Companionship slang
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STREET TALK

How to “Focus” Like a Chinese Netizen

For Chinese netizens, life shouldn’t be about hard work or study; just friendship is enough

From stroking fish to lying flat and identifying with a pathetic scholar, young Chinese workers are full of apathy for the grind. Now, they have a new way to describe their laziness with students writing online: “The main focus of going to the classroom is simply companionship (去教室主打的就是一个陪伴, Qù jiàoshì zhǔdǎ de jiùshì yí gè péibàn).”

“The main focus is companionship (主打的就是一个陪伴 Zhǔdǎ de jiùshì yí gè péibàn)” has recently gone viral on Chinese social media. Originally “主打 (Zhǔdǎ)” was used to describe a person or a product that plays a vital role in promotion. “主打产品 (zhǔdǎ chǎnpǐn),” for example, refers to a flagship product; “主打歌 (zhǔdǎ gē)” is the lead song on an album; and “主打菜 (zhǔdǎ cài)” is the signature dish of a restaurant. More recently, though, it has become a meme.

The joke originated on Douyin (China’s version of TikTok), where devoted fans of celebrities regularly profess their desire to foster (养成 yǎngchéng) their favorite stars by “accompanying them from obscurity to flourishing success (陪他从默默无闻到繁花似锦 Péi tā cóng mòmò wúwén dào fánhuā sìjǐn),” without seeking anything in return.

People’s “focus” has now taken an insincere turn. Students claim they attend class not to learn but to accompany their teacher and classmates, in self-mockery of their lack of dedication. Though physically present, they have no study goals, describing themselves as: “Not skipping a single class, not listening to a single word, bringing no book, and taking no pen out. The main focus of going to the classroom is simply companionship. (一节课不旷,一个字不听,一本书不带,一支笔不拿,去教室主打的就是一个陪伴 Yì jié kè bù kuàng, yì gè zì bù tīng, yì běn shū bù dài, yì zhī bǐ bù ná, qù jiàoshì zhǔdǎ de jiùshì yí gè péibàn).”

Unlike high school students who are burdened with the pressure of the college entrance exam (高考 gāokǎo) and often employ the catchphrase “Time for class, no more chatting (上课了,不聊了 Shàngkè le, bù liáo le),” college students have taken to messaging their friends the opposite: “Class is over, I’ll stop chatting now (下课了,不聊了 Xiàkè le, bù liáo le).”

While companionship is the main aim of study, students also self-mockingly announce that “after class, the main focus is the Engel coefficient (下课主打一个恩格尔系数 Xiàkè zhǔdǎ yí gè Ēngé’ěr xìshù),” a nerdy reference to them using disproportionately high amounts of their income on food because they spend all their time in class thinking about what to eat afterward.

China’s “wage slaves (打工人 dǎgōng rén)” have also taken up the phrase as yet another way to describe their slacking, announcing: “Go to work with formal pretense and be wholeheartedly ready to clock off: The main focus is simply companionship (装模做样上班,全心全意下班,主打的就是一个陪伴 Zhuāngmú zuòyàng shàngbān, quánxīn quányì xiàbān, zhǔdǎ de jiùshì yí gè péibàn).”

Even relationships can be all about companionship—meaning one isn’t willing to spend money on romance, and will only offer emotional support for their partner.

Even relationships can be all about companionship—meaning one isn’t willing to spend money on romance, and will only offer emotional support for their partner.

The “main focus” has spread to other areas too. For example, when netizens are losing badly at their online games they might comment drily: “The main focus is enjoying ourselves (主打就是一个玩得尽兴 Zhǔdǎ jiùshì yí gè wán de jìnxìng).” Recently, Zibo, Shandong province, has gained popularity as a viral barbecue location, with a common comment on social media professing netizens’ newfound love for the town and its food: “Zibo barbecue is all about sincerity (淄博烧烤主打的就是一个走心 Zībó shāokǎo zhǔdǎ de jiùshì yí gè zǒuxīn),” meaning they believe the food is reasonably priced despite its virality.

The term has become ubiquitous online, as more netizens use it to embrace challenges in their lives with a detached, carefree attitude. After all, “This world is quite chaotic; so my main focus is companionship (这个世界很凌乱,我主打一个陪伴 (Zhège shìjiè hěn língluàn, wǒ zhǔdǎ yí gè péibàn).”

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author Zhang Wenjie (张文捷)

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.