Online culture is something that has always interested me. Communication and community are two very significant aspects of online culture and I love learning about how people around the globe connect with one another using the web.
But the internet hasn’t just done a lot for global communities, it has also spurred the growth of regional and national communities. In countries as widespread as China or the US, the internet has given people the opportunity to connect with one another in ways that just weren’t possible only a few decades ago and it has led the the growth of new, online culture(s) and communities.
This, in turn, has also led to changes in the way language is used and how we communicate with one another. An example of this in English would be our use of netspeak terms like ROFL, Tho, or G2G and in French, MDR, A+, or Pkoi. Some view these changes as a detriment to the use of language (I’ve read articles about how parents and schools are terrified the next generation will no longer know how to spell or write properly) while others (like me), feel that it can increase the potential uses of our languages and allows speakers to become more creative with their native tongue.
Chinese online culture is one setting where the latter is certainly the case. Through clever uses of homonyms (of which many exist in Chinese), a good sense of irony, and viral quotes from films or famous figures, the Chinese prove that they are masters of manipulating the language to fit modern day needs.
In China Online, French author Véronique Michel has touched on this very subject – the modern-day online culture that exists in China, where “tribes” exist and the Chinese language is put to creative use with phonetic puns, abbreviated speak, and more.
China Online is a short, yet interesting book about netspeak and wordplay by Chinese internet users. It can be read without any background in the Chinese language, but it is better enjoyed if you have some understanding and reading ability in the language.
The book focuses on what are deemed “tribes” in China. These are labels that are used to describe the various scenarios in which one might find themselves in after graduating from university. The book is broken up into five sections with four focused on the various tribes (the fifth is an index of terms used in Chinese wordplay). They are organized by youth, men, women, and couples. For example:
Moonlight Tribe // The youth who enjoy extravagant lifestyles almost in reaction to the more frugal generations before them. This group lives paycheck to paycheck, spending all of their income. They believe that “when you love, you do not count the cost” and that spending money with friends on a night out is more important than saving for the future.
Sea Turtles // Those who go abroad to study and return home to find work (with hopefully improved chances thanks to their education experience).
Shengnu // Also known as the “leftover” women. They are those who remain single after a certain age.
The different tribes were all quite fascinating to learn about, but there was one thing that remained somewhat unclear to me after reading the book:
Are the various tribes in China used to describe and generalize about different kinds of people or do individuals actually identify themselves as belonging to specific tribes? If you’re at all familiar with this, I’d absolutely love if you’d send me a message or leave a note in the comments! This is definitely something I’m interested in learning more about.
Things That I Enjoyed in China Online
The wealth of vocabulary available within the book // If you really want to get your Chinese to the next level, especially when it comes to text or online chatting, this book is a really great starting point. There are informative explanations of many of the popular terms in use today that will definitely help you get started sounding like a native Chinese netizen.
The incredible insight into modern day Chinese culture provided by the author // Even though China Online is only about 150 pages, there is just so much information in this book. I feel like I got about 500 pages worth of information just because the book is written so succinctly. There are a few places where I would have liked to have had better introductions to the various sections, but I survived without them.
After the two points above, do you really need a third thing?
Things That I Thought Could Be Better in China Online
While online Chinese culture goes far beyond what is included in this book – it is only a quick introduction, after all – I would have really liked to see a section on censorship in China and how Chinese netizens utilize their language to bypass many of the roadblocks that are in place.
As I mentioned above, I would have loved if the introductions to the various sections were a little bit more in-depth. I sometimes felt like I was just thrown into a new section and it took me a few paragraph to get my bearings.
China Online is packed with various slang terms and internet speak. It’s a really interesting read and I found it fascinating to learn about just how expressive and flexible the Chinese language can be, especially when its speakers are so creative when it comes to manipulating it.
I picked up so many useful phrases reading this book – both for online use and IRL use – and I will definitely keep it on hand for frequent reference. It isn’t one of those books that one read through is enough (although, if that’s what you want to do, go for it!). China Online is a resource that I can see myself returning to again and again as I continue studying Mandarin and learning about Chinese culture.
Book // China Online: Netspeak and Wordplay Used by Over 700 Million Chinese Internet Users
Author // Véronique Michel
Publisher // Tuttle
Length // 159 pages
Please note that while I was given a copy of China Online in exchange for a review, all opinions and views expressed in this article are my own.
And now, for the Giveaway!
Win a Copy of China Online
Would you like to win your very own copy of Véronique Michel’s China Online? Leave a comment at the bottom of this post about with one of your favorite netspeak terms (in any language).
Please make sure your comment is tied to a valid email address (so that I can get in touch with you). The closing date is 12/19/2015 at midnight PST. Any entries received after this time will not qualify for entry.
I’m also offering bonus entries for those of you who (limit one per person per media outlet):
1) Share this post on Twitter. Make sure you mention me, @eurolinguistesk, in your Tweet.
2) Comment on this post on our Facebook page.
3) Comment on one of my Instagram photos using the hashtag #chinaonline
Please note that these bonus entries only count if you have also posted a comment on this blog post.
This giveaway is now closed
This competition is open worldwide. After the closing date has passed, the winner will be selected randomly and I will contact you directly using the email address you’ve provided by commenting on this blog. The winner will need to supply their mailing address and the book will be mailed out directly by the publisher. If the winner does not reply with their mailing address within 14 days of the email being sent out, another winner will be selected in their place.
Do you have a favorite book about modern day culture? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!