‘All Memes Day” — Phrase of the Week4 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
A Halloween celebration with Chinese characteristics
Our Phrase of the Week is: All Memes Day (万梗节 wàngěngjié).
Young people gathered in Shanghai and other cities in China last weekend to celebrate Halloween.
Unlike Halloween in the West, there were no pumpkins or trick-or-treaters in sight. Instead revelers adapted the Western celebration to dress as famous Chinese public figures, celebrities, and historical characters, and in costumes that poked fun at the authorities.
The audacious costumes drew large crowds of spectators, and generated much discussion on social media.
One standout costume even featured a previous Phrase of the Week, Austin Li is out of touch (哪李贵了 nǎlǐ guìle). One man dressed as China’s Lipstick King, Li Jiaqi, the cosmetics influencer, who was criticized earlier in the year when he suggested his fans should work harder to earn money rather than complain about how expensive products were.
Another young man dressed as Lǔ Xùn 鲁迅, China’s most famous twentieth-century writer and the purveyor of another Phrase of the Week about China’s disillusioned youth.
The 21st century parody of this giant of China’s modern literature held a sign that read:
“Studying medicine won’t save the Chinese.”
Xué yī jiùbùliǎo zhōngguórén
It’s a well-known reference to the writer’s youthful rejection of a career in medicine in favor of a life devoted to using words to critique the ills of society during the later years of imperial rule in China.
Comments in the media and on social media highlighted the creativity on display:
If you let Shanghai celebrate Halloween, it will show you five thousand years of civilization in return.
Nǐ gěi shànghǎi yíge wànshèngjié, tā huán nǐ rénlèi wǔqiān nián.
Others pointed towards how Halloween, a foreign import, has been re-appropriated as a festival with Chinese characteristics:
This year’s Shanghai Halloween is indeed like a cultural invasion, but in reverse.
Jīnnián de shànghǎi wànshèngjié quèshí xiàng wénhuà rùqīn, búguò shì fǎnxiàng de
The cosplaying of famous Chinese celebrities, and indulgence in meme culture, also led to a new phrase being created to describe the extravaganza:
With rich creativity and a dense display of internet memes, this Halloween has earned the name of “Ten-thousand Memes Festival.”
Chuàngyì zhī fēngfù, wǎngluògěng zhī mìjí, zhíjiē ràng zhège wànshèngjié bèi chēngwéile “wàngěngjié”
And with that, we have our Phrase of the Week!
What it means
“Ten thousand memes festival (万梗节 wàngěngjié) is a play on words of Halloween in Chinese: 万圣节 wànshèngjié.
This translates directly as “ten-thousand saints festival”. The character for ten-thousand (万 wàn) can also mean “many” or “all”.
So the Chinese translation is a closer translation of All Saints’ Day, a holy festival in the Christian calendar held on 1 November. A time to remember the dead, this solemn day is followed by All Souls’ Day on 2 November, and preceded by All Hallows Eve on 31 October, which has evolved into the modern celebration of Halloween.
The new phrase replaces the word for “Saint” (圣 shèng) with the character for “gag” or “joke” (梗 gěng), becoming “Ten thousand gags day”.
Another way to translate gěng is “meme”, an image, video, or piece of text spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations but all with a humorous or slightly critical point to make.
Meme culture in China is rapidly evolving with countless new memes being created every week – some of which become absorbed into popular mainstream culture, just like “Austin Li is out of touch”.
A common phrase in Chinese is to “play with memes” 玩梗 wángěng. The character, “to play” (玩 wán) is pronounced in the same way as “ten-thousand” (万 wàn) but with a different tone. So other revelers have also described the celebration as “Meme Playing Festival” 玩梗节 wángěngjié.
So this week’s Phrase of the Week is translated as “All Memes Day”, a new and vibrant Chinese festival celebrated over a number of days at the end of October, in which youngsters poke fun at their celebrities, society and the authorities through memes, not words.