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'You know what I mean': Chinese official's unscripted words light up social media

'You know what I mean': Chinese official's unscripted words light up social media
Published 3 Mar 2014 

Chinese social media exploded last night after a top Chinese official coyly answered a question from a South China Morning Post reporter about whether China's former security chief and powerful politburo member, Zhou Yongkang, would be formally investigated for corruption.

In response to the reporter's query, Lu Xinhua, a spokesperson for the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), tiptoed around the question. After nervous laughter from the crowd, Mr Lu added:

We have seriously investigated certain Communist Party members, including the problem of high ranking officials who violate rules and party discipline. We are doing this to show the whole of the Communist Party and the whole of society that it doesn’t matter who the person is and it doesn’t matter how highly ranked they are. If they violate the law and party discipline, they will be seriously investigated and severely punished, we mean this. I can only give you this answer, you know what I mean.

The question and response were omitted from the official online transcript of the event, according to Reuters.

After the press conference, posts and hashtags of 'you know what I mean' (or literally, from the Chinese, 'you understand') lit up the Chinese messaging app WeChat. On Weibo, a Chinese platform similar to Twitter, popular microbloggers (known as 'Big Vs') started posting irreverent messages alluding to comments from the press conference.

Social media users appeared excited that Mr Lu's honest conclusion to the question — 'I can only give you this answer, you know what I mean' — had strayed from pre-scripted comments, a rarity for the Chinese Government. His answer seemed to have a genuinely human element to it. 'In reality, (the comment) "you know what I mean" narrows the gap between politics and the public', ran an op-ed in The Beijing Times today. [fold]

The viral response to Mr Lu's comments reflect how much public interest has been generated by a potential investigation into Zhou Yongkang and frustration at the lack of transparency in Chinese politics. 'Yesterday’s press conference was a great beginning to the National People’s Congress (that starts on Wednesday). Hopefully we’ll see more ‘sensitive’ issues being discussed', wrote The Beijing News.

In all the excitement, even the official Tencent Weibo account of Xinhua, China's official news agency, posted a message titled 'continue to fight corruption, you know what I mean!'. The post was subsequently edited so that 'you know what I mean' was deleted.

There was fierce online debate about how best to translate the spokesperson's famous concluding sentence. George Chen, financial editor of the South China Morning Post, who has over 135,000 Sina Weibo followers, posed the question about the issue of translation on his Weibo account. Suggestions included 'u know that i know we all know' and 'hehe'. The highest-voted response to the question of how best to translate the phrase on Zhihu, a Chinese-language Q&A site modeled on, was similarly to the point: 'nuff said'.

Photo by Flickr user Hal Dick.

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