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Home >> Life
UPDATED: 10:44, September 25, 2006
49 obsolete Chinese words, Part I
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Many words or phrases are not frequently used or have been completely forgotten by Chinese people in the last decade. This is 49 of them. People may have different attitudes towards them. Nevertheless, these words are in people's memories and they are worth discussing.

Neighbor: disappeared in the 1990s

For several thousand years, a close and friendly neighborhood played a major role in the lives of Chinese people. People knew almost everything about their neighbors and were always ready to help. However, Chinese have become more and more estranged from one another following a 1990s trend towards commercial residential buildings. Furthermore, a lack of mutual trust and an emphasis on privacy has made people more indifferent to their own neighborhood. They know almost nothing about their neighbors. As a result, the term "neighborhood" means almost nothing to most Chinese and has passed into oblivion.

Danwei: disappeared in 1990s

The Chinese word "danwei" means a public-owned entity (a state-owned enterprise, for instance) for which a person works. For several decades, the danwei -- work unit -- played a dominant role in almost every aspect of a person's life, from living necessities and welfare to marriage and birth.

Since the reform and opening-up campaign was launched, a large number of privately owned enterprises have emerged and the Chinese government has greatly reformed its role in society. Consequently, the danwei is no longer so important and many Chinese have found jobs in private enterprises. People's attachment to their danwei has weakened. A large number of people are not connected with it at all.

Poet: disappeared in 1990s

Poetry writing, which was popular in the 1980s and 1990s, is now practiced by fewer and fewer people in China. Nowadays few young men are committed to poetry writing. In the past it was romantic and sacred to be a poet whereas now a poet is a laughing stock. On the one hand, a money-oriented society makes it hard for modern Chinese to relax or find time to read or write poems. On the other hand, modern Chinese poets tend to individualize their language, to the extent that their works are dull and incomprehensible to readers. Chinese have lost interest in poetry and rarely mention the term "poet".

Reformer: disappeared in 1990s

With the launch of the reform and opening-up campaign in the 1ate 1970s, came a large number of bold and innovative Chinese who were dedicated to the changes. "Reformers" was what the media called them. As China's reform expanded in the late 1990s, China shifted its focus from the economy to politics and the reforms became harder to carry on. The term "reformer" is now rarely used and has gradually passed into oblivion. Its disappearance is a reflection of the stage that reform in China is now at and shows that Chinese social relations are becoming more balanced.

Special economic zone: disappeared in 1990s

In 1979, four Chinese cities, Shenzhen, Xiamen, Zhuhai and Shantou, were opened and designated special economic zones as part of an economic experiment by the Central Government. Numerous preferential economic policies were granted in these cities.

With the economy on the Chinese mainland developing rapidly, the government has answered calls for economic reform by opening up other parts of the nation and the campaign now exists all over China. As a result, these "special economic zones" are not so special anymore and the term has lost its original meaning.

Conductor: disappeared in 1990s (except in Beijing)

A conductor is responsible for keeping order and making sure that nobody avoids buying a ticket on a bus. Now, people in many cities simply pay the driver as worries about ticket evasion have proved baseless. Conducters have disappeared in a lot of cities. This change is a reflection of the improvements in efficiency and cost consciousness, and deepening mutual trust in Chinese society. It is social progress.

Beijing is an exception where conductors can be found in most of the buses.

Radio cassette player: disappeared in 1990s

According to national statistics, there were over 100 million radio cassette players across China in 1988. Almost every Chinese family had one. For a very long time, the first choice of fashionable Chinese was the cassette player -- from the large, early portable radio cassette players to the walkman. It was replaced first by the discman and CD player, then by the MP3 player. In this way, technology is gradually changing fashion.

Wanyuanhu: disappeared in 1997

The Chinese phrase "wanyuanhu" means a household whose annual income exceeds 10,000 yuan. In the early 1980s, the average household income was very low in China. Then, a wanyuanhu was considered very rich in both rural and urban areas. Owing to rapid economic growth in the 1990s, the standard of living has improved significantly. In 1997, the average annual income of a rural household surpassed 10,000 yuan according to national statistics. Every household has become a wanyuanhu. This was no longer considered a high standard of living and so the phrase became outdated.

Daoye: disappeared in March of 1997

The Chinese word "daoye" means profiteer. In the early 1980s, the Chinese government adopted a double-track price system in order to cope with the imbalance between supply and demand. This meant there were two economic systems in China. One was the planned economy and the other was the market. Some people bought goods at a relatively low price in the planned economy and then sold them at much higher price on the market, making themselves large profits. These people were called "daoye" at the time. This practice was illegal and punishable according to China's Criminal Law. As China built a market economy, the country has become able to produce sufficient goods for people's needs. China has now abandoned the double-track price system and as the daoye are not able to operate, the word has gradually disappeared from people's daily vocabulary. In March of 1997, Chinese authorities annulled the items relating to economic speculation in Criminal Law.

Chongqing of Sichuan Province: disappeared on March 14, 1997

The Fifth Session of the Eighth National People's Congress passed the "Decision on Approving the Establishment of Chongqing Municipality Directly Under the Central Government" on March 14, 1997. Since then, Chongqing has become the fourth municipality directly under the control of the Central Government. It is not called Chongqing of Sichuan Province any more.

Royal Hong Kong Police Force: disappeared July 1, 1997

In April 1969, the English queen, Elizabeth II, bestowed the title "Royal" upon the Hong Kong Police Force and auxiliary forces as an award for their efforts in the 1967 insurrection in Hong Kong. On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China and became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China. The Hong Kong police force adopted a new badge. The "Royal Hong Kong Police Force" passed into history on that day.

Welfare-oriented public housing: disappeared after 1998

In 1998 the Chinese government issued a "Notice on Expanding Reforms of the Urban Housing System and Accelerating Construction of Residential Housing". According to the document, the Chinese government decided to not to directly supply residential housing for citizens for the sake of welfare in 1998 and to establish a market-oriented housing distribution system. Welfare-oriented public housing, which had existed for several decades, became history.

By People's Daily Online


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