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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 F**king 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. (The media often reports similar “miracle stories” after coal mine accidents for the same utilitarian reasons.)

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