Introduction to 浪
“浪” (Pinyin: làng) traditionally means wave, as in "a moving ridge or swell on the surface of a liquid (as of the sea)". While it has also meant "dissolute" or "indulgent" for awhile now as seen through the words "放浪 (fàng làng, dissolute or lax)” and “流浪 (liú làng, to wander around)", terms such as "浪起来 (Làng qǐ lái, let loose)", "冲浪 (Chōng làng, surf the web)", "出去浪 (Chū qù làng, go out to play)" and "别浪 (Bié làng, don't cross the line)" have been gaining its popularity of usage over the last decade or two.
In recent years, làng (浪) has also been used in conjunction with hòu (后), forming the phrase “rear wave” (后浪, hòu làng). While this originally merely referred to the younger generation, it now also refers to the young people who come from wealthy families, and are much more 'privileged' than that of the masses. In relation to relevant philosophical and psychological topics of interest, the topic of early childhood development with regard to "对孩子们，什么更有好处？出去浪还是呆在家?" ("What is better for the youth? Staying at home or going out to 'explore'?"), and the resonance of 浪 with Taoism principles are also touched upon.
The Genesis of 浪
In Chinese popular culture, the word 浪 is often used in the phrase “跟朋友出去浪”, which means to “go hang out (or play around) with friends”. While this phrase isn’t heard much among the older generation, it is a phrase commonly used and heard among that of the younger. It connotes a casual meet up, such as going to the karaoke bar or the nightmarket, rather than that of a formal one.
Etymology and Traditional Meaning of 浪
Etymology of 浪
In ancient times, “浪” (Pinyin: làng) was previously read as láng instead of làng. It was first used in the book《孟子·离娄上》( Li Lou Shang by Mencius) in the phrase “沧浪之水清兮，可以濯我缨；沧浪之水浊兮，可以濯我足” which means “the clear water of 沧浪 can wash my tassels, the turbid water of 沧浪 can wash my feet”. Here, “沧浪” (Pinyin: cāng láng) is referred to as a body of water. Unless being referred to, it is not commonly used these days. Over the centuries, the word “浪” has evolved from its glyph symbol on ancient objects, to its current regular script. “浪” can be further broken down into the semantic “氵”, which symbolizes water (and a wavy looking structure in previous centuries), and the phonetic “良”, which means fine or significant. When conjoined, it essentially means “significant water”, akin to big waves.
Dictionary Meanings of 浪
In common sayings, the word “浪” has multiple meanings:
- As a noun, it means “巨浪 (jù làng, mountainous waves)".
- As a noun, it depicts something wavelike like “麥浪 (mài làng, rippling motion of wheat on a rice field)” or “烟浪 (yān làng, mist-covered waters)”.
- As a verb, it could mean “流浪 (liú làng, to wander around)" or “浪费 (làng fèi, to waste money)”. Generally, “浪” means to go “play around”.
- As an adjective, it means “放浪 (fàng làng, dissolute or lax)”. The word “浪漫 (làng màn, romantic)” is also commonly used. It is generally associated with misbehavior, idleness, and debauchery.
"浪" in Contemporary Chinese Popular Culture
Actual usages and variegated meanings
In addition to the dictionary meaning and usage of lang (浪), this word has become quite popular in recent years and is used quite frequently in everyday conversations and online discussions. People usually use this word to describe a specific behavior or situation. If we were to choose the hottest high-frequency word in the last month by capturing big data, it would probably be "浪": from the video "后浪", which is a greeting sent to young people by a website, to "乘风破浪", which is sung and danced on stage by former sisters in the show business. Young people like to go out to relax called "浪". After the tricky work, "可以出去‘浪’了" When something good happens, people shout "'浪' 起来! '浪' 起来!" Indeed, when such a call sounds, the original quiet heart also "浪" up.
Làng qǐ lái（浪起来）
This is a dialect from the northeast of northern China. The word means to have no restraint, to let loose, to be lively! Twist up and have fun! The word means to have fun. It makes the person who hears this word feel good, the thing or thing that moves the heart, the body and mind naturally move with it.
