浓人淡人 拷贝
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STREET TALK

Between the Light and the Dense

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What do Chinese netizens mean when they refer to each other as “light,” “dense,” and “stealthy”?

While once Chinese netizens used the MBTI test to reveal their personalities, now they have their own categories. The most recent “new internet personas (新的互联网人设 xīn de hùliánwǎng rénshè),” as social media users have dubbed them, are two distinct categories: “light (淡 dàn)” or “dense (浓 nóng).”

Originally referring to a dense, thick, or strong color or taste, netizens use 浓 to refer to outgoing, enthusiastic, lively personalities. “Dense people (浓人 nóngrén)” are “kings of involution (卷王 juǎnwáng)” at work and masters of “crazy literature (发疯文学 fāfēng wénxué).”

By contrast, 淡 means something light, pale, or bland. Netizens now use it to refer to individuals who embrace a detached attitude toward life and rarely show strong emotions.

Nothing impresses these “light people (淡人 dànrén).” They have little ambition, regularly express indifference, and often seem detached. They are “neither sad nor happy, neither angry nor resentful, neither resentful nor hating (不悲不喜,不嗔不怒,不怨不恨 bù bēi bù xǐ, bù chēn bú nù, bú yuàn bú hèn),” as a common refrain online puts it.

Just existing might be enough for them. One netizen joked recently on the Instagram-like social media platform Xiaohongshu: “I can accept life or death. Since I haven’t died yet, I might as well live a while longer. (活着也行,死了也没关系,还没死就随便先活一下好了。Huózhe yě xíng, sǐle yě méi guānxi, hái méi sǐ jiù suíbiàn xiān huó yíxià hǎo le.)”

They do the bare minimum at work. A common motto of light people is: “I work as much as I desire, and earn money as fate permits (随心情劳作,凭缘分赚钱 Suí xīnqíng láozuò, píng yuánfèn zhuànqián).” Many online praise this indifferent attitude as useful when handling overbearing corporate cultures, manipulative bosses, and peer pressure.

Some aren’t content with merely being bland. They aspire to be “transparent people (透明人 tòumíngrén),” meaning they are so low-key as to almost become invisible. Others refer to them as “stealthy people (偷感人 tōugǎnrén),” who desperately avoid attracting attention to themselves.

This March, “I suddenly found that I have a strong stealthy feeling (突然发现自己的偷感很重 Túrán fāxiàn zìjǐ de tōugǎn hěn zhòng)” became a trending hashtag on the microblogging platform Weibo, gaining over 23 million views. Netizens rushed to social media to share their interpretations of stealthy behavior.

Stealthy folk avoid wearing new or eye-catching clothing. They are extremely cautious and lack confidence in social situations. Though they might have a range of hobbies, skills, and goals, they do their utmost to hide them from the world lest they attract attention or, worse, create expectations for themselves. One stealthy netizen wrote on Weibo in March: “I really can’t do anything well under the gaze of others. I even wait for my mom to leave the house before I do chores. (我真的无法在别人的注视下做任何事,我连在家里做家务都尽量等我妈出门才做。Wǒ zhēnde wúfǎ zài biérén de zhùshì xià zuò rènhé shì, wǒ lián zài jiāli zuò jiāwù dōu jìnliàng děng wǒ mā chūmén cái zuò.)”

Of course, most people aren’t completely stealthy and fit in between the extremes of light and dense. These folks are known as “间人 (jiānrén, middle people).” As one netizen wrote recently: “When a plain person encounters a problem, they calmly compromise. When a dense person encounters a problem, they rush into action. But when I face a problem, I find myself rushing to compromise. (淡人遇事:平静的妥协;浓人遇事:暴躁的解决;我遇事:暴躁的妥协。Dànrén yù shì: píngjìng de tuǒxié; nóngrén yù shì: bàozào de jiějué; wǒ yù shì: bàozào de tuǒxié.)” On Chinese social media, balancing the light and the dense is clearly a difficult task.

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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.

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