Photo Credit: Fengzheng Yisheng
The memes that punish those who break their word

Wu Zhengqiang walked into a salon in Hangzhou with a free facial care offer—and walked out with a bill for 40,000 RMB (5,851 USD), after being charged various add-on services. A video of his dismayed pout created a meme that would garner over 42 million views, 70,000 forwards, and comments on Weibo.

When Wu realized that he’d become known all over the web as 发际线男孩 (“hairline boy”), he claimed that he had no intention of “choosing the path of an ‘internet celebrity,’” but simply wanted justice. Soon, however, people discovered Wu’s account on Weibo and video platform Douyin, and even his appearance in several advertisements. Overnight, Wu became the latest (unwitting) celebrity to be dubbed 真香 (“really delicious,” zhēn xiāng), a term mocking hypocrites and people who break their promises.

Its origin can be traced back to a 2014 incident on Hunan TV reality show X-change, in which urban and rural contestants briefly swapped lives. One pampered urbanite, Wang Jingze, refused to eat meals served to him in the village, vowing, “I, Wang Jingze, would rather die than touch your food!” Cut to the next scene, and Wang is filmed heartily tucking in, exclaiming, “So delicious!” Amused netizens made the contrasting scenes into a meme to roast those who fail to keep their word:

A: I don’t understand why he is so popular. All he has are his looks.
Wǒ bù míngbai wèi shéme tā nàme huǒ, tā jiùshi zhǎng de hái xíng.

A: (Seconds later) Wow, he sings and dances so well!
Wā, tā chànggē, tiàowǔ dōu hěn bàng!

B: Hypocrisy alert!
Zhēn xiāng jǐnggào!!

It can also serve as self-mockery:

I thought I would never watch that trashy show, but now I’m addicted. All I can say is: “so delicious!”
Wǒ yǐwéi zìjǐ juéduì búhuì kàn nà bù lājī diànshìjù, dànshì xiànzài wǒ yǐjīng kàn shàngyǐn le. Wǒ zhǐnéng shuō: “Zhēn xiāng!”

For people who repeatedly lie, pretend, or break promises, another expression to use when they’re caught in the act is 打脸 (dǎ liǎn, “slap in the face”), which can be more embarrassing than a literal slap. For example, actor Jin Dong, who likes to cultivate a false air of intellectualism, once told media that he was reading a book by a “Nobel Math Laureate.” Since there is no such award, netizens commented:

He pretends to be so knowledgeable. What a slap in the face.
Tā bù dǒng zhuāng dǒng, zhè xià bèi dǎ liǎn le ba.

Being called out for hypocrisy can be a blow to one’s face (prestige), as well as a metaphorical slap, and netizens often like to pile on the humiliation with onomatopoeia—the sound of a cheek being slapped, papa (啪啪), can be used instead of, or in addition to 打脸 for emphasis, or simply added humor:

A: I think money is almighty and the rich can have anything.
Wǒ rènwéi qián shì wànnéng de, yǒuqiánrén méi shénme dé bu dào de.

B: Well here’s a slap in your face: Li Ka-shing is the richest man in Asia, but he still doesn’t have my WeChat number!
Mǎshàng jiù ràng nǐ pāpā dǎ liǎn: Lǐ Jiāchéng shì Yàzhōu shǒufù, dàn zhìjīn dōu méiyǒu dédào wǒ de wēixìn!

Slap Bash is a story from our issue, “Curiosities and Quests.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine.


author Tan Yunfei (谭云飞)

Tan Yunfei is the editorial director of The World of Chinese. She reports on Chinese language, food, traditions, and society. Having grown up in a rural community and mainly lived in the cities since college, she tries to explore and better understand China's evolving rural and urban life with all readers.

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