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What makes a “greasy” man?

In China, middle-aged women are dismissed as dama, a somewhat derogatory term that suggests gossipy grannies. Now it’s men’s turn, finally. A relatively recent expression describes a certain kind of middle-aged, mediocre and sleazy man: youni, 油腻, meaning “greasy,” a word originally used to describe excessively oily and rich food.

“Greasy” can mean a lot in this context: A weisuonan (greasy man) is typically a chubby, sweaty, cheesy, vulgar, and/or narcissistic male in his forties or fifties. But lately different types of men, including many celebrities and so-called little fresh meat stand accused of being greaseballs too. Some are good-looking and in good shape but try too hard to show off their charm and make people uneasy.

Last month, writer and poet Feng Tang, himself a middle-aged man, posted an essay “How to Avoid Becoming a Greasy Middle-Aged Creepy Man,” offering ten piece of advice for his fellow men:

  1. Never get fat. The first impression of greasiness comes from your weight
  2. Never stop studying. If you are ugly and reaching middle age, you should study harder
  3. Exercise
  4. Never talk about sex in the public, unless you are a porn writer
  5. Never recall the good old days, even if you are an old military general
  6. Don’t lecture young people, especially women (i.e. “mansplaining”)
  7. Don’t bother others
  8. Never stop shopping. If you lose desire for nice things, life becomes boring
  9. Don’t be sloppy. When you were young, that’s a wild style; when you are getting old, dirty is dirty
  10. Don’t be prejudiced against another person’s habits, whatever their age

This post was so popular that others then joined the discussion. Songwriter and music producer Gao Xiaosong, who many believe to be a classic greaseball, wrote his own advice on Weibo:

1. Be “honey-mouthed.” Sugar can dissolve grease.
2. Don’t be picky.
3. Don’t hang out in any “circle (圈子, referring to a particular community of people sharing some common background, career or hobby).” There is no refreshed circle in the world. Every “circle” is greasy
4. To illustrate something, you can explain it from, at most, three aspects. Talking too much makes you greasy

Indeed, Hong Kong writer Liu Wai-tong argued that Feng himself has a “greasy mindset” in a parody reply, “How to Avoid Greasy Middle-Aged Creepy Writing,” in which he recommended Feng avoid “fat writing,” bloated with details about how adventurous his life is.

People’s Daily even threw their two cents in, arguing that what causes “greasiness” is “excess”: “By its nature, being greasy is a kind of excess: excessive flavor, excessive self-esteem ,and excessive desire.” This opinion conforms with a traditional Chinese philosophy that “Going beyond the limit is as bad as falling short (过犹不及).” So to avoid greasy blogging, we’d better end this post here…


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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