The Word of the Week 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.
Reverse reading of a phrase regularly used by state media since 2008. In 2018, netizens discovered the phrase contains a “very reactionary” hidden meaning when read backwards.
The phrase “together we overcome difficulties” (共克时艰) has long been used in official propaganda. People’s Daily Online in 2011 explained the term, defining its meaning as “communally getting through a difficult and distressed period” (共同度过艰难困苦时期). The explanation also noted “when used by the masses, it is able to show the sheer will and determination of hundreds of millions of people to overcome all types of hardships and challenges” (用于广大群众时，更能表现出亿万人民战胜各种艰难困苦的意志和决心).
On July 10, 2018, amid mounting trade tension between Beijing and Washington, China’s recently consolidated external state media organization published an online commentary essay titled “Fighting a Trade War With the U.S., China is Capable of Paying a Fixed Price” (《抗击美国贸易战，中国有能力付出一定的代价》). At the end of the article, it said “the Chinese people are willing to bear a temporary loss of personal livelihood, overcoming these difficulties together with their responsible government […]” (“[中国人民愿意承受个人生活方面暂时的损失，与一个负责任的政府共克时艰 […]”). A condensed English version of the article was also posted by People’s Daily Online.
By July 11, following extensive online discussion of the article, netizens realized that a reverse reading of 共克时艰 contains “very reactionary” sentiment. When read in reverse as “艰时克共,” the phrase can be translated to “difficult times subdue the Party.” On Twitter, many Chinese users commented at length on this alternate reading of a phrase oft-used by state media.
This phrase “together we overcome difficulties” is very in-auspicious, practically a bad omen. So, it appears that everyone is reading this as “difficult times subdue the Party” The subtle contrast [of this reading] is not only relevant to our current political situation, but also serves as beautiful linguistic scenery.
— 知行合一 (@phillip42155545) July 12, 2018
Together we overcome difficulties, this is a lie
Difficult times subdue the Party, this is a prophecy