Why Are Little Yellow People Everywhere in China?

Word of the Week: huáng

1081622152161442242282If you think “little yellow people” sounds like it might be some sort of racist slur then you won’t be the first English speaker to make that observation. However this is the direct translation of  the Chinese xiǎo huáng rén 小黄人, which is the name given to the cute little minion characters from the movie Despicable Me.

This movie was very popular in China and the as a result these adorable xiǎo huáng rén can be found everywhere at the moment. It’s also interesting to note that the Chinese word huáng 黄 has some interesting connotations that are extremely different to the word “yellow” in English.

little yellow people

little yellow people

huáng essentially means “pornographic” or “dirty” (not the “you’re covered in mud” sort of dirty but the “you’ve got a dirty mind” sort of dirty.) So if your Chinese friends make reference to huáng piàn (yellow pictures/ yellow movies) or huáng sè shū (yellow novels) you’ll know what they’re talking about.

This yellow tape went viral on Chinese social media not long back

This yellow tape went viral on Chinese social media not long back

Similarly, you can use yellow as an adjective, saying someone is very yellow to mean they have a dirty mind.

nǐ hěn huáng!

You’re very yellow (you’ve got such a dirty imagination!)

So I always imagine xiǎo huáng rén as a little bloke shouting out obscene sexual comments as passers-by. But maybe that’s just because I am very huáng.

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