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Beijing’s Outbreak Spawns Even More Covid Slang

As Covid prevention policies roll on, so too do online slang and memes

More than two years after Covid-19 first emerged, China’s netizens are still getting a kick out creating new slang and memes related to the pandemic. Recently, Shanghai netizens talked of “group buying chiefs” and “food storing guides”; but now it’s Beijing’s turn to endure another outbreak—and create the language to describe it.

Non-essential businesses in much of the capital have been told to close, with schools moving to online classes, restaurants offering takeout only, and workers staying home. Saved from the morning commute to the office, some joke online that “What wakes you up in the morning is not an alarm clock or your ambitions, but the need to do a Covid-19 test (早晨叫醒你的不是闹钟也不是梦想,是必须要起来做核酸 Zǎochén jiàoxǐng nǐ de bú shì nàozhōng yě bú shì mèngxiǎng, shì bìxū yào qǐlái zuò hésuān),” referring to almost daily tests required in some districts of the city, often announced via loudspeaker by grassroots officials and volunteers in the early morning.

Mass testing has been rolled out across much of Beijing, and residents need a negative test result within the last 48 hours to access many public spaces. This has led to the spread of what has been dubbed “nucleic acid test expiration anxiety (核酸过期焦虑症 hésuān guòqī jiāolǜzhèng).” With a test only valid for two days, many Beijingers quip, “My best-before date is even shorter than bread (我的保质期现在还没面包长 Wǒ de bǎozhìqī xiànzài hái méi miànbāo cháng).”

The test has become so important that with netizens have called the act of testing “life-recharging (续命 xùmìng).” Online, netizens comment in the style of payment platform notices: “Nucleic acid test recharge successful, 48 hours have been credited to your account (核酸续命充值成功,48小时已到账 Hésuān xùmìng chōngzhí chénggōng, shìshíbā xiǎoshí yǐ dàozhàng).”

Once reluctant to do the test, some people are now eager to get swabbed: “Simply being poked by the small cotton swab can add 48 hours of battery. Whenever I go out and notice a Covid-19 testing booth, I immediately want to go in for a recharge (小棉签捅一下就可以增加48小时续航。出门遛弯看到核酸点就想去‘续命' Xiǎo miánqiān tǒng yí xià jiù kěyǐ zēngjiā shìshíbā xiǎoshí xùháng. Chūmén liùwān kàndào hésuāndiǎn jiù xiǎng qù 'xùmìng').”

For some workers, however, even the negative test result is not enough to get them to the office, as many office buildings, bus stops, and subway stations have been closed. Others are luckier (or unlucky, depending on how much they enjoy their job). These “chosen wage slaves (天选打工人 tiānxuǎn dǎgōngrén)” somehow still live, work, and commute in areas as yet untouched by lockdowns. “Under pandemic policies, no matter how many places are locked down, they cannot block the road to labor (中国的防控措施下,怎么封都封不住打工路 Zhōngguó de fángkòng cuòshī xià, zěnme fēng dōu fēngbúzhù dǎgōnglù),” online comments remark.

Some less fortunate “chosen ones” are still required to work on-site despite their local subway and bus stops closing. They then have no choice but to participate in forced exercise–riding a bike to the office. For some, the workout leaves them exhausted, and if all of the share-bikes are taken, they find that “going to the office is like joining the Long March (上班上出了长征的感觉 shàngbān shàng chū le Chángzhēng de gǎnjué).”

More active residents are trying to keep fit while in lockdown. Liu Genghong, a 50-year-old singer, actor, and personal trainer from Taiwan, has become an online hit for livestreaming intense fitness routines from his home in Shanghai, with tens of millions of viewers tuning in. Female fans of Liu have started to call themselves “Liu Genghong girls (刘畊宏女孩 Liú Gēnghóng nǚhái),” while Liu has also been dubbed “the next Li Jiaqi,” a reference to one of China’s top livestreamers and lipstick-selling guru. Liu and Li are now nicknamed “the no life and no property duo (人财两空组合 réncái liǎngkōng zǔhé)” because “Li Jiaqi empties our wallet, and Liu Genghong empties our body (李佳琦掏空我们的钱包,刘畊宏掏空我们的身体 Lǐ Jiāqí tāokōng wǒmen de qiánbāo, Liú Gēnghóng tāokōng wǒmen de shēntǐ).”

One of Liu’s most-watched fitness routines is set to “Herbalist Manual (本草纲目 Běncǎo Gāngmù)” from legendary pop singer Jay Chou’s Still Fantasy album. Netizens cried online: “Before exercising with Liu, Jay Chou was a symbol of hope; after exercising with Liu, Jay Chou is an omen of death (跟刘畊宏运动前,周杰伦是我的续命符;跟刘畊宏运动后:周杰伦是我的催命符 Gēn Liú Gēnghóng yùndòng qián, Zhōu Jiélún shì wǒ de xùmìngfú; gēn Liú Gēnghóng yùndòng hòu, Zhōu Jiélún shì wǒ de cuīmìngfú).”

Others have taken to manipulating the current outbreak to their own advantage. When they don’t want to reply to a message, they say, “I’m doing a Covid test now (做核酸呢 Zuò hésuān ne).” Putting off plans is easy when you can say, “Let’s wait for the lockdown to be lifted (等解封吧 Děng jiěfēng ba).” And for the people and responsibilities you really want to avoid: “Let’s talk once the pandemic is over (等疫情结束再说吧 Děng yìqíng jiéshù zài shuō ba).”

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Zhang Wenjie is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese. She loves to share the lifestyles, voices, and concerns of China’s Gen Z. She is also fond of collecting and displaying the flourishing slang expressions in the Chinese language.

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