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Have You Time Traveled Today?

How an internet catchphrase is reinventing China's favorite pop culture phenomenon

03·22·2012

Have You Time Traveled Today?

How an internet catchphrase is reinventing China's favorite pop culture phenomenon

03·22·2012

If you’re still greeting people with the tired old, Ni chile ma? (你吃了吗, literally, “Did you eat?”) it may be time to re-stock your small talk wheelhouse. Lucky for you, it’s recently become easier to get up with the times (pun coming) with this hip new greeting: “你穿越了吗?” (Nǐ chuānyuè le ma)—“Have you been traveling in time?”

This Delorian-style phrase made it into common parlance thanks to the recent explosion of time-traveling hits in Chinese pop culture, including books like “The Youth Around Here” (此间的少年), the TV show “Startling by Each Step” (步步惊心) and the wildly popular blockbuster “Inception” (see a full list of works on the 穿越 Baike Baidu page).

While not everyone’s happy about the spread of time-travel fantasy (according to dubious reports from government-supported media, perhaps with good reason), that hasn’t stopped the viral spread of time-travel discussions and internet memes.

Though 穿越 (chuānyuè) initially meant “to pass through” or “traverse,” since time-traveling began conquering Chinese youth culture, the word has been adopted as a shorthand for traveling over time and space. The phrase could be roughly translated as “Have you encountered any interesting but weird things recently?”

Then again, some fantasy lovers (i.e. nerds) take the phrase more literally. For example, if you search 穿越是 (time travel is) on Baidu, the second result after “穿越是什么意思?” (What does chuanyue mean) is “穿越是真的吗?” (Is time traveling real?). Likewise, respondents on Zhidao Baidu (similar to sites like Ask.com) generally provide literal answers to the question, 你今天穿越了吗?(Have you time traveled today?). Answers range from the tongue-in-cheek, “我今天当然穿越了!” (Of course I time-traveled today!) to the more sensible, “如果我穿越了的话,我还会在这个世界上和你聊天吗?” (If I had time traveled today, do you think I’d still be on this earth talking with you?). The writer loses a bit of credibility when he goes on to advise would-be time travelers how to hypnotize themselves into a state of time travel.

Some even use the phrase to describe a moment of weird coincidence or dejavu:

呵 呵,在今天下午2点的时候,我在玩失重空间,忽然发现对面有一个人的战队名字很眼熟,定神一看,哈哈,原来是我的名字的翻版,我的战队的名字叫:花y1样 的绽放,结果对面的第一名叫像花y1样的绽放,我心里暗自好笑,就这样正版和盗版的就开始的厮杀,我们都是自己队友的第一,结果,随着我的最后一个空中击 杀,盗版的哥们就在死亡中结束了游戏,结果他就直接退出了游戏~哈,打击盗版啊!

Hehe – this afternoon around 2 o’clock, i was playing “Weightless Space” (a popular shooting video game), when I suddenly realized that there was a guy I was playing against whose squad name was really familiar. Looking harder, haha, it turned out to be an exact copy of my name, my own squad’s name. My squad’s name is hua y1 yang de zhanfang (blossoms of the same flower). The guy on the other side had the exact same tame. Inwardly I thought it was hilarious, that the genuine and the rip-off should have started out in such close quarters. Both of us were the leaders of our teams. In the end, the last one following me in the air was shot down, and the fake guy stopped playing as soon as he was killed. He ended up just going ahead and quitting the game. Ha, confirmed hit on the faker!

But best of all is when netizens use the term to describe the cognitive dissonance when things belonging to different eras converge. Take for instance the famous online photo of “Journey to the West” Monkey King Sun Wukong and his compatriots – aka juese banyan (角色扮演, Cosplayers, commonly known in the US as LARPERS) – taking a break from their adventures for a little soft serve at a Beijing McDonald’s waiting in line at McDonald’s for a little soft serve. Micro-bloggers exclaimed, “孙悟空也穿越啦?” (Did Sun Wukong travel to the present?)

 

It’s not easy being cheesy. Or rather, it is, once you’ve read our article on it.