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Slow Chinese 每周漫闻 is an entertaining weekly dose of interesting words, phrases and idioms from the week’s news for learners of Chinese who want to take their language skills to the next level.
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How to say Clubhouse in Chinese – 聊斋 (liáo zhāi)2 min read

22 February 2021 2 min read

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How to say Clubhouse in Chinese – 聊斋 (liáo zhāi)2 min read

Reading Time: 2 minutes

There’s a great Chinese idiom that’s been used to describe the brief appearance of Clubhouse in Chinese cyberspace:

昙花一现 (Tán huā yī xiàn) 

The Queen of the Night flower blossoms fleetingly

‘Fleeting’ or ‘a flash in the pan’

The Queen of the Night flower (昙花 – Tán huā) is an orchid cactus indigenous to Central America. It was introduced to China in the 1600’s. The flowers bloom only for a single night, and just once every year. So, they are beautiful but very short-lived.

I’ve read and listened to a lot about what was talked about on Clubhouse in China.

The best reads and listens I’ve found so far are a SupChina podcast and a good piece in The Wire China.

But there’s a lot less about what the Chinese name for Clubhouse is and why it’s interesting.

Officially, there is no Chinese name. I suppose the marketing team didn’t really have the time or motivation to think about it before it was blocked (墙了) in China.

There is an unofficial name which seems to have been invented by Weibo users that is quite clever.

聊斋 liáo zhāi

Talking House

The two characters are: 聊 Liáo (to chat), and 斋 zhāi – a house, normally where reading or studying happens: a study or library. So together, it makes ‘talking house.’

But there’s also a deeper meaning.

Liáo zhāi is a famous book by Qing Dynasty writer, Pu Songlin (蒲松齡 Pú Sōng líng), who lived from 1640 to 1715. His book was published after his death in 1740.

It’s a collection of surreal stories based on interviews with local people in Pu’s province of Shandong. He ran a tea house (茶棚 – Chá péng) which offered passer’s by free tea in exchange for a casual chat (闲聊).

He would ask guests strange questions, recording their stories, which eventually became the book:

聊斋志异 (Liáo zhāi zhì yì)

‘Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio’ 

This 300-year old book invokes lots of the ideas behind the modern social media platform – a space to converse directly and equally with thought leaders and learn from them. A space for discussing anything – no matter how surreal or sensitive it is. And, of course, it’s free!

If Liáo zhāi had been thought up by an expensive marketing team, it would be inspired stuff and the focus of much China market punditry for years to come.

The accidental but brilliant name hits three key elements that are must-have’s for a successful Chinese brand name: it plainly says what it means in two characters, it captures the essence of what it is beyond the simple meaning and there is a clever cultural twist which only a Chinese audience would recognise.

But, being an invention of the Chinese internet unfortunately no one can claim the credit!

What’s the best translation of an international brand have you spotted in Chinese?

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