Course:ASIA319/2022/"Run" (润)

From UBC Wiki


"Run"(润) is an emerging Chinese slang term. It primarily reflects how the middle class, when faced with an overly Involuted work and life environment, resorts to "run"(润), leaving their current environment and running away somewhere else.

The meaning of "run"(润) is becoming increasingly varied as more people use it, for example, to leave a place, change jobs, uninstall a favourite game, etc. However, it is most often used as an alternative to "migrate." There are now even some people who call themselves ”The master of Run Philosophy" on the Internet. They have attracted many people who want to change their destiny by teaching them how to "Run"(润) abroad on the Chinese video community such as Bilibili.

Many masters of Run(润) philosophy teach others how to immigrate to other countries

By understanding the word "run"(润), we can gain a deeper understanding of the development and changes in modern Chinese society. "Run" is linked to thought-provoking social issues. For example, the solidification of classes, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the ageing population, the declining birth rate, the loss of freedom of expression, the social involution, the lack of job opportunities and a host of other social problems. Through the interpretation and study of "run"(润), we can understand the dissatisfaction of contemporary Chinese teenagers with the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and their reaction to the social problems that already exist.

The genesis of the keyword

How does it emerge in Chinese popular culture?

The word 润( rùn) coined when Chinese social media and search engines were banned from displaying immigration-related results. Since rùn is similar to run in English, Chinese people started to use this to illustrate their point of view. As "run" in Chinese contains the meaning of "make shine" (polishing), "benefit" (profit), etc., "live a good life" also means "live a comfortable life" in some colloquial languages, so "run" has the deep meaning of "run to a better place[1]."

There is growing dissatisfaction with China's attitude towards containing the epidemic. Dynamic zeroing and nucleic acid testing have seriously affected the life and work of most people. There have even been many cases of delayed treatment due to improper prevention and control of the epidemic, and more and more people have begun to find ways to rùn to other countries. Many university students in China have been affected by the COVID-19. They are unemployed upon graduation from college. It's understandable that companies are all struggling to maintain their balance during this period, how can they hire new employees when they're even laying off workers[2]. It is not difficult to understand that young people today want to develop in other countries. For example, if you are selling apples and there is no need for apples in this place, it is natural to take apples to other places to see if there is demand.

After the pandemic in Shanghai in 2022, many people who lived in Shanghai couldn't wait to move to other places after the lockdown was lifted. At that time, due to improper management, many people could not get reasonable treatment for their diseases, and even had a lack of food and daily necessities. Runology started to became popular after the Shanghai incident[2].

Glossary of its explicit dictionary meanings

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General and Variable Usages

In the dictionary 润 have many different meanings such as soft, moist, sleek, freshen, profit.

Originally it is used to describe rain or water moisturizing the ground or describe something is smooth, elegant and polished.

Philological and Etymological Roots

[3]润 is a figure and sound character. The original figure is 闰, it represent water.

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The water is running down. From the water leap sound.(水曰潤下。从水閏聲。)[4]

An elaboration of its variegated meanings, actual usages, and value-loaded implications

When read as a Han character, the word "Run"(润)  can be taken to mean wet, moist, damp, slick, and glossy.[1] However, the Chinese pinyin of "润" indicates that it shares the same English characters with the verb "Run", which denotes running. As a result, today's Chinese pop culture gives "Run"(润) both explicit and subconscious connections. In Chinese news institutions, such as RFA press(自由亚洲电台)[5], Kzaobao(联合早报)[6], Wangyi News(网易新闻)[7], they use "Run"(润) to examine immigration and social phenomena in China. For example, the reason discussed in Wangyi News(网易新闻) for "Run"(润) is the Chinese government's political inhumanity towards the Covid pandemic in Shanghai.

"Run"(润) has been found to associate with women who have a plump body on Bilibili.

When expressing their experiences and thoughts on several well-known Chinese discussion forums, including Zhihu, many users have different interpretations of the word "Run"(润). The majority of people who leave comments on Zhihu discuss their thoughts on Chinese society, their dreams, and their experiences moving abroad and changing careers.[8]

On Bilibili, a popular video platform in China, many bloggers also share their opinions and explanations of the "Run"(润). Among them, there are explanations of why "Run"(润) is related to immigration, and why "Run"(润) is rejected and supported.[9]

Nevertheless, the word "Run"(润) has also been found to have erotic connotations on Bilibili.[10] For instance, there are videos with the titles "Run"(润) that show ladies with a plump body. Strongly feminine women who are associated with the word "Run"(润) may evoke thoughts of sexual activity.

