How flags are used to signify impending doom

We’ve all seen the war movies; Before heading off to battle, the rookie recruit kisses his girlfriend goodbye, promising, “As soon as I come back, I will marry you.” Or maybe he keeps a photo of that childhood sweetheart in his wallet to show others what’s waiting at home. It’s as bad as someone on Game of Thrones saying, “We’ll talk when I get back.”

They’re dead meat, we all know it.

Chinese moviegoers have a term for this sort of signaling: “Don’t raise a flag!” (不要立flag! Bùyào lì flag!) Originally a gaming term, “raise a flag” refers to particular lines or cues that serve as a sure sign of impending death or disaster. It usually exists as a half-Chinese, half-English term—立flag, with 立 (lì) meaning “raise” (mixed use of Chinese and English has become increasingly popular both online and in conversation among younger Chinese, even as some scholars and media have criticized the phenomenon, citing “language purity”).

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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.

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