Chinese Cheer Makes Olympic Debut

A common Chinese cheer is showing up at the Beijing Olympics. Crowds are shouting "China add oil," which would translate to "Go China." The all-purpose cry is part of the officially sanctioned cheers taught to cheerleading squads in the country.

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We've been listening to the crowds at the Olympic events, especially the loudest crowds at events where the Chinese are strong.

(Soundbite of Chinese Olympic cheer)

BLOCK: And for some translation, we turn to NPR's Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn. Anthony, what are we hearing there?

ANTHONY KUHN: You're hearing the crowds roaring (Chinese spoken) which you can literally translate as China add oil or China add gas, but it's probably safest just to say Go China. It's sort of an all-purpose cheer. What the origin is of it is not too clear. It could be an automotive metaphor, add gas, step on the gas. It could be a cooking metaphor, add sesame oil, olive oil. I don't think so, but it's hard to say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: I don't think so.

KUHN: It's all shrouded in mystery.

BLOCK: Not a carbon-neutral cheer, though, but I love that - add oil, add gas.

KUHN: Yeah, you can use it for anything. If your friend's going on a big date, if he's got a math test or something. It's clean, it's all-purpose, and it's actually part of the officially sanctioned, officially approved cheers that they teach to the cheerleading squads here.

BLOCK: You're saying you would hear this just in conversation if somebody needs encouragement, (Chinese spoken)?

KUHN: Yeah, (Chinese spoken). You'd, you know, maybe accompany it with a high-five or something. It's a very part of - a common part of everyday life here.

BLOCK: Now, this is sort of an officially approved Olympic cheer. There are a lot of cheers I gather that we're not hearing that you might hear if you were to go, say, to just a regular soccer game in China?

KUHN: That's right. People are passionate about their soccer here, and some of the hardcore soccer hooligans have their own brands of cheers. The Beijing version is known as the Beijing curse or the Beijing oath.

One of the more famous ones refers to a certain part of a female cow's anatomy that we won't get into here, but suffice it to say that the authorities were a little bit worried that these Beijing curses would come up, but that hasn't happened. Maybe the soccer hooligans didn't get tickets, I don't know.

BLOCK: I've got to ask you, Anthony, you just said the Beijing curse. Beijing, not Beijing, which is what I've been hearing all the time on NBC's coverage of the Olympics, that these are the Beijing games, and it's driving me crazy.

KUHN: Yes, it's a slightly bizarre Americanism, isn't it? I mean, we say J as in juice, not as in azure or leisure or something like that. I can tell you it's, you know, unequivocal here. It's J as in juice, Beijing, which means northern capital. So just to set the record straight there.

BLOCK: Jing means capital, not Jing. Jing.

KUHN: Jing.

BLOCK: NBC, are you listening?

KUHN: Hope so.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Beijing correspondent, Anthony Kuhn. Anthony, thanks so much.

KUHN: Thank you, Melissa.

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