Associated words

Pao Lu(跑路)

“Pao Lu”(跑路) refers to escape and run away. The term is derived from Taiwanese Hokkien and refers to the act of moving or running away overnight to avoid debts or enemies.[11] However, around 2020, the Chinese mainland also saw a lot of Internet usage of “Pao Lu”(跑路). “Pao Lu”(跑路) can be seen as a synonym for "Run"(润). In China, “Pao Lu”(跑路) not necessarily to avoid debt, but perhaps because of social circumstances and personal choices and to "Run"(润) abroad.[12] “Pao Lu”(跑路) also means escaping political persecution by the Chinese Communist Party. For example, Liu Dasheng, a Chinese college student who supported Taiwan's independence, fled to the United States.[13] Moreover, under the rule of Xi Jinping, more than 600,000 Chinese fled to seek refuge in other countries.[14] Xi Jinping carried out a large-scale and comprehensive crackdown on all forces of the people, not only lawyers, but also journalists, scholars and religious figures. Tibetans and Uighurs were also suppressed by Xi Jinping.[14] Therefore, many Chinese choose to “Pao Lu”(跑路) to escape from political oppression and persecution.

Hui Liu(回流)

“Hui Liu”(回流), simply refers to the action of coming out and coming back. However, “Hui Liu”(回流), culturally, refers to the return of an immigrant to settle in his/her country of origin. “Hui Liu”(回流) is seen as the opposite of "Run"(润). Chinese who have gone abroad to study or have acquired status in other countries have come back to China for work, believing that China's economy is more stable.[15] In addition, family and cultural factors also play a large role when Chinese immigrant choosing to“Hui Liu”(回流).[16] Many overseas Chinese choose to settle in China because they miss their families or are unable to integrate into Western society. The feeling and passion for the country is also the reason why overseas Chinese choose to “Hui Liu”(回流), they hope to help build China into a better country.[17]

Neijuan(内卷) or Involution

Typically, people will use the word “Juan”(卷) to refer to “Neijuan”(内卷) in a more casual manner. The word  “Neijuan”(内卷) or involution, was initially pointed out by American anthropologist Alexander Goldenweiser.[18] In modern Chinese culture, the term “Neijuan”(内卷)  refers to the internal revolutionary conduct, or the intense competition that exists within a given institution or industry.[19] “Neijuan”(内卷) is seen as one of the reasons for "Run"(润), because education and employment in China are highly competitive. For instance, in order to be accepted by top universities, Chinese students must acquire and develop their extracurricular abilities because the education sector has limited number of spots. Meanwhile, China is  a populous country with 1.412 billion people.[20] As a result, achieving decent grades is insufficient to build a name for oneself in the educational field, and young people must continuously question what constitutes excellence. A person used to be regarded exceptional if they reached the top of the school, but now they also need to be the president of the student council or a champion swimmer. Therefore, moving abroad for school might be viewed as an act of "Run"(润).


“Tangping”(躺平) is a metaphor for giving up on never-ending effort. In 2021, the “Tangping”(躺平)  movement got its start as many people felt pressure to put in more effort to stand out from their contemporaries.[21] Such tension is not unique to China. In Europe and the United States, economists are also describing a "great wave of quits," with millions of workers retiring, quitting or turning down job offers they consider meaningless or unworthy.[22] “Tangping”(躺平) is seen as one of the reasons for "Run"(润). For example, China has a so-called "996 overtime culture". "996" refers to office workers who work from 9 AM to 9 PM, six days a week. The "996 overtime culture" was also spearheaded by Chinese business tycoon Jack Ma.[23] Many tech companies like ByteDance use such "996 overtime culture".[24] As a result, many young people choose to “Tangping”(躺平) even though they are highly educated and work in tech companies, because the workload is heavy and the working pattern is inhumane. Therefore, resignation and emigration can both be seen as action of "Run"(润).

