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Today’s Laborers Are Laboring at Labors of Love

Nov. 20, 2020

Recently, there has been a small change in China: when people greet each other in the morning, instead of simply saying “Good morning”, they type out the sentence “Good morning, laborers.”

So, how did the phrase, “打工人(dǎgōng rén) laborer” come into use?

“打()” means “to hit” in English. The term “打工(dǎgōng) work” first appeared in Hong Kong. It refers to being, “employed by someone”, and is the colloquial way to say “to be engaged in paid work.” The tone of the word is neutral – it expresses neither praise nor derogation.

It was not until the 1980s, at the beginning of reform and opening up, that the term spread in the south of China, particularly throughout Guangdong Province due to Guangdong’s proximity to Hong Kong. As employment opportunities boomed, workers soon headed out to foreign countries all over world to “打工(dǎgōng)”.

But the meaning of “打工(dǎgōng) work” has also changed – now, we understand it to mean: temporary, replaceable labor.

打工 (dǎgōng): v. work


jiějiě yǐjīng wàichū dǎgōng yì niánle.
My sister has already been working for a year.

Wǒ zànshí bùxiǎng dǎgōng.
I don’t want to work for the time being.

The term “laborer” has become the latest buzzword on Chinese social media. It applies to all kinds of employees, from blue-collar workers and low-level staff to middle managers and top executives, and is used in contexts that seem uplifting and aspirational, as well as those that are 自嘲(zìcháo)self-deprecating.

自嘲 (zìcháo): self-deprecating


zhēnnízhǐhǎo zìcháo zìjǐ de yúchǔn.
Jenny had to laugh at her own foolishness.

zìcháo yěshì yì zhǒng shēnghuó tàidù.
Self-deprecation is also an attitude towards life.

There are other self-deprecatory phrases that have been around for a while: 搬砖(bānzhuān), 社畜(shèchù) corporate slave, and 打工仔 (dǎgōng zǎi) wage earners.

搬砖 (bānzhuān): v. to do hard physical labor

“搬砖(bānzhuān)” originally refers to moving bricks. In Internet language, “搬砖(bānzhuān)“ has been extended to include working hard, doing repetitive tasks, and not making much money. People continue to use this phrase instead of directly saying, “going to work.”

“我要去搬砖了(wǒ yào qù bānzhuān le)” actually means “I’m going to work”; “Moving bricks makes me happy” actually means “Work makes me happy.” Of course, this is usually said sarcastically or tongue-in-cheek.

社畜 (shèchù): n. corporate slave

The term “社畜(shèchù) corporate slave” originated from Japan. “社(shè)” means “社会(shèhuì) society” and “畜(chù)” means livestock. It is a derogatory term to describe employees who are squeezed like livestock for all they’re worth by a company after they start working.

社会 (shèhuì): n. society


shèhuì méiyǒu nǐ xiǎng de nàme jiǎndān.
Society is not as simple as you think.

nǐ chízǎo děi bù rù shèhuì.
You have to step into society sooner or later.

打工仔 (dǎgōng zǎi)

The term “打工仔(dǎgōng zǎi)” means the same as “打工人(dǎgōng rén)”, but the term “打工仔(dǎgōng zǎi)” has changed from a relatively simple term to encompass all of today’s laborers. The reason that “打工仔(dǎgōng zǎi)” are willing to “自嘲(zìcháo) laugh at themselves ” is because, as Romain Rowland once said: “There is only one kind of heroism in the world: to see the world as it is, and to love it.” This is true for every ordinary “laborer”.

Hearing this, I can’t help but want to say to myself, ”Come on, laborer!”
If you want to cheer for me, please give me a thumbs-up!

HSK 3 quiz

Please choose the best answer to fill in the blank.
_______shǐ wǒ kuàilè.
_______makes me happy.

A. 打工人 (dǎgōng rén)
B. 社畜 (shèchù)
C. 搬砖 (bānzhuān)

You May Want to Learn More:

斜杠青年 – A Generation of “Slashers”

This Pop Phrase That Is So Unfair: “双标 (shuāng biāo)”

劳动节 (Láodòngjié) Labor Day (Intermediate)

HSK 1 quiz

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