President Xi Jinping is fond of calling on the Chinese people to "roll up our sleeves and work hard" (lū qǐ xiùzǐ jiāyóu gàn 撸起袖子加油干 / 擼起袖子加油幹). No sooner had Xi uttered this stirring pronouncement in a nationwide address at the turn of the year (2016-17) than it became a viral meme (here and here) that has inspired countless signs, songs, and dances; enactment; and also this one, presumably in a poorly-heated environment
Xi didn't just encourage people to roll up their shirt sleeves. He himself famously rolled up his pantlegs:
"Why This Seemingly Innocuous Photo of Xi Jinping Is So Important: A simple act of rolling his pants up — and holding his own umbrella — shows a president eager to show a common touch."
Matt Schiavenza, The Atlantic (Jul 23, 2013)
The picture, which shows Xi standing in the rain holding his own umbrella and with his pantlegs rolled up and looking very derpy, was taken by the official Xinhua News Agency during the president's trip to Wuhan, in Hubei province, in July 2013. It might not seem like a particularly noteworthy photograph –- neither dazzling technically nor artistically framed. But even when it was first released, foreign observers were surprised by the photograph, and it went swiftly viral on Chinese microblogging sites. This image was particularly notable for the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement that arose during the Hong Kong protests of 2014 (see here and here).
Although, as is his wont with umbrella, pantlegs, steamed buns, favorite jacket, and so forth, Xi wanted it to come across as folksy, his choice of vocabulary and manner of expression put him on precarious ground.
In the first place, the normal, most common and straightforward way to say "roll up sleeves" in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) is juǎn qǐ xiùzi 卷起袖子 / 捲起袖子. Xi, however, used a Northeastern Mandarinism which has nuances that are just asking for trouble:
- (Beijing Mandarin, Northeastern Mandarin, Jilu Mandarin, Jiaoliao Mandarin, Central Plains Mandarin) to rub one's hand along; to stroke
- (Beijing Mandarin, Northeastern Mandarin, Jiaoliao Mandarin, Central Plains Mandarin) to take away; to remove (one's position, job, etc.)
- (Beijing Mandarin, Northeastern Mandarin, Jiaoliao Mandarin) to reprimand
- (neologism, slang, of males) to masturbate; to jerk off
Liāo 撩 and lū 撸 are two of those mysterious "physical action" verbs with initial liquid and first tone in Mandarin — untraceable to Middle Chinese. Someone must hav written about that. The topic has come up on LL: see this comment by Bill Baxter.
The word for "sleeve" (xiùzǐ 袖子), in this context, might also be thought by some to have unwelcome overtones, since "cut sleeve" (duàn xiù 断袖) is an old euphemism for male homosexuality. It doesn't help that a synonym for xiùzǐ 袖子 ("sleeve") is xiùguǎn 袖管 (lit., "sleeve-tube / pipe / duct"), which invites one to think of lūguǎn 撸管 ("rub the pipe", slang for male masturbation).
Next comes jiāyóu 加油, which literally means "add oil / gas"), but which is a common cheer at sporting events and in other situations where people exhort others "to make an all-out / extra effort" (see here and here).
And then there is the monumentally problematic gàn 干 / 幹 ("do; fuck" — frequently confused with gān 干 / 乾 ["dry"]), with which long-term Language Log readers will be intimately familiar.
(and many other posts)
Taking the last two elements together, jiāyóu gàn 加油干 ("add oil and do it") in this context makes one think of personal lubricants (rùnhuá yóu / jì / yè 润滑油 / 剂 / 液). (Since we're at it — milestones in the history of lube branding include things like júhuā yóu / yè 菊花油 / 液, or in [faux?] Japanese kiku no eki [??] 菊の液, playing on the Chinese [and apparently also Japanese] chrysanthemum~anus metaphor.)
Xi's phrase in its original context (8:44): notice the extremely heavy stress on the gàn 干 / 幹 ("do; fuck").
With all of these suggestive hints prompting him, it was inevitable that a snarky wit would do something salacious with Xi's dorky call to action. Few, however, would have expected that the person who rose to the challenge was a ranking member of the CCP, Zhang Haishun, top official of the Bureau of Quality and Technical Supervision of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. And he did it not once, but twice, after which he was promptly dismissed from office.
A picture and fuller account is provided by Radio France Internationale.
Notice how the news items focus on the impropriety or indecency of Zhang's words, and on how it violates Party discipline, perhaps by mocking Xi's motto and exerting a "bad influence". I see no mention of how disturbing a call to "lift up skirts" during a meeting he chaired can be to any female (or skirt-wearing) subordinates. Even if he wears a skirt to work himself, his position of power makes participation in the skirts-up implementation he advocates sound non-consensual. That Bureau might not be the ideal workplace for such a campaign.
The fuller context of Xi's slogan is as follows:
`Zǒng shūjì hàozhào “lū qǐ xiù zǐ jiāyóu gān”, wǒ jú yào rènzhēn luòshí! Yào “liāo qǐ qúnzi shǐjìn gàn”!'
"The General Secretary called for 'rolling up sleeves to work harder', which our Bureau [of Quality and Technical Supervision] must conscientiously implement. Time to 'lift up skirts for a hard shag!'"
Who is this Zhāng Hǎishùn 张海顺, so full of chutzpah? I haven't been able to find any English language description of the man, but there's a brief Wikipedia article on him in Chinese. From all that I can glean, he is 59 years old, a Han from Shanxi. He went to Inner Mongolia as a rusticated youth and studied in Qiqihar. Zhang majored in Chinese, and it shows: he has now achieved international fame as a poet-official.
The "rolling up" doesn't have to stop at sleeves. Now that "sumer is icumen in", everyone's rolling up their shirts. Western commentators never tire of commenting on that (the "Beijing Bikini") (witness the Gray Lady), which Chinese metacommentators then metacomment on.
Courtesy of Jichang Lulu, here are half a dozen Tibetan translations of Xi's "lū xiù gàn 撸袖干" ("roll up the sleeves and do it") slogan, from various official-ish sources:
phu thung brdzes nas ngar shugs sgrims
phu thung brdzes nas nus shugs 'don
phu thung brzes nas hur thag byed
phu thung brdzes nas 'bad brtson byed
phu thung brdzes nas 'bad brtson byas (te)
phu dung brdzes nas las la 'bungs
All the translations agree on the lū qǐ xiùzǐ 撸其袖子 ("roll up sleeves") part (phu [th|d)ung rdze), although they use two different spellings for "sleeve". For the second part (jiāyóu gàn 加油干), there are many different interpretations: 'bring forth power/energy', 'exert oneself'….
In Mongolian (from PRC sources, both in traditional script for domestic consumption and in Cyrillic for ("Outer") Mongolia):
ᠬᠠᠨᠴᠤᠢ ᠰᠢᠮᠠᠯᠠᠨ (ᠴᠢᠷᠮᠠᠢᠢᠨ) ᠠᠢᠯᠯᠠᠶᠠ
Qancui simalan (cirmayin) ajillay-a
Ханцуй шамлан хичээн зүтгэ[е]
Ханцуй шамлан гавшгайлан ажилла[я]
where again there's universal agreement on the rolled-up sleeves, but the second half can be "exert ourselves", "work" in some gung-ho way, or just "work".
[Thanks to Jichang Lulu, Melvin Lee, Meiheng Dietrich, and Yixue Yang]