Low so­ci­etys

The World of Chinese - - Tea Leaves - BY SUN JI­AHUI (孙佳慧)

Peppa, the ram­bunc­tious star of the BBC chil­dren’s cartoon Peppa Pig, has be­come one of China’s most beloved an­i­mated icons since first ap­pear­ing on China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion in 2015. But re­cently, Peppa’s star has risen far be­yond her ju­ve­nile fan base—and may even be in dan­ger of flam­ing out, so per­va­sive is her ap­par­ent in­flu­ence on the kids (well, mil­len­ni­als). The two-line rhyme—小猪佩奇身上纹,掌声送给社会人( Xi2ozh$ P-iq! sh8n­shang w9n, zh2ng­sh8ng s7ng­g0i sh-hu#r9n. “Tat­too on Peppa, shout out to fel­las”) has be­come a ral­ly­ing cry for the dis­af­fected or down­right dis­obe­di­ent. Yes, the pig with the hairdryer snout has some­how emerged as an icon of re­bel­lion. Get your­self some Peppa wear, and you, too, can be­come a gang­ster of sorts, or in Chi­nese, 社会人 ( sh-hu#r9n, “so­ci­ety per­son”).

Though this ex­pres­sion has been pop­u­lar on­line for a while, few seem to know its ex­act ori­gin. The most ac­cepted ori­gin is video plat­form Kuaishou, where many live stream­ers try to at­tract view­ers by ap­pro­pri­at­ing Triad-style tat­toos and vul­gar ac­ces­sories. One Kuaishou user de­cided to mock his peers by draw­ing a large image of Peppa on his back, and yelling gangsta-rap slo­gans at the cam­era; the con­trast be­tween the whole­some porcine and the man’s ma­cho pos­tur­ing was enough to make the clip go vi­ral. Overnight, young peo­ple be­gan to wear Peppa watches, carry Peppa back­packs, pur­chase Peppa stick-on tat­toos, and pro­claim them­selves she­huiren.

Tech­ni­cally, a she­huiren doesn’t al­ways mean a gang­ster, which is better trans­lated as a mem­ber of 黑社会 ( h8ish-hu#, lit­er­ally “black so­ci­ety”), the ac­tual word for or­ga­nized crime. While she­huiren can some­times be a by­word for heishe­hui, it more broadly refers to a per­son who has a wide range of re­sources, far-reach­ing power, and rich ex­pe­ri­ence in so­ci­ety. For ex­am­ple, you may hear some­one com­pli­ment an old friend made good with the words:

Bro, af­ter all th­ese years, you have be­come a she­huiren! G8­menr, zh-me du4 ni1n m9i ji3n, n@ y@j~ng ch9ng le sh-hu#r9n le! 哥们儿,这么多年没见,你已经成了社会人了!

An­other rel­e­vant term is 社会大哥 ( sh-hu# d3g8), lit­er­ally “so­ci­ety big brother.” As many Hong Kong gang­ster movies show, a chief­tain of the un­der­world is of­ten called “big brother” by his fol­low­ers. But now, as in­ter­net slang, the term is used in a tongue-in-cheek fash­ion to de­scribe some­one who talks, be­haves, or even dresses in a gaudy gang­ster-like style— for ex­am­ple, wear­ing a chunky gold chain around the neck and a vul­gar lux­ury belt.

Last year, the term fur­ther de­vel­oped into a dog­gerel, of­ten in­volv­ing a per­son’s name. For ex­am­ple, if you want to in­tro­duce a she­hui dage sur­named Li, you can say:

My so­ci­ety bro Li is short-spo­ken and has a heart of stone. Sh-hu# w6 L@ g8, r9n h0n hu3 b& du4. 社会我李哥,人狠话不多。

In most cases, the term is no longer re­ally gang­ster-re­lated, but in­stead serves as a hu­mor­ous com­pli­ment. At the time of writ­ing, for ex­am­ple, NBA star Lebron James just killed an im­por­tant play­off game be­tween Cleve­land Cava­liers and Toronto Rap­tors with an off-bal­ance floater at the buzzer, which made many Chi­nese fans ex­claim:

My so­ci­ety bro James is short-spo­ken and has a heart of stone. Sh-hu# w6 Zh`n g8, r9n h0n hu3 b& du4. 社会我詹哥,人狠话不多。

The word 社会 can also be used as an ad­jec­tive, usu­ally in a sar­cas­tic man­ner:

A: I never wait in line be­fore I get on the bus. W6 ch9ng g4ngji`och8 c5ng b& p1idu#. 我乘公交车从不排队。

B: Wow, that is so she­hui of you. Please for­give my lack of re­spect. Sh-hu# sh-hu#, sh~j#ng sh~j#ng. 社会社会,失敬失敬。

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