Being Top of the Class in China

Word of the week: 学霸


Some things transcend cultural barriers. That geeky kid who is better than everyone else in the class is a concept everyone can relate to, regardless of cultural background. You know the type, that kid who didn’t get to dominate the class through raw intellect, but instead tops the exam results through hard work.

Given the importance of education in China it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that there is a word for this. 学霸 xué bà, the first word xué means study and bà means “lord” or “tyrant”. If you’ve been to MacDonald’s in china you might already be familiar with the character for bà, because the big Mac is translated as jù wú bà. MacDonald’s obviously like to think the big Mac is some sort of tyrannical lord of all burgers.


Sometimes you might have two xué bà in one class, resulting in the following conversation:

你是个学霸 nǐ gè xué bà

you’re axue ba

你才是个学霸 nǐ cái shì gè xué bà

You’re the one that’s axue ba

The word cái 才 really doesn’t translate easily into English, but in this sentence it indicates contrast and implies the first sentence isn’t correct but the second sentence is. nǐ cái shì gè… can therefore be translated as “you’re the one that’s…”

你是个笨蛋 nǐ shì gè bèn dàn

you’re a dumb egg 

你才是个笨蛋 nǐ cái shì gè bèn dàn

You’re the the one that’s a dumb egg