Phrase of the Week: Smog the People

Phrase of the Week: Smog the People

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.

wèi rénmín fú wù 喂人民服雾

Smogging the people. (Yuanzi 原子)

Smogging the people. (Yuanzi 原子)

Literally “feed smog to the people.” This play on Mao Zedong’s motto “serve the people” (wèi rénmín fúwù 为人民服务) is a response to China’s ever-worsening air quality.

While “smog the people” has been in use for several years, the phrase gained currency in October 2013, when smog stopped traffic and hindered tennis matches in Beijing and brought an “airpocalypse” to Harbin.

Around New Year’s 2014, many Weibo users called “smog the people” the biggest “watchword” of 2013.

In December 2016, the phrase was used widely on Weibo by netizens commenting on dense smog in and around Chengdu, Sichuan, where authorities had cracked down on anti-pollution protests and on the Beijing region where a “red alert” smog warning was issued for the first time in 2016. Beijing municipal authorities in November had announced controversial plans to list smog on a list of weather calamities, so some in the capital city may have used the phrase to imply that it is a result of development-driven government policies rather than a mere “meteorological disaster.” Netizens from across China also used the phrase to accompany cell phone pictures of their smoggy surroundings.

See also serve the renminbi and self-improvement never breathes.

Can’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.


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