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Internet culture influences character choice

As 2016 begins to draw to a close, it’s time to check out the hottest phrases, buzzwords and Chinese characters that best represent the year. And in the age of big data, the annual event has even greater resonance with the average man in the street. So to explain it all, Wu Haojun joins us now in the studio.

Q1: Of course every person in China will have their own idea of what the character of the year should be, has there been any consensus?

A: Well, I’d say that consensus and the internet are mutually exclusive so to answer this question we have to go offline. After conducting surveys among its readers and featuring picks from its editors, Neweekly, a widely-circulated news and lifestyle magazine, has revealed the character of the year to be 刷, which means to swipe or refresh.

It’s a testament to the fact that smartphones, the internet and their many by-products have become an indispensable part of Chinese people’s lives. At any second of the day, people are swiping left and right, up and down on their phones checking for example, the latest tweets from Donald Trump or if the person they have a secret crush on has posted anything on WeChat or if the pair of designer jeans they’ve always wanted is available at sale price.

But 刷 can be a hazardous affair too. There has been no shortage of news reports of people clicking and swiping their way into potholes or on-coming traffic. Meanwhile, according to the Chinese National Language Monitoring and Research Center, whose annual choices take on a more official tone, the character of the year is 规, meaning rule, regulation or discipline, obviously alluding to the Chinese leadership’s commitment to the rule of law and strict party governance.

Q2: This annual event isn’t exclusive to China. What have other countries picked as their defining Chinese character of the year?

A: Well, we can go first to Singapore, where a large proportion of the population is ethnically Chinese. The Chinese character of the year the people there have chosen is 变, meaning change. According to Lianhezaobao, the leading Chinese language newspaper in Singapore, the word “change” sums up a sense of overwhelming uncertainty in world affairs throughout 2016.

Theresa May was named the UK’s new Prime Minister following Brexit. Businessman Donald Trump is heading to the White House to become the next President of the United States and South Korea’s parliament voted to impeach its first female President to give just a few examples. Meanwhile, In Japan, “Kin”, the Kanji or Chinese character for gold has been picked as the character best symbolizing this year’s social mood in the East Asian nation.

That choice came after Japan won 12 gold medals at the Rio Olympics and the former governor of Tokyo resigned over a political financial scandal. Some have also cited the “golden” hair of Donald Trump as an influence. It seems Mr. Trump, whose 5 year-old granddaughter is said to speak Chinese fluently, has figured prominently in the choices here.