“Generation gap” (代沟) , “supermarket” (超级市场), “honeymoon” (蜜月) and “breakdance” (霹雳舞). These words are all newcomers in the Chinese language. In fact, all of them have appeared after China started unfreezing its relations to the rest of the world with the Reform and Opening policy, embarked upon by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. In a fascinating book called (roughly translated) “Chinese Vocabulary in The Time of Reform and Opening”, the words and expressions of these modern times are introduced.
The above words are all loans from English, with increasing foreign influence both expressions and phenomena found their way to China from the outside world. Other examples of this influence are “champagne” (小香槟), “ice cream” (冰淇淋) and “bowling” (保龄球). Perhaps as a result of the aforementioned ice cream, the useful loan word “calorie” (卡路里 ) has entered Chinese. Although China’s traditional medicine surely has many cures for impotence, the term 伟哥, “Viagra” is a new addition to the language, as is “Vaseline” (凡士林) and “vitamin” (维他命) .
Abbreviations of Latin letters have also been incorporated, among others CD, DVD, and BBS. The new technology has also led to phrases such as “millennium bug” 千年虫.
As these words indicate, the last 30 years have seen tremendous changes in China; a nation gone from being undeveloped and isolated to becoming one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The ice cream-eating, champange-drinking youth who breakdanced their way through their teens must, in many cases, be the children of a generation who – when they were teenagers – were part of the Red Guards. No wonder that there is a gap between those who grew up before and after China’s great opening up.