Course:ASIA319/2022/"Embarrassment" (尬)

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The Chinese character of Ga (尬).

Ga(尬)is a term used to describe the emotional feelings of awkward and “losing face” when an individual is under attentions from others or a dilemma situation. Under China’s serious political system and “face” culture, the Ga(尬)culture in Chinese social space manifests itself as a hindrance to interaction at the socio-spatial level due to negative social feedback and lowered self-esteem of individuals when connecting with others. With the popularity of the Internet, Ga(尬)culture has gradually expanded into self-deprecating, self-explanatory entertainment that does not care about others’ views, and has quickly become a hot Chinese online language culture. By examining how Ga(尬)culture originated, developed, and became popular in society and online media, we can reveal the process and specific manifestations of the evolution of Chinese social collective ideology during certain periods of time. It is also possible to explore the conflicting between ideologies embodied in this Ga(尬)culture and gain a deeper understanding of Chinese society.

The genesis of the keyword

In Chinese pop culture, Ga(尬), a term describing feelings caused by lower than expected feedback from the outside world, is a new addition to Chinese pop culture that has quickly become popular in a short period of time. In Chinese people’s long tradition of saving face, this Ga(尬)culture which brings feeling of awkward and losing face was apparently avoided. The event that marked how the Ga(尬)culture gained social attention and became an important part of Chinese pop culture was in 2016 when the children’s magic drama 舞法天女朵法拉 was broadcast and selected as material for the web show Rage comic news events 暴走大事件,[1] in which the dance was called Ga dance 尬舞, also known as the awkward dance. And the term Ga dance 尬舞 is derived from the street dance culture of Compare dance 较舞, which is pronounced as “GA” in Southern Fujian language. Since this show, the Ga(尬)culture has become widely known by the Chinese audience, and a new verb structure “Ga+X” has been deprived, such as Ga wine 尬酒、Ga chat 尬聊、and Ga shooting 尬拍. The connotation is to express the real inner feeling of just being happy for yourself without paying excessive attention to other people’s perspective. And this sudden explosion of Ga(尬)culture has quickly become integrated into the media platforms of Chinese netizens and the daily lives and behaviors of audiences.

Glossary of its explicit dictionary meanings

Dictionary Meaning of 尬

The literal meaning of ga (尬) and the evolution of ga (尬) from seal script to modern writing style.

This English word, awkwardness, is written as 尬(pronounced as in Chinese characters, is used to mean:[2]

(1) A dilemma that is not easy to deal with caused by inappropriate behavior, and it links with the feeling of embarrassment;

(2) Looked abnormal, sneaky;

(3) Unsafe, dangerous.

In English, there is a similar word called "cringe" that can serves as synonyms for 尬. Both words involve in expressing the strong feeling of awkwardness.

Etymology of 尬

Ga (尬) and wan (弯) are Chinese characters of the same origin, and the original meaning is bending. Bending means not straight and smooth, while ga (尬) means encountering difficulties and not smooth.[3] Before the Yuan Dynasty, ga (尬) was often used as a single Chinese character in literature meaning "the breath is not smooth" 气不顺, which could derive the meaning of "things are not going well". After the Yuan Dynasty and during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the use of the phrase Gan ga 尴尬 gradually increased due to the popularity of popular literature. At this time, the meaning of this phrase Gan ga 尴尬 and the meaning of the character ga (尬) in nowadays Chinese popular culture were related that both meaning dilemma situation, difficult things to be handled, and unfriendly atmosphere.

"尬" in contemporary Chinese popular culture

Actual usages and variegated meanings

“Ga”(“尬”) always associated with “尴尬”(Embarrase),which means internal reflection and self-aware sense of disharmony, based on the aspects of psychology, it is an emotional experience of awkwardness, tension, frustration,and bewilderment caused by the individual being in the focus of public attention, making a mistake or in a difficult situation, and in the process of comparing with others to construct the social interaction of self, the self-esteem of the individual decreases. The negative feedback of the society to the individual or their social role is different from the social norm, which impedes the fluency of the social interaction.[4]

With the development and application of Internet media, the “尬系文化”(“The culture of embarrassment”) is born and popular on the Internet. Researchers express the expanded meaning of "尬X" (where X represents a series of actions, such as "dancing", "singing", etc.) as follows: Awkwardly doing something, but the most important thing is that awkward actions not only makes the performer feel embarrassing, but also makes the audience feel awkward. Based on this, the “尬系文化”(“The culture of embarrassment”) is defined as a subculture that "Embarrass others without knowing it and bring joy to onlookers".[5]

