Bang Da Kuan for the big money October 22, 1997 By Bay Fang The talk on the streets has changed. As rapidly as billboards pop up along the highways of the city, Beijing’s modern, consumer-driven society is developing a wealth of vocabulary for its new cultural needs. At the center, there is the semantic harem clustered around the wealthy who are called, simply, "Big Money" -- Da Kuan. As with all Chinese appellations, one may apply the standard honorific variations based on familial relations: Kuan Jie (Money Older Sister) or, for the real patriarchs of cash, Kuan Ye (Money Paternal Grandfather). Where there are Da Kuan, there are those who will, with unfortunate romanization, bang Da Kuan for money. Counter to expectation, this simply means "to accompany" a rich person in hopes of receiving some personal benefit. Usage tarnishes the word’s reputation, however, for the derivation bang jiar means sexual partner, and to diao bang is the poor man’s verb – to seek a lover. Today’s streettalk has been derived from as far away in cultural distance as its own feudalistic ancestry. Da Wanr, meaning Big Wrist, was a mafia term in pre-Liberation days for the gang leader or strong hand. If someone’s wanr was hei (black) or liang (bright), that meant he was especially cold-blooded. Today, it is a term of admiration for those who wield a more contemporary form of power – moviestars and celebrities. What does all this mean for the party’s struggle for spiritual civilization? Frustration, apparently. The country’s cultural leaders are discovering that it may be easier to mobilize the masses to revolution than to make them give up their favorite swears. At soccer games the taunt hollered at the other team’s players is sha bi, sha being the innocuous word for stupid and bi being the slightly less innocuous word for a woman’s private parts. The latter word is quite verbally promiscuous, in fact – the same soccer fans praising a good play happily utilize the slang for "great/cool," niu bi – another reference to said private parts, this time of a cow. After last year’s season of vulgarity, editorials tinged with desperation appeared in the Beijing Youth Daily, deploring the ubiquitous use of that versatile term and exhorting people to substitute it with the more civilized equivalent of "Go team, go!" So far the suggestion does not seem to have been taken up by fans. The government can blame outside influences for other adulterations of the language. The word ku, a transliteration of the English cool, was absorbed into mainland slang by way of Taiwan. Of course ku by itself is now long passe, and has been graphically modified with – you guessed it – bi. Components of other Western words have managed to join with Chinese to form trendy new phrases such as beng di (to hop around at a disco) and pao ba (to soak in a bar). In fact, newer Chinese dictionaries now have sections at the back for foreign words such as CD and Internet. The Chinese language police are on full-time patrol. A national standardization committee reviews foreign words to determine whether or not they can be incorporated into the vocabulary, and generally acts as guardian to ensure that nothing compromises the virtue of the Chinese language. From the sound of things, perhaps they should face the reality that the purity of their charge has already been violated – what can you expect from someone who has been sneaking out every night to bang Da Kuan?