Word of the Week: Huminerals (人矿 rén kuàng)

The new word “humineral” (人矿 rén kuàng) has taken the Chinese internet by storm and is now a sensitive word subject to censorship. First introduced in a now-censored Zhihu post on January 2, 2023, “humineral”—a portmanteau of 人 rén (“person”) and 矿 kuàng (“ore,” “mineral deposit,” or “mine”) in the original Chinese—describes a person relentlessly exploited by society until they are eventually discarded on the refuse pile. The original Zhihu post elucidated 10 tenets of the “humineral,” three of which CDT has translated below

1. Huminerals: You are a resource, not a protagonist. You are a means, not an end. Your life’s work will go towards the fulfillment of others instead of the pursuit of your own desires.

2. The life of a humineral can be divided into three stages: extraction, exploitation, and slag removal. Investment in your education over your first decade or so is oriented at extracting your potential—turning you into usable ore. The middle decades are a process of exploitation and consumption. When you’re finally useless, they’ll use the least polluting method possible to dispose of you.

8. Huminerals power the motors that turn the wheels of history. Huminerals have few other choices: either fuel history’s engine, or be ground beneath its wheels. Of course the inverse is true. If huminerals were to stop propelling history, then those other huminerals who abstained would not be crushed. Yet there are always huminerals who see more value in a lifetime of being fuel than to risk being flattened.  [Chinese]

“Humineral” drew immediate comparisons to “beasts of burden” and “cut chives,” both of which have become popular self-referential slang for Chinese netizens who feel exploited by the system. A popular joke about “huminerals” holds that the best resources to exploit are “Saudi oil, Australian iron, and Chinese people.” “Huminerals” was soon banned across the entire Chinese internet. Although it once rose to  #11 on Weibo’s trending list, the hashtag “huminerals” (#人矿) now returns no results in either English or Chinese. All searches for “huminerals” on Douyin, China’s TikTok, only return results from government-affiliated accounts. Similar searches returned no results on WeChat, Zhihu, and Jinri Toutiao. The only search result for “humineral” on Baidu attributed the term to former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou. 

The idea of “humineral” is closely tied to the concept of the “demographic dividend,” a technical term for the rapid economic growth that may follow a decline in a country’s birth rate, death rate, and ensuing change in a population’s age structure. Last year, China’s population declined for the first time since the Great Leap Forward. One censored essay, originally posted to Zhihu, attributed the popularity of the term “huminerals” to “dissatisfaction with and resistance to a society that has appropriated too much labor value, has restricted future wealth via high housing prices, and lacks fully-developed social security benefits.” Chinese women have balked at government efforts to induce higher birth rates, refusing the government’s perceived effort to turn them into “huminerals.”

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