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他妈的!(tā mā de): WTF!

The Chinese phrase, 他妈的, literally “his mother’s” is a common swearword in China. Like the word, “f**k” in English, the Chinese phrase has a sexual connotation, though it is less harsh than its English counterpart and has a broader range of uses. Depending on context, it can be translated as almost any English swearword.

Lu Xun, the father of modern Chinese literature once honoured the phrase, 他妈的, as China’s “national swearword.”

A very notable use of the phrase 他妈的 occurred on July 26th, shortly after the Wenzhou train accident. On July 26th, the Hong Kong Apple Daily and the mainland People’s Daily ran competing headlines.

The Apple Daily headline read: "[The Government] Just Wants to Clear the Tracks, Doesn't Care About Rescuing Survivors, WTF!"

The People's Daily headline read, "The Party's Sympathy Is Even Greater Than the Height of Lofty Mountains."


Several days later, the Southern Metropolis Daily, defied the propaganda department’s ban on critical stories of the train wreck and published an article entitled, “What Friggin Miracle?” The article began with this paragraph:

At 8:27 p.m. on July 23, [a collision between two trains] caused the deaths of forty people. In the face of such a terrible event and the incompetent handling by the Ministry of Railways, we can only express our views by asking—WTF?!

7月23日20时27分,北京至福州的D 301次列车行驶至温州市双屿路段时,与杭州开往福州的D 3115次列车追尾,造成D 301第1至4号、D 3115第15至16号车厢脱轨,事故已致40人遇难。面对如此惨烈的事情以及铁道部的糟糕处理,我们只想用三个字表达看法———他妈的!

The article criticized the propaganda department's approach of highlighting various “miracle” stories from the crash. One such “miracle story” involved a two and a half year-old girl named Yiyi, who was the last survivor pulled from the train wreckage twenty one hours after the crash. Although both her parents were killed in the crash, the state controlled media gushed over her miraculous survival, in what many believed to be the government’s cynical attempt to put a positive spin on the tragedy and deflect criticism from the Ministry of Railways. For example, in a press conference, the Ministry of Railways spokesperson, Wang Yongping was asked how a girl be found alive while disassembling the train cars, when rescue attempts were already finished. The following exchange took place:

Wang: This is a miracle. You ask why—

Reporter: This is not a miracle!

[reporters angrily yelling at once.]

Reporter: What I want to ask is this: Why, after you had already announced that there were no survivors, when you had already begun to disassemble the train? Why would there still be a survior?

Wang: Let me answer that. This happened. We truly did find a girl who was still alive. This is the way things are.

As George Ding opined in this article:

In the end, I think I understand what Wang is trying to say. For a toddler to survive the train crash in which her parents died is nothing short of Potter-esque; for a defenseless child to survive the full force of the Chinese government’s ineptitude and negligence, is nothing short of miraculous. But if little Yiyi is Harry Potter, then what does that make the government?


"What Friggin Miracle?"

The Economic Observer also defied the ban on negative coverage of the Wenzhou train accident.