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Chinese Words of 2013

Take a look at the characters and words of 2013


Each year has its keywords. In 2009, the global keyword was financial crisis; in 2010, a keyword in China was 涨 (zhǎng, to rise); in 2012, one hot term in China was Diaoyu Islands… What are the words of 2013? The National Language Resource Monitoring & Research Center, Commercial Press, CCTV, and Shandong Satellite TV announced the official Chinese words of this year.

The Character of 2013 in China: 房 (fáng)

房, which means housing, was chosen as the Chinese Character of the Year. Housing has special significance for Chinese. It is a necessary criteria for many men to have a wife or a girlfriend; it is a criteria for success; and it is a burden for college graduates and low-to middle-income earners. This year, housing in China is said to be the least affordable in the whole world. Despite the banning of group-renting (群租 qún zū), many college students and migrant workers still have to rely on cramming into an apartment to make rent affordable. Yet the real estate bubble seems to still be growing ever-larger as 房价 (fángjià) remains stiflingly high. In Nanjing, housing prices have been on the rise for 18 consecutive months. Beijing’s real estate price has increased over 20 percent after 12 months’ of consecutive increase. Young people are weighed down by 首付 (shǒufù, down payments) and 月供 (yuè gōng, monthly payments) as soon as they graduate. In order to have a place of their own, they face incredible pressure from their parents and society’s expectations. Other top characters included 梦 (mèng, dream), as China realized the dream of sending the Jade Rabbit to the moon and the country is on its way of realizing its “Chinese Dream” (中国梦 Zhōngguó mèng),  and 霾 (Mái, smog), as the airpocalypse fell on Chinese cities one after the other.

The Word of 2013 in China: 正能量 (zhèng néngliàng)

Literally “positive energy”, 正能量 is used to describe anything that gives off a positive influence, promotes positive attitudes, or makes others feel better. Used as both an adjective and a verb, this word embodies hope and wish to make life happier. In a way, choosing “positive energy” as Word of the Year broadcasts “positive energy” as well. Other keywords of 2013 included 女汉子 (nǚ hànzi, manly woman), 土豪 (tǔháo), and 单独二胎 (dāndú èr tāi, the relaxation of one-child policy) among others.

On the global level, 争 (zhēng, fight, dispute) is the international character of the year. In the U.S., Republicans and Democrats engaged in frenzied disputes, and eventually the U.S. government had to shut down. Syria, Thailand, and other countries also engaged in both domestic and global disputes that brought chaos. China and Japan also continued its dispute over the Diaoyu Islands, an issue that seems far from being solved.

The international global word of the year is 曼德拉 (Màndélā, Mandela). The departure of Nelson Mandela shook the world, and the entire globe mourned for South Africa and the world’s loss. Interesting, other keywords revolved around the hottest international scandals this year, such as  the 斯诺登  (Edward Snowden, Sīnuòdēng) incident, PRISM (棱镜门 Léngjìng mén), and the chemical weapons (化学武器, huàxué wǔqì) allegedly used in Syria. 大妈 (dàmā) (Chinese middle-aged women) also received an honorable mention because of their gold-buying.


Interested in reading some more? Here’s five of the most popular internet phrases of the year.

Photo by Alicia Zhang.

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