Interns, Gaokao, Lying Flat-ism, Ax Strokes

Rhodium is hiring for summer interns! Also, the Slow Chinese newsletter gets featured highlighting some fascinating modern Chinese phraseology on gaokao, lying flat-ism, and the three child policy.

Rhodium looking for paid summer interns!

We’re hoping for folks to start work in early July and be on board for 8-ish weeks. Research topic areas include:

  • China Outbound Investment—US time zone working hours

  • China’s Economic Development—US time zone working hours

  • China’s Economic Statecraft—US time zone working hours

  • China’s New Energy and Climate Policies—US or EU time zone working hours

  • EU-China Relations—EU time zone working hours

  • China’s Financial System—US or Asia working hours

  • Chinese Technology Policy—US time zone working hours [hint: pick this one if you want to work with me!]

Apply here and please spread the word!

We’re also looking for a BD intern to help support our sales process to financial and corporate clients if that type of work is more up your alley.

A few notes: these positions will all be remote and have the possibility of conversion into a full-time role. We’ll be interviewing starting this week so please apply asap!

Slow Chinese—Gaokao Edition

Andrew Methven created a fascinating new newsletter called Slow Chinese I wanted to give some shine (note: this is not an ad). Every week he takes some current event topic, dives deep into the online discourse, and pulls out some fantastic phrases, colloquialisms, and idioms.

It’s an amazing resource for language learners and those more broadly curious about trends in modern Chinese society and politics who also enjoy getting a peek into just how colorful Chinese can be. See below for an excerpt of his most recent newsletter on the gaokao, China’s college entrance examination that took place nationwide last week.

Colloquialism of the week: what to call somebody who cheats in Gaokao

On Monday a student from Hebei was caught cheating.

He used the app, 小猿搜题 (Little Monkey Search Questions), to find answers to maths questions in his test, which in theory is not possible due to the signal blockers (信号屏蔽仪) in the area.

The media were not sympathetic:

  • 我们绝不能让几颗老鼠屎破坏整个大环境 - we cannot let a small number of rat shits spoil the whole environment

It’s a play on words of the original colloquialism:

  • 一粒老鼠屎坏了一锅粥 (Yī lì lǎoshǔ shǐ huàile yīguōzhōu) - “one rat shit ruined the pot of porridge” [don’t forget that lǎo and shǔ both become second tone!]

What’s the English equivalent idiom?

‘One bad apple’ (‘rotten’ in Chinese - 烂苹果) - someone who creates problems or causes trouble for others, leading them astray.

But, a Chinese rat shit is someone that spoils the whole environment for everyone else. Slightly different.

Is a rat shit a 颗 (Kē) or a 粒 (Lì)?

  • Both are used to count small round things, such as grains of rice, or rat turds. Combined (颗粒 - Kēlì) also means small round things.

  •  is slightly bigger than a , and used more broadly and to count bigger things such as a heart (一颗心) or a bomb (一颗炸弹).

  • So this boy is not just any rat shit, but a big one.

Gaokao views from parents - free-range education (放养教育 - Fàngyǎng jiàoyù)?

Readers of this newsletter will know about 内卷 (Nèi juǎn) ‘involution’ - intense social competition - and 鸡娃 (Jī wá), ‘chicken babies’ - kids with pushy parents (both in 1 May newsletter).

Interviews with parents outside a pilot test centre in Hefei, in which several hundred students get a fast track into the province’s Science and Technology University, explained that not all parents are chicken-baby-ers.

Useful words

Three useful words about different approaches to education:

  • 练兵 (Liànbīng) - ‘military training’, opportunity to grow and improve

    It’s used for individuals but more often for teams as a way to persuade young 996-ers that working intensely for long periods is good for them.

考不上就当是一场‘练兵’ if they fail it’s still a great experience

  • 放养 (Fàngyǎng) - ‘raise livestock’, breed animals or free range.

    In this context it means ‘free range’, or allowing the child to have more freedom

不是“鸡娃”而是“放养” - it's not chicken baby-ing, it’s free-range cultivating [of kids]


  • 放羊教育 (Fàngyáng jiàoyù) - ‘free range education’, [the opposite of chicken baby education (鸡娃教育)]

  • 秘籍 (Mìjí) - tips, special tricks, tricks of the trade

虽然都没有“鸡娃秘籍”,但小孩需要引导是两人的共识 - I don’t have any special ‘chicken baby tips’, but the need to guide the child [properly] is agreed by us both

If you enjoyed this sort of thing, check out past editions on gaming words used in politics, Meituan’s regulatory troubles and superfans + yogurt, as well as Lying Flat-ism” 躺平主意. What’s Lying Flat-ism you ask?

What people are saying about “Lying Flat-ism” 躺平主意 (Tǎng píng Zhǔyì)

China’s Generation Z are are lying flat in the face of ‘involution’ (内卷 Nèi juǎn) - unfair or intense competition in Chinese society.

From SCMP:

The attitude [of lying flat] is seen to represent a silent protest to unfairness, often the result of structural and institutional factors that can no longer be altered by personal efforts

Definition of lying flat-ism:



No consumption, no work, and no communication with the outside world; do not buy houses, cars, don’t marry, don’t have children; maintain the minimum standards of survival, refusing to be profit-making machines and be exploited as slaves for others. "Lying flat-ists" only care about themselves, not others.

