During the 2008 “奥运会 (Àoyùnhuì) Olympic Games,” people of different nationalities flocked to Beijing in support of their fellow countrymen; they shouted out the name of their country, chanted, and sang songs.
As the host nation, many Chinese people attended the games to support their own athletes; they cheered in unison the motivational word: “加油 (jiāyóu),” and at the same time probably left many foreign spectators and journalists wondering just what “加油 (jiāyóu)” meant.
However, when told that “加油 (jiāyóu)” means “to add fuel,” they probably were even more confused.
What, you might wonder, is the relationship between petrol stations and athletes?
Actually, laborers working to produce oil first used the term “加油 (jiāyóu)” as their slogan.
The expression carries forward the attitudes of Chinese people, such as fortitude, cooperation, and encouragement.
These days it means something like “Come on!” or “Go! Go! Go!” and you can hear it at any sporting event or game in China.
The same year as the Olympics, in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake, the world saw yet another use of the term “加油(jiāyóu).”
In the sorrowful atmosphere that followed the earthquake, people gathered in Tiananmen Square and shouted “中国加油 (Zhōngguó jiāyóu)” and “汶川加油 (Wènchuān jiāyóu).”
In this case, “加油 (jiāyóu)” meant perseverance, saying that China should stay strong through this difficult time. And when people are having a difficult time in their private lives, “加油 (jiāyóu)” is used to offer encouragement. It’s similar in meaning to “buck up” or ” cheer up.”
Therefore, “加油 (jiāyóu)” can be used both in times of sorrow and joy. Using the literal meaning, you can say something like this:
Wǒ yíhuìr xiān gěi qìchē jiāyóu, ránhòu zài qù jiē nǐ.
Husband: 我一会先 给汽车加油，然后再去接你。
I will put gas in the car first and then pick up you.
When you want to encourage people, you can say something like this:
Jiāyóu, nǐ yídìng néng kǎoshang dàxué!
Cheer up! You will certainly be admitted to a university!
Wǒmen yìqǐ jiāyóu, yídìng huì kèfú suóyǒu kùnnande.
Let’s try together, that way we will definitely overcome all difficulties.