Hehe, the muffled laughter that haunts the Chinese Internet

“The Chinese government is one of the people, by the people and for the people.”
“Hehe”

What is the most effective way to express non-interest, cynicism and sarcasm on the Chinese Internet? The answer is:  hehe (呵呵).

Originally a phrase that approximates the sound of a giggle, “hehe” has acquired an array of new meanings in the age of social media. Knowledge of the evolution of the term will help explain why the above conversation between two prominent online opinion leaders got shared by thousands of Chinese netizens within hours.

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Hehe was first used in online chats and on message boards to simply convey laughter. Later it evolves into some sort of a perfunctory term of detachment and alienation, used when parties involved in a conversation have nothing more to say or add, or are simply not interested.

In 2013, hehe was voted the most hurtful and annoying phrase to use in a chat. Why? Because “seeing hehe in a conversation is an instant turnoff.” Many netizens commented.

“It annoys me when my friends say ‘hehe’ to me during a conversation. It makes me feel like I’m stranger than a stranger to them.” One netizen shared his frustration.

The irony is, though everybody hates it, hehe is also one of the most frequently used term in online chats or comments in China. A simple search of “hehe” on Weibo, China’s leading social media platform, returned more than 760 million active conversations.

The most subtle use of hehe is to express sarcasm, such as how it is used in the conversation at the beginning. Another example would be:

“China’s national men’s soccer team will make it to the World Cup in 20 years.”
“Hehe”

It’s a less in-your-face way to call someone to stop bullshiting. As one netizen explained: “When I type out ‘hehe’ in a chat, not only am I not laughing, I’m actually thinking about the F word in my mind.”

A post on Zhihu, China’s Quora, lists a few scenarios where “hehe” is most commonly used.

  1. Say “hehe” when you don’t want to continue the conversation. Real meaning: Bored and annoyed.
  2. Say “hehe” when commenting on stories of exposed corruptions or other scandals. Real meaning: Helpless anger.
  3. Say “hehe” when someone say or do something you don’t agree with. Real meaning: Dumbass.

Use “hehe” with discretion. Hehe.     

China has about half a billion internet users, one fifth of the entire global online population. Size-wise, it is the largest. A typical Chinese internet user spends about the same amount of time online per week as a typical US internet user does. But when it comes to online behavior,  Chinese internet users have some very unique characteristics that are different from their global counterparts.
CNBeta pulled up a nice infographic decoding the online behaviors of Chinese internet users. Some key takeaways according to the data:
52.1% of China’s entire population will be online by the year 2016.
73.5% of China’s online population live in urban areas.
China’s internet penetration rate is 38.3%.
Chinese internet users spend an average of 18.7 hours online per week.
More people (415 million) use instant messengers than search engines (407 million).
Portal websites are more popular and more frequently-used than are search engines.
As of November 2011, China had 145 million online shoppers, only second to the US
Chinese online shoppers are VERY active, making an average of 8.4 purchases per month, almost twice as much as a typical US online shopper purchases.  
China will surpass the US as the largest e-commerce market by 2015. 

China has about half a billion internet users, one fifth of the entire global online population. Size-wise, it is the largest. A typical Chinese internet user spends about the same amount of time online per week as a typical US internet user does. But when it comes to online behavior,  Chinese internet users have some very unique characteristics that are different from their global counterparts.

CNBeta pulled up a nice infographic decoding the online behaviors of Chinese internet users. Some key takeaways according to the data:

  1. 52.1% of China’s entire population will be online by the year 2016.
  2. 73.5% of China’s online population live in urban areas.
  3. China’s internet penetration rate is 38.3%.
  4. Chinese internet users spend an average of 18.7 hours online per week.
  5. More people (415 million) use instant messengers than search engines (407 million).
  6. Portal websites are more popular and more frequently-used than are search engines.
  7. As of November 2011, China had 145 million online shoppers, only second to the US
  8. Chinese online shoppers are VERY active, making an average of 8.4 purchases per month, almost twice as much as a typical US online shopper purchases.  
  9. China will surpass the US as the largest e-commerce market by 2015. 

Baidu, China’s biggest search engine, is under fire for copyright violation. The call for copyright protection received almost universal support from netizens. Yet, when the government cracked down P2P websites like BT China and VeryCD, Chinese netizens responded with anger and criticism. In the case of Baidu, they seem to turn pro-copyright overnight.

"[China] By allowing citizens enough freedom to draw attention to social problems or injustices, they become less likely to join a movement calling for radical political change."

Rebecca MacKinnon, an expert on Chinese internet censorship

(Source: digicha.com)