Motto of the Week: Self-improvement Never Breathes

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.

self-improvement never breathes (zìqiáng bùxī 自强不吸)


Self-improvement never breathes, January 2013. (Source: Laideshijie @莱德视界/Weibo)

Riff on the idiom “self-improvement never ends” (zìqiáng bùxī 自强不息) that emerged during ’s “airpocalypse” of 2013.

in Beijing hit a record high in January 2013, with PM2.5 levels far exceeding the U.S. embassy’s maximum reading of 500. Health officials later said the city’s was “worse than SARS,” since it is unescapable.

Netizens began to lament that “self-improvement never breathes,” a pun on the chengyu “self-improvement never ends.” Some take the next step, turning theTsinghua University motto into a joke about air pollution: thus, “self-improvement never ends, strong morals carry heavy loads (zìqiáng bùxī, hòudé zài wù 自强不息,厚德载物) becomes “self-improvement never breathes, strong morals carry heavy smog (zìqiáng bùxī, hòudé zài wù 自强不吸,厚德载雾). (The official English version of Tsinghua’s motto is “Self-Discipline and Social Commitment.”) These two phrases are often used in reverse order (厚德载雾,自强不吸).

Jiubeizhongdelanlanfenqing (@酒杯中的滥滥风情): I heard again that the people of Beijing’s morals are so strong they carry smog, and that their self-improvement never breathes. How I admire this.

又闻北京人民德厚载雾,自强不吸,深感佩服 (December 3, 2015) [Chinese]

See also APEC blue, Chai Jing blue, and smog the people.

lexicon_2015_cover_thumbCan’t get enough of subversive Chinese netspeak? Check out our latest ebook, “Decoding the Chinese Internet: A Glossary of Political Slang.” Includes dozens of new terms and classic catchphrases, presented in a new, image-rich format. Available for pay-what-you-want (including nothing). All proceeds support CDT.