Surfing is an internet word that refers to surfing the net. The word originally means "surfing", so the Chinese word "surfing" also means browsing the Internet. People can also use the word “浪" to express the various ways of having fun on the Internet. For example, a netizen posted a microblog on Sina.com: "It's been a long time since I've posted any news ～ 浪一浪 ～" In this sentence, the word “浪" does not mean travel, but rather leisure and entertainment on the Internet. Thus, the semantic meaning of the word “浪" has been expanded to include all kinds of outings and online play and entertainment.
Wǎng shàng chōng làng（网上冲浪）
The first years when the Internet became popular were the years when QQ, the Chinese social networking software for cell phones, first came out, and people were getting information, working and playing online. This is considered the originator of the Internet language, it is, at that time greetings are "what a coincidence, so you are also surfing the Internet ah". But now if someone says this to you, it means that you are too backward, how old news how to now know ah, is not only home network? It's a bit funny and sarcastic inside.
Chū qù làng（出去浪）
There are various interpretations of 出去浪, depending on the context. The common meaning is to go out and have fun. It can also mean to go out and fool around, not to do one's job. For example, on a sunny day, you can't stay at home, you have to go out and have fun. The verb "to go out and have fun" means to 出去浪. For example, 出去浪, is to go out high.
Bié làng (别浪)
别浪, the network buzzword, which is actually a game of the old terrain. The game players will often encourage, the original meaning of the word to exhort players not to easily chase people, develop well and then come back to play group, later evolved into a caution not to impulsively hard fight, slowly build up strength. Usually only when killed, you will see your teammates send this message, usually quite a bit of warning, if not killed, then, as you can 浪.
Social, Cultural, and Political Problems Around 浪
In recent years, làng (浪) has also been used in conjunction with hòu (后), forming the inspiration phrase “rear wave” or “posterior wave” (后浪). During the beginning of the global pandemic in 2020, Chinese youth adapted this term to describe the role that young adults have to enact change and positively shape China’s future. “Rear wave” is a metaphorical method to speak about the new generation in China and it originates from a famous video posted on the popularized Chinese video platform that is mostly used by youth, Bilibili. The video uses the expression “As in the Yangzi River, where the rear waves drive on those before, so each new generation surpasses the last 长江后浪推前浪,一代更比一代强”. The purpose of this video was to show Chinese youth that they have the ability to create change for future generations because of what past generations have left for them, such as advanced technologies, prosperous cities, and immersive culture. This means that the youth should be able to build something for the greater good through the resources that have already been built for them and that Chinese youth have the choice and right to become what they strive to be. This alludes to the “Chinese Dream” as the video makes it seem that it is easy to achieve your goals if you try, but that is simply not true as there are many social, cultural, and economic factors that can get in the way of reaching the “Chinese Dream”. It is clear that government officials had some say in the message of the video as government offices were indicated at the end of the video, showing that the video may be a piece of propaganda.
However, not all citizens believed in hòulàng (后浪) as counter movements were created such as jiǔlàng (韭浪), meaning “leek wave”, to describe the pessimism that some Chinese youths held as they did not believe in their ability to make any change within their society. As well, many Chinese youth did not agree with the video as it glamourized the lives of a few Chinese youth rather than focusing on the struggles that the majority endure in their daily lives. China is an extremely competitive society and for the majority of their lives, most citizens struggle to get into the right schools, find the right jobs, find the right partner, and live a meaningful and prosperous life. The video seems to only display the Chinese youth that have grown up with wealth, beauty, and talent; those who were born with those traits have it much easier than most youth in China as they are able to use their “freedom of choice” as they need not worry about their personal economy or the perceptions of others. The video also failed to represent the youth of China who work in civil and essential fields such as teachers, nurses, doctors, and many others. The people who devote their lives to these fields may not ever be able to achieve the “Chinese Dream”, but they deserve respect for what they have given up to help others. Therefore, hòulàng is simply a term to be used by the youth in China who are already privileged and do not have to worry about their own future and thus, they are able to focus on “creating change for future generations”. The phrase “hòulàng” not only holds cultural value, but it has social and political implications for China’s youth.
