Since China pivoted away from its “dynamic zero-COVID” policies, the current Omicron variant has caused a surge of infections. As many cities, including the capital Beijing, are in the midst of a spike in cases, netizens (some already sick at home) have also generated reams of new slang terms, hoping to console their infected friends and cheer up the lucky ones who remain healthy.
During China’s zero-COVID era, a crucial life-saving strategy for citizens was “storing vegetables” (tuncai) in case of unexpected lockdown. However, as infection now seems inevitable, residents immediately shifted gear... but not by much. “Before: We store vegetables and wait for lockdowns. Now: We stockpile medicine and wait for fever.”
Overnight, Beijing saw long lines spring up outside pharmacies. Anxious residents rushed to drugstores or shopped online to store medicine and antigen test kits. Cold and fever medicines were soon out of stock, and countless reports started mushrooming around the city of people who tested positive, known as “little positive people” (xiaoyang ren) or “sheep” (yang), since the word for “sheep” sounds the same as “positive.”
Netizens quipped online: “There have been a large number of COVID infections in Beijing. If you don’t know any positive patients, please reflect on your social skills.” They also created plenty of jokes related to the test result: Terms for “negative” and “positive” are based on the traditional Chinese philosophical concept of yin and yang. People’s WeChat social feeds were soon full of COVID patients posting their antigen test results, symptoms, and feelings. Netizens awed: “My WeChat Moments is full of yang energy.”
They even joked: “What is the first symptom when people get COVID? For 99% of them it would be sharing it on WeChat Moments.”
Beijing residents’ daily greeting has also changed from “Have you eaten?” to “Have you done your Covid test?” and now it became: “Have you tested positive?”
If somebody asks them: “How is Beijing’s pandemic situation?” They might answer: “Very well, we are nearly approaching zero-negative.”
It was reassuring to see residents keep an optimistic attitude amid fever and freezing weather. They announced on the internet: “Today, the lowest temperature in Beijing is minus 7 degrees Celsius, but the average temperature of Beijingers is 38.8 degrees Celsius. Welcome to hot-blooded Beijing.”
From @吃遍京城的女爵 on Weibo
Some companies started to isolate positive workers. Netizens made fun of the practice by playing on the words yinjian and yangjian, which normally refer to the underworld and the mortal world: “In my office, workers are separated. One side is the underworld (for negative people), and the other is the upper world (for positive cases).” This time, however, the “underworld” is where you want to be.
Several innocent celebrities and fictional characters also regained heated discussion recently, simply because the pronunciation of their names was relevant to yang. Yang Di, a host and actor, found himself becoming an online meme. His name is pronounced the same as a term literally meaning “the enemy of being positive.” Yang’s picture thus was reposted in almost every corner of the internet, and even pasted on people’s office desks, with the caption, “Repost this Yang Di, and you can always stay negative.”
Yang Guo, the fictional protagonist of the renowned wuxia novel “The Return of the Condor Heroes” by Jin Yong (whose real name was Zha Liangyong), has gained popularity again lately, since his name is a homophone for yangguo, meaning someone who has already tested positive (and presumably will soon recover).
As Yang Guo was honored as Condor Hero in the novel, netizens joked: “In a few days, Beijing will be full of Condor Heroes on the street.”
A WeChat game called “Sheep a Sheep,” “Yang Le Ge Yang” in Chinese, which went viral two months ago, is also now embedded with a new meaning. The game is full of tiles drawn with sheep, and players must eliminate tiles of the same category in groups of three to win and join a virtual herd. As yang acquaintances spring up around them, negative people start to wonder: “When am I able to join the herd?”
Some, tired of the waiting game, even wish they can get infected soon: “It feels like everyone has taken an exam, but I am still reviewing for it. Some say it is difficult, and some say easy. The more I prepare, the more nervous I get. I don’t know when I will be called to take the exam.”
The remaining negative Beijing residents now keep asking themselves three daily questions: “When will I be positive? Will I feel sick when I get positive? Have I already been positive (and asymptomatic)?”
They sigh online: “The atmosphere has been hyped up so much, it would be impolite to stay negative at this point.”
Writer: Zhang Wenjie.
This article was originally published by The World of Chinese. It has been republished here with permission.
(Header image: VCG)