Associated words

This is the stage photo from the Chinese Child Play 《舞法天女》which related with "尬舞"


Ga’Wu (“尬舞”) originally refers to street dance battle, but with the popularity of short video platforms, Ga’Wu (“尬舞”) in China's online popular culture means to ridicule people who can't dance and dance randomly and embarrassing scenes. Ga’Wu (“尬舞”) in Internet terms first originated from the random dance performed by the Chinese Sha'ma'te (“杀马特”) group on the online short video platform, it became popular again on the Internet because of many embarrassing dances in the plot of the Children’s TV series Wu’fa’tian’nü(“舞法天女”).

Source for Ga’Wu(The clips from Wu’fa’tian’nü)

Ga’Liao (“尬聊”)

Ga’Liao (“尬聊”) is one of the popular Internet terms in the the “尬系文化”(“The culture of embarrassment”). It describes the very embarrassing chat. Because one or both parties are not very good at chatting or have no intention to chat, the atmosphere of the chat has fallen into ice. Embarrassing chats are also described as forcibly chatting, without the meaning of looking for words, but the person who engages in awkward chats will not feel embarrassed.[6]


Ga’Hei(“尬黑”)means to smear others and not according to the actual situation, groundless or deliberately make up facts to smear others. [7]Ga’Hei(“尬黑”) often appear in the super idols’ fan groups conflict with each other, smear each other's idols without fabricating rumors based on objective facts which is the nitpicking behavior.


Ga’Chui(“尬吹”)means "embarrassing flattery", which in Chinese popular Internet terms means exaggerating others without following the facts.[8]It is often used to describe that fans exaggerate their idols without following the facts and exaggerate their idols' shortcomings as their strengths, which makes the audience feel embarrassed. For example, when a singer is out of tune in a live performance, fans are still praising their idol's singing skills on the Internet, which can be called the Ga’Chui(“尬吹”).

Jiao’Zhi’Kou’Di (“脚趾抠地”)

Jiao’Zhi’Kou’Di (“脚趾抠地”)means that a person's toes curl up on the floor, which vividly expresses the behaviour that people will have when they feel embarrassed. Jiao’Zhi’Kou’Di (“脚趾抠地”)describes something that makes them feel extremely embarrassed in popular Chinese Internet terms, and exaggerates the audience's state when facing embarrassment.[9]

Social, cultural, and political problems

Social Anxiety

The comments from director Li Chengru in the TV show "Everybody Stand By" that describing his negative experience when watching idol actors performing.

The term awkward or embarrassing chat (尬聊 Ga'Liao) is used when people are making undesirable conversations with others due to etiquette concerns or when both sides have no intentions to chat but have to chat. [6] The feeling arises from this undesirable and meaningless conversation making people want to end the chat but could not do so. Under such situations, many people have felt the strong emotion of awkwardness and they have created this term Ga'Liao derived from Ga culture to describe this type of conversation. Some people have claimed that there is a higher frequency of Ga'Liao associated with in-person communications and this Ga'Liao will increase their social and this is a common phenomenon across culture.[4] Moreover, the term is popular because it is used by people to accurately describe this feeling to others and for others to relate to themselves. Thus, the popularity of Ga'Liao is used by people to define their social anxiety and show their desirability to express themselves.[4]

The increased popularity of the term is related to self-performance. The new technology promoted the popularity of new social media platforms and led to many new forms of communication for people to socialize. Due to this reason, people are less dependent on in-person communications anymore. Previous psychological studies have been conducted and shown that using online social media platforms, can be used as an avoidance strategy to mitigate the Ga feeling and social anxiety.[10] This form of online communication is text-based, meaning people do not need to make any interpretations in terms of the speaker's gestures, facial expressions, body movements, or eye signs. Whereas during face-to-face communications, these are all important factors to deliver messages so both the speakers and the listeners need to continuously and immediately make interpretations to understand the messages that people are trying to deliver. This is what causes people to have the Ga feeling because during these face-to-face communications they need to constantly beware of how to perform themselves and it is easier to create the feeling of embarrassment or awkwardness if people misinterpret the meaning or say something wrong. Whereas for online communication, people can choose to perform themselves in their own ways and be judged less.[4]

