Word of the Week: Don’t Understand Actual Situation

Editor’s Note: The CDT Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon is a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness. The Word of the Week features Lexicon entries old, new and timely.

If you are interested in participating in this project by submitting and/or translating terms, please contact the CDT editors at CDT [at] chinadigitaltimes [dot] net.

不明真相 (bù míng zhēn xiàng): don’t understand the actual situation

Invented character combining the four characters in the phrase “don’t understand the actual situation.”

This stock phrase is often used by the government and official media to describe participants in “mass incidents” (群体事件 qúntǐ shìjiàn), such as riots and protests. It suggests that those who participate in mass incidents do so not because of any real grievances, but because they have been duped by a few schemers with “ulterior motives.”

Even state-run media have questioned this demeaning term. In July 2009, Xinhua ran an editorial suggesting that this phrase should not be the immediate explanation for all mass incidents. The Southern Metropolis Daily commented in August of that year:

Whenever there is a mass incident, some government agencies will always issue statements to the effect that “people who didn’t understand the actual situation” were incited by “those with ulterior motives.” But this pretext is lifeless and unconvincing.

每有群体性事件,一些政府机关的文宣必定是“不明真相”的群众是被“别有用心”的人蛊惑的。可这套说辞却是最苍白也没有说服力的。

Netizens have since co-opted the phrase.