STREET TALK

The World of Chinese - - Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter - SUN JIAHEUI (孙佳慧) & TAN YUNGFEI (谭云飞)

街头俚语

The trans­for­ma­tion of an­i­mals into im­mor­tals, or “成精” ( ch9ngj~ng, be­come spir­its), is com­mon in clas­si­cal Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture. Snake spir­its are found in “The Leg­end of the White Snake;” spi­der, rab­bit, and scor­pion spir­its ap­pear in Jour­ney to the West; and fox spir­its are all over Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chi­nese Stu­dio. Though the char­ac­ter 精 ( j~ng) usu­ally refers to su­per­nat­u­ral be­ings, it is now of­ten used to de­scribe peo­ple with vex­ing per­son­al­i­ties.

Con­sider “戏精”( x#j~ng, drama spirit): Like the English ex­pres­sion “drama queen,” this type of spirit is apt to over­re­act. If there is not enough go­ing on in their lives, they will 给自己加戏( g0i z#j@ ji` x#, make a scene for one­self). Celebri­ties who pull public­ity stunts are of­ten called “drama spir­its” as a back­handed com­pli­ment. Dur­ing the 2015 Academy Awards, Chi­nese ac­tress Huang Shengyi claimed that she had been sched­uled to walk the red car­pet with ac­tor Tom Hanks, but had fainted back­stage and missed the show. As Huang was not even listed as a pre­sen­ter or nom­i­nee, ne­ti­zens noted:

What a drama spirit! She was to­tally mak­ing a scene for her­self! Zh8n sh# ge x#j~ng! T` w1n­qu1n ji&sh# z3i g0i z#j@ ji` x#! 真是个戏精!她完全就是在给自己加戏!

An­other pop­u­lar term is “杠精” ( g3ngj~ng), roughly trans­lated as “bicker spirit.” Us­ing the sec­ond char­ac­ter from 抬杠 ( t1ig3ng, to ar­gue for the sake of ar­gu­ing), this term de­scribes a type of con­trar­ian of­ten found trolling oth­ers on so­cial me­dia. Af­ter read­ing the post, “This is the best steak in the world,” a “bicker spirit” might haugh­tily com­ment, “Have you tasted all the steaks in the world?”

The orig­i­nal poster may re­tort:

Are you a bicker spirit? N@ sh# ge g3ngj~ng ma? 你是个杠精吗?

Some ne­ti­zens have en­vi­sioned the out­come of a bat­tle be­tween a xi­jing with a gangjing, con­clud­ing that the lat­ter will al­ways gain the up­per hand:

Xi­jing: I’ve been pro­moted and now earn 50,000 RMB, but I’m at a loss how to spend the money. Zu#j#n sh8ngzh!, g4ngz~ zh2ng d3o w^ w3n, f2n’9r b& zh~d3o z0nme hu` le. 最近升职,工资涨到5万,反而不知道怎么花了。 Gangjing: I wouldn’t know. I’ve never earned so lit­tle. W6 y0 b& zh~d3o, m9i n1guo n3me d~ de g4ngz~. 我也不知道,没拿过那么低的工资。

An­other in­ter­net im­mor­tal is the “猪精”( zh$j~ng), or “pig spirit.” Rather than de­scrib­ing Jour­ney to the West’s porcine hero, this is a deroga­tory term that means “fat and ugly.” Some women might claim to be “猪精女孩”( zh$j~ng n)h1i, pig spirit girl) to fish for com­pli­ments. How­ever, it is of­fen­sive to call some­one else a pig (un­less it’s Peppa Pig—but that’s a whole other story.)

If this is too much spirit talk, don’t worry: The govern­ment agrees. The phrase “建国后不许成精” ( ji3ngu5 h7u b&x^ ch9ngj~ng, be­com­ing an im­mor­tal is not al­lowed af­ter the found­ing of the PRC) sat­i­rizes the of­fi­cial dis­ap­proval of “feu­dal” su­per­sti­tions. In 2014, it was ru­mored that TV shows set af­ter 1949 could no longer fea­ture any an­i­mal spir­its. Though this ru­mor proved un­true, the ex­pres­sion went vi­ral and is of­ten used to de­scribe ex­cep­tion­ally cute or smart an­i­mals:

This kitty can open the door by it­self ! I thought no one was al­lowed to be­come an im­mor­tal in the PRC! Zh- zh~ xi2o m`o hu# z#j@ k`im9n! B% sh# shu4 ji3ngu5 h7u b&x^ ch9ngj~ng ma? 这只小猫会自己开门!不是说建国后不许成精吗?

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