Catchphrase of the Week: I’m Late

The  comes from the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and 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.

我来晚了 (wǒ lái wǎn le): I’m late

“Grandpa Wen” famously spoke to Sichuan earthquake victims on the ground. Some saw his hands-on approach as a brilliant publicity stunt. (artist unknown)

“Grandpa Wen” famously spoke to Sichuan earthquake victims on the ground. Some saw his hands-on approach as a brilliant publicity stunt. (artist unknown)

A catchphrase of former Premier Wen Jiabao. His first apology for a late arrival came on a trip to Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province after a gas explosion in a coal mine there in 2004 killed 166 people. From then on, netizens noted Wen’s every apology for being late at the scenes of natural and man-made disasters: a southern snow storm in January 2008, the devastating Sichuan earthquake of May 8, 2008, and the site of the Wenzhou train crash stand out in the public memory. Instead of praise for “Grandpa Wen,” netizens often think Wen is feeding the people and the media a clever line. They believe he lacks real concern for the plight of the Chinese people.

“I’m late” also recalls former premier Zhao Ziyang’s final appearance in public, when he spoke to student protesters in Tiananmen Square on May 19, 1989. “Students, we have come too late” (同学们,我们来得太晚了) he began, in a speech encouraging students to end their hunger strike. Wen Jiabao accompanied Zhao in the square.

Following the June 2015 Yangtze River cruise ship disaster, cartoonist Rebel Pepper put Wen Jiabao’s infamous words in the mouth of his successor to the premiership Li Keqiang as he visited the scene.

See also movie star.

5122889485918219594Want to learn more subversive netspeak? Check out Decoding the Chinese Internet: A Glossary of Political Slang. Available for $2.99 in the Kindle, Google Play, and iTunes stores. All proceeds from the sale of this eBook support China Digital Times.