Scratching the Surface
A little Mandarin lesson here-
The character 丧 is a polyphone in mandarin Chinese. When it is pronounced sāng, it loosely translates to funeral or mourning. When as sàng, it could be referring to either losing certain things or people ("丧失"), or a conglomeration of negative emotions such as feeling depressed, angry, disappointed and vexed.
And the sàng culture we are talking about here really takes both meanings: it is, very vaguely, the idea that you've lost something and are feeling horrible about it.
So what exactly did you, or the Chinese young netizens who invented the term, lose?
Let's find out.
The Beginning of Things
The sàng culure we are talking about today has evolved through several pieces of viral content on the Chinese Internet.
First and foremost, the ever so famous "Ge You Lie" (葛优躺):
Someone photoshoped Geyou with a bunch of other lie-down style movie stars...
Next, the song "So far, the Sofa is So Far" from the Shanghai Rainbow Chamber Singers:
Then We have the Hollywood comedy series Bojack Horseman, which has become a cult favorite among Chinese fans:
And there are these Japanese TV series such as Escape is Shameful But Useful (THE name!) and Quartet, which were so popular in China that the coined the a new genre for TV shows, "sàng drama 丧剧".
From Escape is Shameful but Useful, "Maybe I should just find a permeant job called marriage."
From Quartet, "I think it's unnecessary for everyone to be so motivated, it's not like we are competing against each other all the time! Not everyone desires to be rich and we just need to stay at the right spot in the society."
Now people began to see and talk about it lot of sàng characters in TV shows and films, there's only one step left to make sàng an official part of everyday lives.
That Step? Emoji.
In the winter of 2016, Gudetama, a Japanese cartoon character first aired in 2013 by Sanrio, suddenly became a celebrity in China thanks to a set of emoji stickers.
Mr. Gudemata, technically an egg yolk, is always laying limply with knees cuddled up. Blanket is his heaven and there's no way he'd get up.
And there are the Dried Fish emojis featuring, well, a desperate dried-up fish with mouth wide open and eyes balls bulging out. He'd even split blood or tears flood sometimes.
And there's Pepe the Frog, who's already a Meme celebrity in the English world and now also an iconic sàng star thanks to the creative Chinese netizens.
Pepe with Chinese captions, "I am so poor that I am mutated" and "Why couldn't you just buy me one handbag?"
As soon as sàng made its way into popular culture, it also became the new favorite story of opportunistic businesses.
Last month, a 4-day milk tea pop-up shop named "sàng Tea" grappled a lot of media attention; rumors say people were queuing up for up to 6 hours in Shanghai to get a sip of sàng from the shop's beverage menu.
"Do not kill yourself inside our store after finishing your drink", says the cup.
Some of the drinks on the menu are named such as "Wasting-life Green Tea", "Failed-another-diet Latte", and "Can't-afford-to-buy-house Macchiato".
The idea of combining sàng with consumer product isn't totally new though. Last year, the Taiwanese milk tea chain MoonLeaf collaborated with local cartoonist to create s set of drinks full of negative energies - on the packaging, not inside the cups of course.
"Good things should be shared with friends/shit I forgot I don't have any friends..."
And there are apparently a brand now making "hopeless yogurt"...
From Hopeless Yogurt's ad shoots, "They said I looked sàng so they asked me to be the spokesperson for their yogurt."
A Little Deeper
What exactly does sàng mean and why does it matter?
A lot of things, but mainly two things.
First of all, China's rising youth generation is now facing unprecedented pressure brought by the society's material accumulation.
Surging housing price, pollution, demanding parents and suffocating jobs...as China's economic growth slows down, the problems of urban life are now ever so clear and acute. Using sàng emojis doesn't solve the many social problems, but at least it adds a humorous twist when talking about pressures.
Secondly, no need to rush interpreting sàng as all negative, hopeless and extreme.
Think this way: no cultural phenomenon stands alone in history, sàng, in this case, is in continuation with the idea " Small-but-certain-happiness 小确幸". As China's young generation became more sensitive to the small joys in life, they also render and highlight the bigger, more structural problems any rapidly growing human society would face. Talking about how sàng they are, therefore, is serious yet also light-hearted; it is as much about escaping away as it is about confronting problems and moving on.
Just before hitting the publish buttom, Huxiu, one of China's leading tech medias, announced that they are now taking pre-orders for a collection of self-designed "sàng T-shirt", which are full of slogans like these:
Haha they are funny, I might order one actually.
Oh wait, is sàng just an excuse for us to spend more money?