Counterparts Terms from non-Chinese popular cultures

Hell Joseon (헬조선)

Hell Joseon (헬조선) can be a counterpart term to "Run"(润). The phrase Hell Joseon (헬조선) criticises the current socio-economic circumstances of South Korean youth by combining the English word "hell" with the Korean word "Joseon," which is occasionally used as a derogatory epithet for South Korea. Several of Korea's socio-economic problems, including intense rivalry for jobs and school admittance, high youth unemployment rates, an ageing population, and a low birthrate, were and still are primarily felt by millennials.[25]One must have excellent grades from a top-tier university and a long list of other accomplishments, all earned before even joining the professional sector. It is not sufficient to have good grades and some work experience. Plastic surgery is sometimes even considered "essential" because many employers still demand applicants submit a headshot to be considered for a position.[25]

Koreans purposefully refer to Joseon instead of Korea. Korea was a Japanese colony from 1910 until the end of the Joseon dynasty, which ruled from 1392. The Joseon dynasty was distinguished by the control of a small elite and the hereditary poverty, frugality, and servitude of the majority of the populace. Although the phrase "Hell Joseon" is not new—it has been used at least since 2009—it seems to have gained popularity recently. [26]The "Hell Joseon" Facebook group, which has more than 4,400 "likes" as of this writing and is steadily increasing, is possibly the largest forum. The group's newsfeed is a stream of articles aiming to expose unfairness and absurdity in a nation that prides itself on being a developed country, Korea. Therefore, young adults in Korea are planning to emigrate from a nation they claim they cannot stand to live in.[26]

Therefore, it is not unusual for young people to want to escape, pull away and avoid the socio-economic problems in Korea.The emotion of Hell Joseon (헬조선) is similar to the act of "Run"(润), in terms of the motivation behind them. However, Hell Joseon (헬조선) tends to be just a word used to describe the social status quo  in Korea, which is a noun. However, "Run"(润) is a combination of a noun and a verb, representing both the act of fleeing from a country and the state of having fled to another country.

North Korean defectors (탈북민)

Since the division of Korea after the end of World War II, North Koreans have fled from the country in spite of legal punishment for political, ideological, Such North Koreans are referred to as North Korean defectors by the North Korean regime. Alternative terms in South Korea, where the defectors often end up, include "northern refugees" (Korean: 북북, talbukja or 탈북민, talbukmin). 북민, talbukmin) and "new settlers" (새터민, saeteomin)[27]. Both talbukja and “run(润)” are equally desperate choices of people who have lost hope for their country and chosen to leave.

In the earliest days, people living in North Korea did not have enough food and became talbukja to flee the country and survive. Today, more of the talbukja are wealthy North Koreans, and they are eager to have a better life and a more promising future. and Kim Seung-Eun, a well-known South Korean pastor, is involved in an underground network that helps North Koreans flee to South Korea. He said, "The typical North Korean refugee today is very different from what he was ten years ago."

A 40-year-old talbukja named Choi told AFP that she managed to flee with her mother in 2010 with the help of her sister, who had already fled to Seoul. I didn't starve, but I didn't see any hope of a better life in North Korea," she explained. We went through the Great Famine, commonly known as the 'Arduous March,' and these experiences became my motivation...I want a better life and a promising future. We had a relatively comfortable life in North Korea because of the money my sister gave us (through a Chinese middleman). Still, as we learned more about South Korea through our family members living there, the more we wanted to escape and live the same life as them."[28] Similarly, early Chinese immigrants earned more wages abroad for the same work through the exchange rate gap. When they returned to China to meet friends and family, their success attracted many to aspire to a life abroad.

How is the disictionary meaning of "run(润)" transferred, distorted, or subverted?

In case of getting into trouble because of Internet censorship, Chinese netizens have learned how to use harmonic words and create slang to replace the use of some sensitive words on the Internet. Some Zhihu users also list out some real-life situations where the word 'run' (润) could be used. For example, the Chinese supermarket chain giant "China Resources Vanguard(华润万家)" means "Chinese people have migrated to various countries." Even the famous ancient Chinese poet Du Fu's poem."

Moisturizing things silently(润物细无声)" was taken to mean "those who are really able to immigrate will run away from China silently without letting anyone know." Some netizens have also suggested that the name of Hong Kong star Chow Yun-fat(周润发) means "every immigrates make lots of money abroad and become rich."

