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Top Keywords of 2016

From "Trump" to the "melon-eating masses" find out China's keywords in 2016


Top Keywords of 2016

From "Trump" to the "melon-eating masses" find out China's keywords in 2016


Year-end is just round the corner and it’s a good time to look at the top words of 2016.

These keywords were put together by the National Language Resources Monitoring and Research Center, Commercial Press and People.cn, with the idea being that they represent our collective memory of China and the world in the year 2016. Online voting is open, for participants to select a character and a keyword of the year for both the domestic and the international categories. The five “character of the year” nominees for the domestic category are:


严 (yán): “Strict,” which is supposed to represent the Party’s tightened policy against corrupt officials.

撩 (liáo): “Tease, provoke, stir up”, as in the new slang words, 撩妹 (liáomèi, flirt with girls), 撩汉 (liáohàn, flirt with guys) and 强撩 (qiángliáo, clumsy flirtation). Made famous by hot online discussion topics where netizens sharing their experiences of flirting, especially the awkward ones. It’s more refined and subtle than the outdated 泡妞 (pàoniū, pick up chicks) and plots found in Korean soap operas are viewed as the apex of such art.

规 (guī): “Regulation, rules,” another reference to the anti-corruption movement.

播 (bō): “Broadcast, streaming.” 2016 is the year when live video streaming or 直播 (zhībō) blossomed. Thanks to technology, nowadays anyone can directly broadcast anything, from personal shows of mundane chit-chat to more dubious activities. At least, they were able to until December 13, that is. A new regulation issued by the ministry of culture requires all web broadcast hosts to register with their real identity. But with so many broadcast apps in the market, how practical and effective this new regulation will be is still an open question.

霾 (mái): “Smog” is unfortunately constant on this list and it seems we will be stuck with it for a while.


A list of 10 keywords or phrases is also included, and TWOC readers may already be familiar with many of them as they have graced the pages of the magazine.


洪荒之力 (hónghuāng zhī lì): Primordial Power

Made famous by Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui at the Rio Olympics in a TV interview when she said: “I wasn’t reserving my energy for the final, I already used up my primordial power.” Her usage thrust this phrase into the limelight and it has since became the most powerful force in China. Learn more in our language piece, “Primordial Power”.

供给侧改革 (gōngjǐ cè gǎigé): Supply-side Reform

This keyword first appeared in a 2015 speech made by President Xi Jinping, referring to the government’s new effort to solve the economic problems faced by China. The four key points mentioned by President Xi are: resolve over-capacity of production; help enterprises to lower costs via taxi reduction and etc.; reduce the number of unsold homes; And be on guard of and resolve financial risks, including solving local debts. It’s possible this one may not have been chosen by netizens.

网红 (wǎnghóng): Internet Celebrity

In the odd community of cyber citizens, a few individuals are built into statues of internet gods of beauty, wit, and morality, only to be crushed by the judgments of those who built them in the first place. This modern phenomenon has given rise to household names, books, films, and even an economy that flourishes when the fame burns bright and lasts long after it fades. In many ways china’s internet realm is uniquely isolated, which makes it an interesting place to see kings and queens rise, flourish, and fall. Read our cover story, “Internet Celebrity 1/2/3”.

二孩 (èr hái): The Second-child

October 29, 2015 marked the end of China’s 35-year-old one-child policy. Prospective parents are asking: should we?  Check out our cover story, “Family First”.

小目标 (xiǎo mùbiāo): A Small Goal

When talking about his secret of success in a Southeast TV interview this August, China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, CEO of real estate giant Wanda Group, said: “first set a small goal, like ‘to earn 10 million RMB’”. Stunned netizens soon turned “a small goal” a sarcastic, trending phrase.

电信诈骗 (diànxìn zhàpiàn): Telecommunications Fraud

This crime has been rampant in recent years, but there was one recent piece of news which made headlines in particular. A high school graduate who was scammed out of her tuition fee for college died from a heart attack on her way back from the police station. The incident evoked nationwide discussion, prompting a series of actions fighting the crime, and a new bank policy. Starting this December, ATM transfers can be cancelled within 24 hours.

套路 (tàolù): Originally referring to a set of movements in martial arts practice, today, it refers to methods, tricks, strategies, or schemes. Check out our language piece, “Less Strategy, More Sincerity”.

不忘初心 (bù wàng chūxīn): Don’t forget the initial aspiration

Originally from the interpretation of an Avatamsaka Sutra quote, now made famous by President Xi’s speech in the 95 year anniversary of CCP this July.

网约车 (wǎngyuēchē): Online Cab-hailing

Conflicts surround the birth of taxi apps in China. Check out our feature story, “Cab Wars”.

吃瓜群众 (chī guā qúnzhòng): Melon-eating masses

A piece of online slang used to describe citizens or masses in general, who do not want to participate in certain discussion or comment on certain event. It was said that the phrase originated from a TV interview on a traffic accident when an old man was asked if he witnessed anything, he famous answered: “I know nothing; I was eating a melon at the time.”


As for international affairs, the five characters nominated are: 退 (tuì, exit), 难 (nàn, refugee), 核 (hé, nuclear), 变 (biàn, change) and 裂 (liè, split, divide). While the keywords are:


Brexit: 脱欧 (tuō Ōu)

Rio Olympics: 里约奥运 (Lǐyuē àoyùn)

South China Sea Conflicts: 南海争端 (Nánhǎi zhēngduān)

populism: 民粹 (míncuì)

Trump: 特朗普 (Tèlǎngpǔ) often translated as (川普 Chuānpǔ).

gravitational wave: 引力波 (yǐnlìbō)

AlphaGo: 阿法狗 (Āfǎgǒu)

One Belt, One Road: 一带一路 (yí dài yī lù)

THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense): 萨德 (Sàdé)


Are these words accurate in capturing the year? Tell us what your keywords of 2016 are!