Self-deprecating, Mocking and Sarcasm

  • Higher Expectations and Critics about Artists Professionality[11]

This idea of Ga could be used as a tool or humour to help the user to defend against outside pressure and anxiety.[4] When individuals define themselves as being awkward or make people feel awkward, the reason reflected behind it is that people are self-deprecating in order to cope with the current pressure and anxiety that arise during communication. Moreover, through self-deprecation, people might be seeking a potential solution to solve the awkward situation. Also, looking for people who could understand them and hopefully they will stop the situation. Based on the Ga culture, many phrase has also been developed and one of the common phrases used by people is “脚趾抠出三室两厅[12][13] (my toes digged out three rooms and two living rooms), a very exaggerating and extreme way of describing this Ga feeling. People said that these phrases can accurately demonstrate their feelings when they are making 成年人的社交 (adult socials, a term used to describe undesirable socialization) but still need to maintain the etiquette so causing them feel very Ga. Thus using self-deprecating and mocking when describing this feeling is a means to mitigate some of these Ga effect that make them feel anxiety. Moreover, by self-deprecating, it prevents other people from using this Ga feeling to attack themselves.[4]

An illustration of the popular phrase "脚趾抠出三室两厅" that used to describe extreme awkwardness.

A common example that people discussed in relation to Ga is idols' acting strategies. Idol culture is commonly known as originated in Japan and quickly transmitted over Asia. In general, idols are people who are specialized in performing dance and singing (some also trained in acting). They are different from actors who are specialized in acting. These idols in China are also called data stars (liuliangmingxing 流量明星), people with good appearance and with a strong fan base. In the Chinese entertainment industry, these two categories of people are mixed together and almost all the idols can define themselves as “actors” because they will film some TV dramas to increase their popularity and attract more fans. For these idols, many of them did not receive any training in acting before they film a movie or tv drama. Thus the professionality of being an “actor” is common criticize by people other than their fans because their acting strategy is usually poor and is making people feel awkward. This creates a strong contrast with Japan and Korea where idols is responsible for acting strategies if they choose to enter the film and TV market. They need to open for critics and show there ability to act well. This is different than Chinese idol market, because Data star tend have a strong fan base. Even others critics about their acting strategies, there will still be a plenty of fans who will promote the movies and dramas. The TV show “演员请就位 (Everybody Stand By ) ” is a show inviting idol actors or new actors in the industry to perform on the stage and let the directors to give comments and select them. After this show was uploaded on Tencent Video, it has received many comments from people saying that watching the show makes them feel extremely awkward and embarrassed by these actors' acting strategies because some of these new idols are really bad at acting but have claimed themselves as actors before. One of the most popular scenes that people think have maximized at describing their feeling is the comments from director Li Chengru to an idol actor. He used many words to describe (an overwhelmed feeling mixed with embarrassed, nervous, and annoyed) to describe his awkwardness of watching an idol actor acts . Many people found his comments relatable and it is also their feeling towards these actors. This new usage of Ga is associated with critics to artists' professionality. There were periods of time in the Chinese TV drama and movie industry, where audience did not care about actors' acting strategy but more focused on the appearance of these actors. That view has been shifted and now people have been paying more attention to the professionality and they want to see more good works in the industry. People are having higher expectations towards celebrity’s professionalism not just in these fields, but for the entire entertainment industry.[11] By using Ga culture in this context, it is for people to ridicule these idols who are lacking professionality in acting but still claiming as "actors".

Independence and Constructing Identity

A photo of Sha'ma'te (杀马特) with their distinctive hair styles.

In terms of social and cultural uses of Ga, some scholars debated that the popularity of Ga culture among Chinese people could be interpreted as a sign for them to release themselves and express their feelings in a grass root way.[4] This Ga culture is popular among the younger generation because it allows them to express themselves against any authority and shift toward individualism, creating their own identity.[4] The notion of “As long I’m happy” and ignoring any outside pressure that is imposed on them.

Ga'Wu is a word originally used to describe street dance battle by Sha'ma'te (杀马特), a group of people also called fei'zhu'liu (非主流 non-mainstream). Fei'zhu'liu is associated with a more negative connotation because they are non-mainstream culture (low culture) and almost all sha'ma'te are people from the lower classes of the society.[14][15] They tend to have strong visual elements, especially their hair style that do not fit into mainstream fashion. However, documentaries and interviews with these people show their intentions of challenging the dominant culture and the society. By using strong visual elements and Ga'wu culture, these are ways to express themselves in their own desirable ways and use it as a means to protect themselves.

