Ordinary Chinese people have given new meaning to the character "bei," which normally indicates the passive voice and which was chosen as "character of the year" in 2009.
An online poll, jointly conducted by a linguistic research center under the Ministry of Education and the State-run Commercial Press, selected "bei" as the character of the year.
In addition to its traditional connotations, these days the character is employed by the Chinese to express a sentiment deeper than just the passive voice. It is used to convey a sense of helplessness in deciding one's own fate.
The new usage may not conform with established rules of grammar, but it became an Internet buzzword in 2009 as it reflected dissatisfaction over the abuse of official power.
"Bei zi sha" or "being suicided" is one example.
When an investigation said Li Guofu, a businessman in eastern Anhui province who had petitioned the central government over local abuses of power, committed suicide in a local detention center, Netizens used "bei zi sha" to indicate Li's "suicide" seemed "odd," given the context of the case.
It turned out that Li was framed by a local official who was later sentenced to death on Feb 8, with a two-year reprieve, for taking bribes and framing Li.
Netizens said a lack of regulatory supervision of official power and the lack of transparency in the investigation meant neither suicide nor murder were plausible explanations. Therefore, "being suicided" became the way for the doubting public to express its skepticism.
"Bei" is also used to illustrate people's frustration when confronting a powerful administrative force or mainstream ideas.
"Bei zi yuan" or "being volunteered" is one example, which is used to ridicule some government departments that force people to do something while alleging they "do it out of their own will."
University graduates and job-seekers claim they are "bei jiu ye," which means "being found a job," inferring employment statistics are not accurate.
However, observers say the use of "bei" reveals growing awareness of civil rights.
"Bei" became popular because people are "not content with unconsciousness or indifference to their legitimate rights," according to an article in the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily.
People have started to realize they have been deprived of some of their rights and they are demanding more freedom in their life, the article explained.
The Shanghai-based Oriental Morning Post cited Gu Jun, a professor of Shanghai University, as saying the phenomenon demonstrates a "profound change" in relations between citizens and the government.
"Bei" was not censored in the government-run poll of buzzwords and grassroots' voices are finally being heard and even recognized by the government.
Gu said "bei" suggests recognition of citizens' rights in the face of official power.
The government is beginning to respond to inquiries from the public, instead of "dodging" them as it did before.
Last December, an investigation into another case of "bei zi sha" was conducted in a more transparent way.
Xing Kun, who was suspected of theft, was found to have committed suicide in a local police station in Yunnan province. The police invited reporters to the police station to explain the details of the incident. The police also reconstructed the suicide scene, which to some extent alleviated public skepticism.
(China Daily 02/17/2010 page3)