Social media writes off China’s Character of the Year

Official government pick of ‘zhen’ fails to impress netizens on Weibo site

China last week announced that “zhen,” a term officially defined as “self-inspire,” is the Chinese Character of the Year. The reaction online has been less than enthusiastic.

The government conducts an annual survey to choose characters and words that reflect the public’s prevailing sentiment or buzzworthy developments. 

It officially approved the final list, but not everyone on China’s highly censored internet celebrated the picks.

“Fake and empty,” said one message on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

Another blogger announced that his Chinese character of the year was “hao,” meaning “so,” and that his words of the year were “so cold,” “so poor,” “so sleepy,” “so tired,” “so hungry,” “so boring.”

Chinese state media said in the December 20 announcement the pick of “zhen” reflected the success of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, people’s love of sports and low-cost tourism, and resilience.

State media

“The road ahead will be full of dangers and bumps. Whether it is a country or an individual,” an article from China’s state media said.

“If you remain true to your heart when faced with challenges, persevere in the face of wind and rain, and gain every inch of joy, you will be worthy of the character,” it added.

This year the official list of terms also included the international Chinese character of the year: “Wei,” meaning “danger.”

ChatGPT was the International Word of the Year. Image: Flickr

“High-quality development” and “ChatGPT” were respectively selected as the domestic and international words of the year.

State media said the “danger” pick reflected events such as the Israel-Hamas conflict and Japan’s discharge of nuclear wastewater. 

The progress of artificial intelligence technology, such as ChatGPT, has also brought uncertainty to the future.

Still, Chinese internet users, known as netizens, called the annual exercise self-deceiving.

On Zhihu, the Chinese equivalent of question-and-answer site Quora, a netizen pointed out that 2023 is the first year since China’s draconian pandemic controls.

Rising unemployment

Problems such as instability in the real estate market, falling birth rates, and rising unemployment among young people blighted the last 12 months.

“It can only be said that ‘zhen’ expresses the Chinese people’s hopes for the coming year, but it may not truly reflect this year’s situation,” the netizen wrote on Weibo.

Reflecting the country’s post-pandemic economic struggles, another suggested down” as the character of the year. The word of the year became a “downward spiral.”

China’s annual characters for the past 10 years have expressed optimistic messages, such as “meng,” “mian,” “xiang” and “wen,” which respectively stand for “dream,” “integrity, “enjoyment and “stability.

‘Que’ was Taiwan’s Character of the Year. Photo: Flickr

China is not the only country that selects a Chinese character for the year.

Japanese includes Chinese characters as one of three types of the language’s written text. This year, the Japan Kanji Proficiency Test Association chose “shui,” meaning “tax.”

In Malaysia, the domestic character of the tear was “gui,” meaning “expensive.”

According to the United Daily News, Wu Tianquan, the president of the Chinese Assembly Hall of Malaysia, said:

The word people elected shows that the government must be considerate of the lower-class people and provide more subsidies and welfare funds.

Social problems

In Taiwan, “que” was selected as this year’s character of the year. It means “lack.” 

According to Taiwanese media reports, Taoyuan Mayor Chang San-cheng chose the word because of rising housing prices, inflation, deadly factory fires, and other social problems. 

Chang said that had made people feel insecure, so the character “que” is the most representative.

Wenhao Ma is a producer at Voice of America.

This article is republished courtesy of Voice of America. Read the original article here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.