From prime time TV programmes to mobile phone messages, from online chats to night parties, it is hard nowadays not to watch, read or hear what is called "egao."
The two characters "e" meaning evil and "gao" meaning "work" combine to describe a subculture that is characterized by humour, revelry, subversion, grass-root spontaneity, defiance of authority, mass participation and multi-media high-tech.
My efforts to find a succinct definition of egao in Chinese dictionaries failed. In fact Chinese dictionaries do not have such an entry since "egao" is new, too new to be recognized and listed.
However, in this era of online searches, when one cannot find an answer the traditional way, Internet is always able to offer something. I googled and found the following: Egao is a popular subculture that deconstructs serious themes to entertain people with comedy effects.
The expression is said to have come from the Japanese word "kuso," an Internet subculture that advocates enjoying any online game no matter how poor it is.
However, cases closely resembling egao existed long before the expression became known early this year.
Thanks to "The bloody case that started from a steamed bun," an Internet parody of the mega-budget film "The Promise" by well-known director Chen Kaige, its creator Hu Ge immediately became a luminary for his egao early this year.
It is no surprise that "The Promise" did not deliver satisfaction to viewers as promised by its promotional campaign. It is also no surprise that Hu Ge gained huge support when Chen Kaige wanted to sue him for piracy.
Hu Ge vs Chen Kaige has become a classic egao case seen by some as a fight between an ant and an elephant, an act of nobody making fun of somebody this time a film big shot with a high-profile screen work.
Hu has become so successful that, when his latest egao work "Suppressing bandits in Wulong Mountains" was made public, the website that first offered his show crashed under the weight of the hits.
In many people's eyes, Hu has become a symbol as well as a master of egao. His special website hugedv.com may someday attract investors.
Naturally, egao has been widely followed, as it entertains many people.
The latest example is the remarks of popular TV soccer presenter Huang Jianxiang.
During the Italy-Australia match of the just concluded World Cup, Huang's biased, emotional outbursts not only caused an uproar among Chinese viewers and netizens but also produced a number of short Internet audio and video egao pieces. His comments have also been made into funny mobile phone rings.
Huang was criticized by many for his "hysterical" performance in favour of Italy. But his comments-turned-egao now have a huge fan following.
His emotional outburst is said to have come from professional pressure. Likewise, many urban Chinese now suffer from work pressures. Jobs are more challenging than ever before and overtime is often the order of the day.
Under pressure, people need ways to let off steam and egao meets the needs. Its appearance has been showered with youthful blessing. It has rapidly become an important ingredient of popular culture.
Interesting quotes are out there to explain egao phenomenon:
"Egao is people deconstruct burning satire.
"Egao is an art criticism loved by people.
"Egao is people's ordinary, yet interesting, spiritual pursuit."
There are more quotes passing around.
Since entertainment has almost grown to be the mainstay of modern culture, egao has drawn wide attention and is now a form of collective indulging.
While many enjoy egao, others criticise it, saying that actions should be taken to stop it, or our culture will be wiped out.
The opposing alarm has not been well received, and the controversy continues.
Popular culture should not be vulgarized nor should it use any claptrap simply to please the public, according to Lin Shaohua, a university professor.
Egao does not translate into modern behaviour. If entertainment becomes absolutely ridiculous, cultural heritage will be thrown into a sorry plight, he said.
I sympathize with professor Lin and understand his worries. Personally, egao is not my cup of tea. However egao has its place in our society since there are not many ways that can help people let offs steam.
The argument that egao will eventually destroy our culture and heritage is a false alarm.
Chinese culture and heritage have withstood severe tests in history and this civilization remains one of the few existing old civilizations in the world.
However, to overestimate egao's role in modern society is also meaningless. Saying that egao can help fend off tragedies, that egao is a cure for our professional pressures, is naive, at best.
Our old culture is sure to accommodate egao. But one should not expect egao to become top entertainment form in this land and it is highly unlikely that the whole nation will be egao fans.
(China Daily 07/22/2006 page4)