In China’s Cyberspace, Dissent Speaks Code

At The Wall Street Journal, CDT’s editor in chief Xiao Qiang and Perry Link describe the use of online slang, such as sardonic honorifics and the “involuntary passive”, to not only sidestep censors but also express the unbalanced relationship between netizen and state. A few years ago, a netizen with a sly sense of humor began using the terms guidang (your [honorable] party) and guiguo (your [honorable] state). Gui literally means “noble” or “expensive” and has long been placed before nouns as a polite way of saying “your”: Thus guixing means “your honorable surname,” and so on. Guiguo has also, for a long time, been an established way of saying “your country” when people from different countries are talking to each other in a formal way. But now, in some circles on the Internet, guiguo has taken on the sarcastic meaning of “your state”—in other words, the state that belongs to you rulers, not to me. The question “What is guiguo?” has popped up in Internet chat rooms. In one of these, in October 2010, a netizen wrote: “It turns out that this guo is not our guo, but the guo of a certain dang [that is, the Communist Party]. This fact makes the terms guiguo and guidang appropriate.” But if netizens are putting ironic distance between themselves and “your state,” the question arises of what they do identify with at the national level. What is it, in the new day, to be Chinese? This is a big question, and the answers that are beginning to appear are only tentative. These terms and many others are explained in CDT’s Grass Mud Horse Lexicon. Last October at The Atlantic (via CDT), meanwhile, Brian Fung explored the strange longevity of the generally unloved English word ‘netizen’. ...
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