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Found in translation episode 1

ShanghaiCityGirl Apr 20.2015 16:04 Comments (1) + Add your comment
Tags: Language & Culture Category:My Blogs

To help me start this piece, I asked my workmate Matt – almost a New Yorker - to give me some examples of American slang that you would never find in an ESL textbook. He said that he  uses so much slang, it’s difficult to choose just one. EXACTLY, Matt, thank you - you helped me by default here!

I’ll break it to you now: Whatever language you learn, it’s not sophisticated vocabulary or advanced grammar we should sink into our teeth into first. Instead, start with ‘street smart’ language, so that when someone says ‘Damn, I have been dragging my ass for too long,’ we don’t become worried about this poor person’s derriere. Our reaction should be the opposite, in fact! Chinese language is no different here. That’s why I will be helping you learn some of the funniest/ most useful/ most important phrases. Phrases that, when used in front of locals, will earn you maaany dropped Chinese jaws along with ‘Ni de Zhongwen hen bang de!’

So let’s get to it. A few months ago I started teaching at an American high school for some of Shanghai’s most well-off kids. Their parents spare no expense getting their little darlings speaking good English in order to send them  to the promised land out West.  However, these kids will not give up using their beloved Chinese or Shanghainese slang even during their ESL class with me! And this is where I first heard about TU HAO’ abd 'FU HAO'.

So the thing is – we know it, we are not ashamed of it and this is the reason why we came here – China has a lot of money.Therefore, as a natural result, Chinese people obviously have a lot of money to spend.But of course, different people spend their money in different ways. And although I am self –acclaimed history anti fan, I need to give a little bit of historical background here to explain more than just a slight difference between two similarly sounding expressions:


TU HAO ( third and fourth tone, Nike tone and angry tone - as my teacher says) - an offensive term for 'freshly' rich Chinese people with no taste.

FU HAO ( fourth and second tone ) - not an offensive term at all, referring to the wealthy and powerful citizens of currently the most popular country in the world.

Around late 1980s and in 1990s, president Deng Xiao Ping – a REAL game changer – opened China for other markets,  thus allowing foreigners to do business here. That maneuver has a special, fancy name in Chinese – ‘Gaige kaifang’. Before that, the majority of Chinese people were basically poor and probably not far away from the image that was introduced to me in primary school – straw hat and a bowl of rice. HOWEVER, Gaige Kaifang allowed Chinese people to do business with laowais, open factories for production of anything conceivable that foreigners wanted to manufacture. And that’s how TU HAOS were born – people, who were maybe not that smart, but very, very lucky, who became insanely rich up to the point that they didn’t know what to do with  the money. They didn’t need to wait for a long time, though, to solve this ‘problem’ – since all the high street Western brands also started mushrooming in big cities, the newly rich Chinese thought it would be only appropriate to dress up from head to toe in everything with a Western brand name on it, to make sure everyone around would notice their status. Unfortunately, because all this was happening really fast, they didn’t  have time to get a lesson in style to wrap their heads around the fact that donning a t-shirt covered with LV paired with Chanel logo printed all over the pants is not a very tasteful thing. Over the years, though, things changed a bit, but mud people ( TU – means ‘mud’, ‘country people’ ) still roam the streets here and there, remaining one of the symbols of China to western eyes. Yet, hopefully, China will aim to pride itself in being the home or more and more FU HAOS – who, unlike TUHAOS, are wealthy, powerful people with good taste (and so far, mostly Hong Kong people bear this honorable title , granted by mainlanders.

Still, I put my hopes really high that this evolution won’t happen within a blink of an eye,as this peculiar Chinese style of newly rich is something  that makes the country of the middle so endearingly unique and never fails to make my day, providing some  healthy chuckle, even on one of those most polluted Shanghai days. And most importantly,whenever during my class some of my students can’t keep themselves from surfing Taobao and ordering new pair of Dolce and Gabbana sneakers, I will for sure get almost a standing ovation every time I confiscate the ‘crime tool’ along with correctly pronounce ‘TU HAO’, added to one of my brightest signature grins.

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About ShanghaiCityGirl

My name is Gosia and I come from Poland. I set up my blog - Shanghai City Girl - out of my passion for writing,Chinese language and Shanghai itself.My goal is to explain Chinese slang and peculiar local culture, give tips about health and saving money in this overwhelming city!

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1 Comments ( Add your comment )


Thanks for the info. Tu hao (土豪) is actually an old Chinese word, and it has been given a new meaning in recent years. It was used to refer to tyrannical landholders, so it is interesting to see how attitudes to wealth in China have changed. You can find out more at the bbc: Opinions on Chinese slang terms are great, you could discuss trends like "duang!", "da jiangyou (打酱油)" or the latest 'shijie name da, wo yao qu kankan! (世界那么大,我要去看看!).

May 08, 2015 10:48

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