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February 17, 2010

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Nothing passive about 'Bei' in '09: it's character of the year

ORDINARY Chinese have given new meaning to the character "Bei," which normally indicates the passive voice, choosing it as "character of the year" in 2009.

An online poll, conducted by a linguistic research center under the Ministry of Education and the state-run Commercial Press, selected "Bei" for the annual honor.

Nowadays the character is being employed by Chinese to express a sentiment deeper than just the passive voice: People are using it to convey a sense of helplessness in deciding one's own fate.

The new usage may not conform with grammar rules, but it became an Internet buzzword last year by reflecting dissatisfaction over the abuse of official power.

"Bei Zi Sha," or "being suicided," is one example.

When an investigation said Li Guofu, a businessman in Anhui Province who had petitioned the central government over local abuses of power, committed suicide in a local detention center, Netizens used "Bei Zi Sha" to indicate that Li's "suicide" seemed "too odd," given the context of the case.

It turned out that Li was framed by a local official, who was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve on February 8 for taking bribes and framing Li.

Netizens said little oversight of official power and the lack of transparency in the investigation meant neither "suicide" nor "murder" were plausible explanations. "Being suicided" conveyed the doubting public's skepticism.

"Bei" is used to illustrate people's frustration when confronting powerful administrative force or mainstream ideas.

"Bei Zi Yuan" or "being volunteered," for example, ridicules government departments that force people to do something while alleging they "do it out of their own will."

University graduates and job seekers claim they are "Bei Jiu Ye," which means "being found a job," implying employment statistics are not accurate.

Observers also say the use of "Bei" reveals growing awareness of civil rights.

"Bei" became popular because people are "not content with unconsciousness or indifference to their legitimate rights," said an article in the Southern Metropolis Daily.

People have started to realize that they have been deprived of some of their rights, and they are demanding more freedom in their life, the article said.

The Oriental Morning Post quoted Gu Jun, a professor at Shanghai University, as saying the phenomenon demonstrates a "profound change" in relations between citizens and the government.

"Bei" was not censored in the government-run poll of buzzwords, and grassroots' voices are finally being heard and even recognized by the government.

Gu said "Bei" suggests recognition of citizens' right in the face of official power.

The government begins to respond to inquiries from the public, instead of dodging them as before, Gu said.


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