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

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

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?