Photo Credit: The Commercial Press
Results of the annual Chinese Pandian competition reveal the hottest characters, words, and phrases of the year

On December 20, winners of this year’s Chinese Pandian, a competition which selects the most representative words, phrases, and Chinese characters of the year, were announced: (zhì, governance) and 建党百年 (jiàndǎng bǎinián, 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Part of China) were named the “hottest” character and phrase in the domestic category in 2021, while 疫 (yì, epidemic) and 元宇宙 (yuányǔzhòu, metaverse) won the international section.

Hosted by the National Language Resources Monitoring and Research Center, and The Commercial Press, a 124-year-old Chinese publishing house (and TWOC’s parent company), the annual Chinese Pandian competition in now in its 16th year.

The 2021 contest began on November 19, with the public invited to submit their picks for words that best summed up the year—thousands of entries flooded in through the websites of organizers and other cooperating platforms, including Guangming Daily, Tencent Video, and social media platforms WeChat and Weibo.

The winners were chosen via a public vote, held over 11 days, on five finalists for each category selected by a panel of experts, taking into account their frequency of use and influence in society.

Here are some of the hottest characters, words, and phrases that made it to this year’s Chinese Pandian finals:

Characters of the Year (Domestic)

减 jiǎn


The central government has launched major educational and environmental reforms this year, aimed at reducing students’ burden in and after school, such as by curbing the after-school training industry, and reducing carbon emissions.

航 háng


With the successful launch of the Shenzhou 12 mission in June and the Shenzhou 13 in November, this year has been a landmark for the country’s space program. The Shenzhou 13 mission saw the longest stay in orbit (183 days) by a Chinese astronaut and first Chinese female spacewalker.

云 yún


As the pandemic rages on, “cloud” services have become increasingly popular, including 云课堂 (yún kètáng, online classes), 云问诊 (yún wènzhěn, online diagnosis), and 云旅游 (yún lǚyóu, “traveling” by watching livestreams of scenic spots).

清 qīng


This character has meant many things in 2021, including referring to authorities’ efforts to regulate the culture of “fan circles” (饭圈, fànquān), who, for example, pay to boost celeb rankings on social media sites, 涤清 (díqīng, cleanse) the online environment, 清零 (qīnglíng, clear, by curing) Covid-19 cases, and the progress of outer-space discovery (探清 tànqīng).

Words and Phrases of the Year (Domestic)

疫苗 yìmiáo


Vaccines have become a major means to combat the pandemic, in addition to common prevention means, such as wearing masks and washing hands. As of December, over 80 percent of China’s population had been vaccinated, according to the National Health Commission.

双减 shuāng jiǎn

“Double reduction”

The policy to reduce students’ homework load and after-school tutoring, which has changed the landscape of the training industry, aroused mixed responses and feelings from students, parents, and teachers.

永远的神 (or YYDS) yǒngyuǎn de shén

“Forever god”

This internet slang term is used to describe someone or something awesome, similar to how GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) is used in English. It saw extensive usage this year as Chinese athletes gained historic results at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Find a detailed explanation in our language piece.

共同富裕 gòngtóng fùyù

Common prosperity

The Chinese government has talked up its efforts to achieve “common prosperity” in economic terms this year. This followed its claim of success in eliminating poverty by the end of 2020, with the whole population living on more than 3,000 RMB per year.

For the international section of the Pandian awards, the four finalist characters were 共 (gòng, share), 变 (biàn, change), 离 (lí, departure), and 碳 (tàn, carbon). While the top phrases include 碳中和 (tàn zhònghé, carbon neutrality), 奥运会 (Àoyùnhuì, Olympic Games), 德尔塔 (Dé’ěrtǎ, Delta), and 芯片 (xīnpiàn, chip).

Top 10 Internet Slang of the Year

Along with the aforementioned phrases YYDS, 双减, and 元宇宙, the top internet slang terms of 2021 mainly express personal feelings:

觉醒年代 juéxǐng niándài

The Age of Awakening

This TV series, which tells the story of the founding of the Communist Party of China in 1921, was a hit, and is currently rated 9.3 out of 10 points by nearly 400,000 viewers on the review platform Douban.

破防 pòfáng

Defense torn down

Originally a term used in online games, this phrase has been taken up by netizens to indicate the emotional impact on oneself from some event or news.

绝绝子 juéjuézǐ

Supposedly a combination of the phrase “绝了 (jué le, great)” and the cute way to addressing people by repeating one character of a person’s surname or given name and adding 子 (zǐ, originally an honorable title), this slang means “fantastic,” “awesome,” as well as the opposite (“terrible”) when used ironically.

躺平 tǎngpíng

“Lying flat”

A phrase taken up by netizens who seek a quiet or lazy life away from the urban rat race, we explain this and several other buzzwords for those “rebelling” against competitive society, here.

伤害性不高,侮辱性极强 shānghàixìng bù gāo, wǔrǔxìng jí qiáng

“Damage level not high, but humiliation level strong”

This term is used to describe a biting remark that cuts deep without using any swear words or direct insults.

我看不懂,但我大受震撼 Wǒ kàn bù dǒng, dàn wǒ dà shòu zhènhàn

I’m shocked, though I don’t understand

This is used to describe one’s bewilderment and astonishment at something.

强国有我 qiángguó yǒu wǒ

I’m in to build a strong country

This line from oaths made by members of the Chinese Communist Youth League and Young Pioneers to the CPC during the ceremony of the Party’s 100th anniversary has become a slogan for patriotic youth.

Cover image courtesy of The Commercial Press


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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