Better Than a Tweet? In Four Characters, a New World of Meaning - 纽约时报 国际生活
There is a Chinese idiom that might be used to describe the place of idioms in Chinese literary tradition: jianding buyi (坚定不移), meaning “firm and unchanging.” The use of such expressions, especially the classical set phrases known as chengyu (成语), has long been seen as a mark of erudition in China. Most chengyu consist of only four characters, but they don’t follow the grammar and syntax of modern Chinese, and as many frustrated Mandarin students can tell you, they are often indecipherable without some knowledge of their origins, often in ancient Chinese literature that preceded the birth of Christ.
Some of the most popular Chinese idioms in use today, though, are of a more modern provenance, having been forged in what is currently the hottest space for linguistic innovation in China — the Internet. These sayings retain the four-character format of the classic idioms but are distinguished by their ironic, contemporary and sometimes political themes. Popular among Chinese youth, the new idioms may not be considered highbrow, but they offer a window into the humor, culture and concerns of China’s millennial generation.