When innocent questions prove to be fatal

“What would you do if the woman sitting next to you and your girlfriend in the cinema asks for help opening a bottle of water?” asked the “2018 Men’s Love Examination,” an online quiz for Chinese males on their suitability as a partner.

Some were confused by the question, innocently wondering why anyone would not agree to help. These people may be too simple, and sometimes naive—at least, according to certain web-savvy men (and women). The question was based on a supposed real-life incident which ignited a national debate in December 2017, after a Weibo user quarreled with her boyfriend due to his agreeing to aid a female stranger. Some felt the stranger was making a bizarre imposition; others thought that no gentleman would refuse such a request.

To help or not, that is the question. With so little consensus, these dilemmas are known as 送命题 (sòngmìngtí, “life-costing” or “fatal” questions), indicating that any answer would cause problems. It might be a twist on 送分题 (sòngfēntí, grade-gifting questions), a term widely used by teachers and students to describe easy exam questions that effectively “gift” points to the test-taker.

This is subscriber exclusive content

Become a subscriber to continue reading

Cruel Conundrums is a story from our issue, “China Chic.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


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.

Related Articles