The official narrative on lying flat-ism is that young Chinese need to:

保持清醒认识,一哂之后仍然砥砺前行、勇于逐梦 - Keep a clear mind, continue to forge ahead and bravely work towards their dreams

But, this misses the point that lying flat-ists are making, and underestimates the challenges they face. It’s…

  • 站着说话不腰疼 (Zhànzhe shuōhuà bù yāoténg) - “standing up while talking, doesn’t give you backache”; meaning - ‘easy for you to say’ or ‘easier said than done’


To avoid talking about what has caused lying flat, and simply criticising this behaviour, to put it mildly it’s evading key issues; to put it more seriously, this is easy for others to say [but they have no idea what they are talking about]

The unfairness faced by lying flat-ists is captured in this single confusing sentence:


Edited Google Translation:

"Small town expert test takers" thought that when they went to college, the Carp would Jump through the Dragon's Gate. But after falling down, they fell into a spicy hot pot and found that they had become "985 trash."

To understand it, you need to know these three phrases:

  • 小镇做题家 (Xiǎo zhèn zuò tí jiā) - ‘small town expert test taker’

Students from small towns at prestigious universities who got there with brilliant test scores from school. Once at uni, they realise there’s a huge gap between themselves and kids from middle or upper-class families in big cities, who have ‘better resources, more vision and more confidence’.

  • 鲤鱼跳了龙门 (Lǐyú tiàole lóngmén) - the Carp Jumped the Dragon Gate [becoming a dragon]

Ancient Chinese folklore about the Yellow River Carp (黄河鲤鱼 - Huánghé lǐyú), a golden-scaled fish and one of the few that can survive the muddy water of the Yellow River. Legend has it that if the carp jumps over the Dragon Gate (in Yellow River Canyon in Hejin City, Shanxi Province) it will become a dragon. It’s a metaphor for describing brilliant people who have succeeded against all odds through hard work.

  • 985废物 (Jiǔbāwǔ Fèiwù) - [Project] 985 trash

Project 985 (985工程 - Jiǔbāwǔ gōngchéng) was a programme to develop China’s elite universities announced at the 100th anniversary of Peking University on May 4, 1998. The name derives from the date of the announcement - May 1998, or 98/5. Its ‘waste products’ or ‘trash’ are students who have have graduated from elite universities but not gone on to have successful careers. On 10 May, 2020, a small group on Douban was formed called 985废物引进计划 - ‘985 trash introduction plan’ for graduates to share their experiences. Within 3 months nearly 100,000 members had joined the group.

Sign up to SlowChinese!

One more selection below from a recent edition on the three child policy because I can’t help myself.


Two useful ones for being indignant in authentic Chinese:

  • 快刀斩乱麻 (Kuàidāo zhǎn luànmá) - to cut the knot of hemp ropes with a sharp knife; “solve a complicated problem by adopting an effective measure”

不能再用奖励多生育的家庭作为案板,就把问题给快刀斩乱麻了 - using rewarding families for having more kids is not an effective measure to solve this problem

  • This phrase can also be broken down:

    • 案板 (Ànbǎn) - chopping board - ‘approach’

用奖励多生育的家庭作为案板 - using rewarding families as the solution….

  • 一把快刀 (Yī bǎ kuàidāo) - a quick knife; ‘a quick solution’

不能给女生放三年产假,打造成一把快刀 - giving women three year maternity leave is not the solution

  • (Hébù shí ròumí) - why can’t they eat meat porridge? “Out of touch”

“何不食肉糜”般地不接地气 - this guy is totally out of touch

  • This was the top comment on social media in response to Zhu’s proposal.

    It’s a story of Emperor Hui (晋惠帝 Jìn huì dì) of the Jin Dynasty (266 to 420 AD).

    When asked what to do about his starving subjects, he suggested they eat meat porridge (肉糜 ròumí), which for him was cheap food, but totally unaffordable for his people.

    It’s used to criticise politicians who are out of touch with reality.

    The equivalent English idiom is from the French:

"Let them eat cake" - translation of the French phrase "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche", said to have been spoken in the 17th or 18th century by "a great princess" upon being told that the peasants had no bread.

Chinese Painter of the Week—Xia Gui, 夏珪, 1180–1230

Reviving this segment! Xia Gui is a Southern Song Dynasty master. Unfortunately very little of his bio survives today.

The above is a snippet from his masterpiece scroll Pure and Remote View of Streams and Hills. Those ax cut strokes are next level (video linked is teaching from a book of Xia Gui’s teacher and biggest inspiration, Li Tang). He liked to use old and split brushes to make his paintings look less pristine.

Together with his bud Ma Yuan (馬遠) he heralded the Ma Xia School. Says the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

The aim of their landscapes was to create a feeling of limitless space, a vast atmospheric void out of which a few elements, such as mountain peaks and twisted trees, emerge with subdued drama. Ma and Xia are credited with the fullest expression of this tendency in Chinese painting.

Ma-Xia school compositions are of a type, called “one corner,” that is asymmetrical, with the design weight off to one side and the rest of the silk or paper left bare or slightly tinted. Ink tones are simplified to increase the dramatic impact of brush work of a type called “ax stroke,” for the similarity of its brushstrokes to those left on wood by an ax or chisel. In general there is a preference for angular line expressed in abrupt, staccato brushstrokes.

Above also from the same scroll.

Curious about other stroke types? Check out this fascinating translation of some examples from the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting.