Every year, the Commercial Press (one of China’s oldest publishing companies and the publisher of our magazine) announces the Chinese character and Chinese word of the year. These words are meant to capture the spirit of China in the past year, and they’re often closely related to current events. So what won this year?
The Chinese character of the year is zhǎng 涨, which means “to rise.” It was chosen because of the dramatic rise in prices that has occurred across the country this year, in goods ranging from simple food items to housing. It’s gotten so bad, the CP pamplet jokes, that “people from Shenzhen are going to Hong Kong just to buy soy sauce!” The pamphlet also assures that the government is on top of it and that “some products have been controlled and their prices have dropped to previous levels.” I guess we’ll have to wait until 2012 to see if 涨 makes next year’s list!
Other characters in the top ten include internet favorites like 被 (last year’s winner) and 囧, as well as some references to the year in current events, like 博 (because of the 世博会 World Expo held in Shanghai this year), 堵 (anyone who sat in Beijing traffic last year knows why they chose this), 拆 (the character painted onto buildings condemned for demolition), 房 (housing prices are very high), and 灾 (because of the deadly earthquake, mudslides, and flooding that plagued China this year).
The Chinese word of the year is gěilì 给力, which literally means “giving power” and is used to express positive feelings about something that is helpful, useful, doable, or powerful in a good way. It’s a form of encouragement that originally came from the subtitles of a Japanese cartoon and first became popular during the World Cup this summer. It has since spread throughout Chinese society. In fact, the word is so hot right now that it’s being used by major Chinese media players (including the People’s Daily) and it has even spawned its own English spinoffs, geilivable and ungeilivable.
Other words in this year’s top ten include net buzzwords like 浮云 (literally, “passing clouds,” figuratively a reference to the fact that everything disappears and is replaced with something new) and 微博 (microblog), as well as references to current events, including 涨价 (rising prices), 房价 (housing prices), 世博 (Shanghai Expo), etc.
Interestingly, the CP also picks words and characters that reflect the past year internationally. So what characters best described the world this year? 乱 (chaos), 闹 (noise, commotion), 斗 (struggle), 战 (warfare)…yikes! Apparently, it’s been a rough year!
The international Chinese words of the year are a bit more straightforward, as most have been pulled straight from international headlines: 军演 (military exercises, a reference to the tensions caused by joint US and South Korean naval drills), 世界杯 (World Cup), 维基解密 (Wikileaks), 苹果 (Apple released the iPhone 4 last year), 钓鱼岛 (Diaoyu Islands, a reference to the international incident caused by Japan’s arrest of a Chinese boat captain in the islands), 章鱼保罗 (Paul the Octopus, the World Cup’s most accurate and most invertebrate prophet), etc.
What were your Chinese words of the year? And what words do you think will come to define 2011?
Some characters even get to be mascots. Find out which one was used for the Shanghai World Expo.