshi xiàng nǐ yīyàng qiángzhuàng jiù hǎole ⋯⋯

Oh honey, I’ll clean the room.
Qīn’ài de, wǒ lái dǎsǎo fángjiān ba.


Temper Tantrum Galore

A good old-fashioned temper tantrum, known as shuagexingzi (耍个性子), never fails either.

Can you go get me some noodles?
Nǐ qù gěi wǒ mǎi wǎn miàn, hǎo ma?

The noodle shop is far and it’s late.
Mài miàn de tài yuǎnle, zàishuō yǐjīng hěn wǎnle.

Fine! I knew it, you’d rather have me starve wouldn’t you!?
Nà hǎo ba! Wǒ zhīdàole, nǐ xiǎng ràng wǒ è sǐ!

Big bowl or small…
Nǐ yào dà wǎn háishì xiǎo wǎn


Deflect with Sarcasm

One of the best ways to defeat a sajiao-ess is blatant sarcasm (讽刺 fèngcìf).

My teacher is so unfair! He assigned homework right before the holiday.
Wǒmen lǎoshī tài guòfènle! Fàngjià qián hái bùzhì zuòyè.

What a shame, the little baby won’t be able to sleep in.
Tài kěliánle, xiǎo bǎobǎo méi fǎ shuì gè xiǎo lǎn jiào le.

Annoying jerk!


Just Shut Up!

Naturally, employees would never sajiao to their bosses; the game is only played by people who are very comfortable with each other, so it’s okay to be direct and tell them to shut up.

This is the last time. I promise I won’t make you go to my hometown again.
Zhè shì zuìhòu yīcìle, wǒ zài yě bù ràng nǐ qù wǒ lǎojiāle.

Give it up, I’m not going.
Bié shuōle, wǒ jiù bù qù.

You’re going to make me spend 36 hours alone a train?!
Nǐ yào ràng wǒ yīgè rén zuò 36 gè xiǎoshí de huǒchē? !

Forget it, I’m not going!
Suànle ba, wǒ bù qù!

Sajiao is a game of affection. Take it with a grain of salt and try not to let it turn you off. And don’t be afraid to use it to turn someone on. Remember be subtle, cunning and keep your wits about you.


Fear not though, guys. Men are getting their own back, with Sajiao of their own.

And while all this advice on Chinese relationships is great, how do you actually get into a relationship in the first place. Learn to woo the ladies, China-style.

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17 Responses to Chinese Slang: Temper Tantrum 101

  1. justin says:

    I knew it! Thanks for the explanation Kyle!

    • DK says:

      Thanks for the great and easy to read breakdown… sadly this will always be one of my BIGGEST turn offs with girls in this country. The ma tone… like a cheese grater to the soul.
      To those of you who adapt- credit to you- i couldnt and wound up with a laowai 😉

  2. DuYoulan says:

    Sorry but HOW, HOW can this turn anybody on? HOW? What is the point that I don’t get here? I already saw girls acting like this and the only feeling I got was: can’t they just behave like adults and not like whining little girls? Who wants a partner like this, and furthermore WHY? Why would you like this? What the hell is sexy there? Please help. I really don’t get it.

    • DuYoulan says:

      Thanks for the comments. Still hard (hard is weak here) to understand for me. And just for saying… I am a french girl.

  3. David Green (武剑) says:

    I agree, it’s not for everyone, myself included. But it definitely happens. I guess if you see it coming you just grab your coat and leave!

  4. Ryu says:

    Agreed– If you guys don’t get this behavior and it bothers you that much even after reading this article, then you’re better off not dating Chinese girls. Just saying.

  5. IP says:

    For me it’s really 50/50. Sometimes it really does make a girl seem more delicate and feminine and lots of men (myself included) are turned on by this. Sometimes is just makes them seem like a whiny bitch. It’s an art.

  6. Johnny says:

    I feel like American people, with their culturally inherited emphasis on honesty, and open communication find this particularly hard to understand, whereas other cultures where “game playing” between the sexes is more common, might have less of a problem (French, Italians).

    That being said.. this is certainly not a trait of all Chinese women. This conjures to me a certain type of girl, i.e. pretty, stylish, insecure, status obsessed, tier 1 city (but probably not an actual local).

  7. Feylin says:

    This works because the typical Chinese male is a beta male. Any man that respects himself should dump the girl, and the girl will even see this as more attractive.

    Within the realm of female psychology, they wish to attain the most desirable and highest (most alpha) male. Why? Bearing children is a costly process so animals wish to obtain the gametes of the most dominant male to produce the highest quality offspring. This is an evolutionary feature found in many if not all mammalian species.

    If you dump the girl you are in essence saying, I am greater than you, you are not worth my time. If you want me, make yourself worth MY time. At the same time you are instantly positioning yourself over many other men that will succumb to their tantrums. By succumbing you are making yourself an easier target and therefore instantly less valuable.

    • Liz Tung (董怡) says:

      Like IP said, I think it’s a fine balance. Yes, there are definitely ways in which sajiao-ing can be very aggressive and dominating, but in a way that the man ALLOWS himself to be dominated–like the way a parent gives in to their child. You can’t be whined to if you don’t have some power over the whiner’s position. In that sense, if the guy can take it, the guy still gets to be the dominant figure, and that’s an ego boost.

    • Dude says:

      Yeah, at the beginning of a relationship in China, the man has to bow down to the woman – after all, there’s probably about 3 other guys waiting in line. Once they’re married, the roles reverse – the mans out at KTV with his buddies banging hoookers in hotels and coming home at 5 in the morning – and the wife can do nothing about it.

  8. justaguy says:

    I can see how mild 撒娇ing can be cute, but when its taken to the extreem I always think they’re just making fun of the mentally disabled.

    • lonepine82 says:

      Justaguy: It is good that you can poke fun of yourself as “mentally disabled.” I just chalk it up to the fact that my wife is smarter than I am.

  9. ModernLove says:

    What are you saying DK? The attitude of entitlement is not worse than the method of implementing it?

    Barf. Someone needs to show these children how to scrub a floor and shut the hell up about it.

    I run a zero tolerance policy for 撒娇. Usually by the time it comes out, I already got what I wanted, so then it’s on to the next.

  10. Kate says:

    This is horrible.

    No one should treat another person like this. Ever. Period.

  11. Kia says:

    My chinese boyfriend is doing something similar to me… It’s so confusing to me as a westerner. He has succeeded in manipulating me…but now that I understand a little more.. two can play at this game.

  12. Rahil says:

    Thanks so much for the post! Luckily I didn’t encounter any of this awful behavior, just slight flirting, the same in America. Though, she used the same word for it.

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