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Photo Credit: Zhou Xiaoyi
Schemes can only take you so far

If your girlfriend says, “When I was taking my medicine this morning, I heard some news…” Do not, under any circumstances, answer, “What news?” If you do, you, my friend, have just fallen into a trap. The next thing you’re likely to hear is, “Why didn’t you ask me why I was taking medicine? You don’t care about me!” A slightly longer version of this relationship trap went viral online, and many victims of this scheme reached for a new, emerging phrase: Less strategy, more sincerity! (少一点套路,多一点真诚。 Shǎo yīdiǎn tàolù, duō yīdiǎn zhēnchéng.)

No one is sure about the exact origin of this slogan, but it is employed everywhere. Apparently, the essence of this buzzword is the word “套 路”, or taolu, which is really hard to translate into English. The word refers to methods, tricks, strategies, or schemes, especially clichéd ones. Take, for example, the man who walks up to a woman in a bar and says, “Have we met before?” The response to this is, “Come on! Less strategy, more sincerity, okay?” It means that he should stop with the routine nonsense and be more creative.

But in practice, since Chinese people rarely demonstrate their thoughts in a straightforward manner, strategy, or taolu, will always have its place. Chinese conversations can seem like a chess game sometimes; the one who pulls off the most tricks wins.

The most common taolu that you’ll hear is probably, “Here’s a thing I am not supposed to tell you, but I feel like you should know.” Apparently the speaker is ready to gossip but will wait for you to ask what it is first, and if you do, you’re the gossip. So, be tough and answer with, “Say it or save it. Less strategy, more sincerity, please. (爱说不说!少一点套路,多一点真诚。 Ài shuō bú shuō! Shǎo yīdiǎn tàolù, duō yīdiǎn zhēnchéng.)”

Sometimes you can just omit the sincerity part, because the word taolu itself is useful enough. A pop star’s promotional stunt is a taolu. You might hear someone say, “The lead actor and actress of the movie began a relationship? Just exactly when will it come out? (电影的男女主角被曝出恋情?在电影马上就要上映的时候?Diànyǐng de nán nǚ zhǔjué bèi bào chū liànqíng? Zài diànyǐng mǎshàng jiù yào shàngyìng de shíhou?)” So, you’ll respond, “A classic taolu. I guess if they cooperate in another movie, their break-up will make even more headlines. (经典套路。我猜如果他们之后再合作一部电影,他们分手的消息还能再上一次头条。Jīngdiǎn tàolù. Wǒ cāi rúguǒ tāmen zhīhòu zài hézuò yí bù diànyǐng, tāmen fēnshǒu de xiāoxi hái néng zài shàng yí cì tóutiáo.)”

Actually, for many people, anything on the planet they don’t understand can all be interpreted as taolu. When the game between AlphaGo and the South Korean Go master was in the news, regardless of all the AI technology behind the game, someone commented, “The robot is of course better at taolu than humans.” As for what taolu actually is, who cares?

If you are tired of the endless taolu, come back to our “less strategy, more sincerity” creed to help you get to the point.

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author Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.