Philosophy and Psychology of 浪
Resonance with Taoist Philosophy
Many of the common uses of lang (浪) resonate with the key beliefs of Taoism. For example, according to Lin Yu Tang (2004), fang lang (放浪) stems from the Taoist philosophy “of freedom by breaking through boundaries and restrictions”. The meaning of lang can be better understood through the well-known passage, ‘The Dream of the Butterfly,’ written by one of the most famous Tao sages, Zhuang Zi. This prose describes a dream Zhuang Zi had where he was a butterfly, living with no thoughts or intentions other than finding whatever happiness was meant for him in his current form as a butterfly. This was his only desire and he was so immersed in the present that he couldn’t discern between reality and his dream, claiming “I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” This prose is the embodiment of Taoism: seeking freedom and happiness in the present with no human concerns or restraints controlling oneself. Furthermore, this prose demonstrates the strong connection between lang and Taoism. Similar to Taoism, lang (浪) expresses a way of acting in a relaxed, carefree way with little to no regard or direction in terms of how something ‘should’ be done.
Taoism has significantly influenced both Chinese and East Asian cultures in many different ways, ranging from influence on personal beliefs to impacting globally-recognized practices such as acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine. As a result, it is reasonable to assume that this widespread influence could have fueled the popularization and genesis of lang (浪) in China given how well-known and appreciated these beliefs were among the Chinese within the mid 1950s.
A common characteristic of Taoists is that they are very open to adopting new beliefs, practices, and lifestyles. This reflects the Taoist philosophy of living in the moment without following a set of rules in pursuit of achieving the purest form of happiness and freedom. This open and relaxed way of life is very similar to the meaning of lang (浪) in the context of wandering through everyday life in an unrestricted way. The key connection here is the lack of restraints and pre-determined direction dictating one’s actions, thoughts, and practices.
Effects on Early Childhood Development
Many people view introversion and having the tendency to stick to oneself as a character flaw. They point to how reluctance to engage in social situations from a young age may contribute to growing up less likable and personable, which can later affect the child’s social status and relationships further down the line. This has led to various studies on the psychology behind how exposure to social situations influences a child’s character development and future success. Recent studies explore whether it is more beneficial for children to go out a lot and play with friends or stay at home.  Chū qù làng (出去浪) is used in this case to emphasize the carefree and fun-seeking nature implied in this scenario for the children who go out.
Many people would assume that children who go out and put themselves in social situations more frequently would become more likeable, further leading to a more promising future. However, studies found that this was not always the case. Everyone is born with varying degrees of introversion and extroversion, which affects their strengths and weaknesses as individuals. A common assumption is that extroverted children have more promising futures because increased exposure to going out and social interactions teaches them how to be personable and better navigate social situations in the future. Although it is true that practicing communication can improve interpersonal skills, this does not necessarily mean that going out more will make the child more successful later on in life. For example, leadership is generally associated with being extroverted; however, studies show that there are equal proportions of extroverted and introverted leaders, and that introverted leaders often outperform their extroverted counterparts. Ultimately, there are respective benefits of being extroverted and introverted. Although some parents may still want more extroverted children, research shows that being forced to go out at a young age against one’s will can negatively affect the child’s self esteem and lead to increased social anxiety. Furthermore, it is recommended that parents consider the wishes and preferences of their children and place them in environments that will help them foster their respective strengths.
Through studying the emergence and usage of 浪, we have gained an in-depth understanding on its meaning and function within contemporary Chinese popular culture. 浪 can be used in a variety of different ways. The most prevalent way in modern times is being used as a verb for “going out” with friends and having fun in a more informal setting. It can be used to convey “indulgence” in terms of seeking a good time with little to no concern for consequences or restraints that would typically hold people back. We further researched the significance of lang within socio-political issues as well as other disciplines such as philosophy and psychology. This allowed us to deepen our understanding of the context lang is used in, and why it is notable within Chinese pop culture.
Going forward, the usage of 浪 will continue to evolve with the changing cultural and socio-political landscape of China. As some usages of this word dies out and others become more popular, it may be interesting to study whether different generations are more likely to embrace indulgence in their everyday lives, and whether this may be related to a larger shift in culture. As China becomes more liberalized and open to globalization, this may contribute to a more progressive, indulgent culture inspired by Western civilizations where people are more likely to disregard personal responsibility for the sake of enjoying life. Furthermore, the topic of whether the changing socio-political state of China affects the usage of 浪 could be an interesting focus for further investigation.
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