Related studies

Ga(尬) is often used side-by-side with Gan(尴) to form the word Ganga(尴尬), which is meaningless when separated. Ganga is originally a kind of doublet word, which is made up of two syllables but cannot be separated. It has two characters, but only one morpheme[16]. “Talk about the Syllabic Morphemization of the word "Ga" from the Perspective of Network Popular Word ‘Ga X’(尬X)” by Xiaojiao Zheng(2018) and Cognitive Interpretation of Internet Neologisms "Ga +X"(Juan Jia and Fang Liu, 2019) have studied the reasons for the popularity of Internet buzzwords in the form of "Ga X" from the perspective of linguistics and philology. The appearance of "Ga +X" is a phenomenon of syllable morpheme, that is, the syllable that does not express meaning is changed into the morpheme that expresses meaning[17], and then collocation, which also illustrates that the appearance of "Ga +X" can be attributed to a kind of labour-saving psychology. "Ga X" is obtained by replacing other components into the core structure of the verb or the core structure of the noun, so the meaning of the simplified "X" is often greater than the meaning of the single syllable[18], which saves labour. At the same time, the creation of such network neologies reflects the bias of the communication of network culture in the new era.

Qin Li(2015) put forward the concept of "Immersive people" in her article “The ‘Bias of Communication’ in the Ubiquitous Era and its Civilization Characteristics”. Based on the biassed view of communication by Harold Inness(2003), she summarized the characteristics of time-space balance of communication in the new era, that is, the ubiquitous immersion communication, which is human-centered, and the "Immersive people" has both the passivity to receive information and the initiative to send information, in other words, the immersed person has the characteristics of both human and media[19].  Therefore, the rise of the expression "Ga X" reflects the active participation and self-construction of "Immersive people" in the new popular culture creation in immersive communication and virtual space and time, which has a high degree of autonomy. People are not only the receivers of traditional media communication, but they create a new popular culture with the combination of personality and commonality with their unofficial ideology. Jialing Wu and Ke Xue(2018)'s “Restrained and Self-Release: The Cultural Interpretation of the "Ga" in the New Media Environment” analysed the interpretation of individual psychological defence, identity and emotional release on the generation of Ga culture from the perspective of social psychology. Ga culture, as a new popular culture created by "Immersive human", brings together the quadratic group who prefer to use Ga culture for self-expression. However, the increase of influence also causes the negative impact of consumerism. This kind of entertainment self-escape and self-paralysis of mutual comfort and support with the same group are generated by commercial marketing to generate benefits. Therefore, Wu and Xue advocate cold thinking about Ga culture and try to ease the gap between different classes in the way of ga, which is the biggest embarrassment in contemporary society, and people need to reflect on the symbol bubble behind the popularity of Ga culture[20].


Ga in the past was often interpreted as loss of face and embarrassment, the emotional experience of shame and tension when making mistakes under public concern. However, with the immersion of Internet communication mode, the use of Ga by Chinese netizens has derived the Ga culture and the by-product of the term "Ga+X". This Ga culture has evolved into a subculture where users mock themselves and bring joy to onlookers. With the support of this prevailing humor concept, the discourse space of Ga culture has been expanded and its spiritual connotation has been pushed to the peak, bringing together a large number of groups in need of emotional release on the Internet platform. However, the Ga culture represented by the "Ga Liao"(awkward or embarrassing chat) and the "Ga Wu"(street dance battle by Sha'ma'te) reflects the social anxiety in self-expression and interpersonal communication, as well as the self-paralysis and irony of self-construction hidden behind the surface form of self-mockery. But undeniably, the formation and rise of this Ga culture is a concrete manifestation of human-centered immersive communication and the democratization of media ideology. People have more and more right to speak in the process of virtual space-time communication, rather than a single traditional form dominated by official discourse. This kind of Ga culture will continue to develop and flourish in China. It is worth exploring whether it will be regulated and constrained by official discourse or coordinated and integrated in the future to generate a diversified form that retains individual autonomy to achieve catharsis and get rid of the negative effects of misconceptions.


  1. 宋, 佳伟 (Summer 2019). "当代传播学视野下的尬文化传播研究". 硕士学位论文,内蒙古大学: 69.
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