Originated from the name of Chinese leader Mao Zedong

Mao Zedong was fascinated by Hu Linyi's talent in a book and changed his name to "Runzhi(润之) "on the advice of his mentor. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Xia Ming mentioned, "When New China was founded, the first leader of the Communist Party, Mao Zedong's alias was Mao Runzhi(毛润之). 'Run Zhi(润之)' sounds like 'run away' in the English context. This is how the word 'Run(润)' emerged from the rise of online social media."

"Run Queen" Eileen Chang in Weibo

Rich people and celebrities "run" first

Xia Ming analyzed that in the 1980s, '89 and 2008, there were several high tides of study abroad and migration, more to the US, Japan and Australia. In the past five years, a group of people started trying to move abroad. They share their experience on the Internet to teach others how to immigrate, which led to the emergence of 'Runology(润学).' Many prominent people have sold their properties and taken their savings to Western countries, such as Guo Wengui, Ai Weiwei and Zhou Xiaozheng. Not only capitalists have taken the plunge, but also celebrities in the entertainment industry, such as Fan Bingbing and Zhao Wei, who have got non-Chinese passports many years ago.[29]

Netizens' admiration for "Run" Queen Eileen Chang

Due to the massive quarantine plan in Shanghai, many people have to find a way out. The discussion of "Run(润)" from Shanghai extends to the late Shanghai-born author Eileen Chang, with one netizen posting a picture of Zhang Eiling on Weibo with the caption: "Worshiping the ancestor (Run Queen)". Some netizens also wrote: "Eileen Chang, bless us with a successful run!" "GoddessEileen Chang, bless me to run sooner!" Some also changed Eileen Chang's famous words "Be famous before it's too late(出名要趁早)" to "Run away before it's too late(出逃要趁早)"[30].

There is less and less discussion of the word "run" and its use as a representation of immigration. The current usage of "run" is gradually moving closer to its English meaning. When people come across something they don't like, they use "run run run" to simply express that they want to slip away.

Social, cultural, and political problems

Behind the Run(润), there is actually a profound social, cultural, and political implications hidden in the background.

For example, the stagnant economic development, aging population, low-end industrial structure, epidemic uncertainty and many other elements have caused a huge wealth gap, an unbridgeable class divide, scarce jobs, a huge number of college students, high housing prices, childcare and other living costs, meager wages.


Many people may feel disappointed about some social phenomenon and decide to move for a better life. Many citizens complain that China's recent "involvement" is too serious and life pressure is too great. Many netizens reported that the competition in their industry is fierce, and overwork and overwork are commonplace; housing prices in big cities are unattainable, and they cannot afford to marry or raise children; returning to small cities or rural areas, knowledge and skills are useless. Instead of being in a dilemma, it is better to find a way to "moisten" and go abroad.

It is an expression of dissatisfaction with the current state of society and a negative psychology between helplessness and hopelessness - for most young people, "Run" studies is a kind of self-deprecation, but also a compromise to their search for solutions to real problems.[31]

In addition, education stands for a big consequence. In China, since the large size of population and limited good schools. In addition, the education system in China is very competitive and controversial. Many parents may consider sending their children abroad for better education.

Such people leave not because of politics, but just to have a higher quality, more balanced life, and a better education for their children. Some people ridicule that going out to compete with foreigners for jobs and reducing the pressure of domestic competition can be regarded as contributing to China in disguise.


Recent years especially for the young generation. Study abroad culture is becoming increasingly popular. It is nothing new for studying abroad or immigration since last decade. China's "post-90s" and "post-00s" young people are born into a world of contradictions. In the first 20 or so years of their lives, they have witnessed the rapid and all-encompassing rise of China, from its economy and trade, to its status and influence in the international community, to the level of unity and support for the government at home. [32]Many of these people may have studied abroad or received higher education. They have witnessed both China’s rapid growth and they have their own international perspectives. In these circumstances, they have their own comparison to make the decision.

There are some more specific reasons for some people. For example, a netizen from a sexual minority said that China does not allow same-sex marriage, and in a conservative social atmosphere, it is difficult to even come out, so they decided to immigrate and start a family overseas with their lover. Some girls also said that they grew up in patriarchal families and suffered gender discrimination in the workplace. Many incidents of mutilation of women have strengthened their willingness to migrate to a more gender-equal society.[33]


There is also a group of people who are worried about China's increasingly tightening political environment. Some netizens said that the current atmosphere in Chinese society terrifies him. They demand unity of thought everywhere. Meanwhile, the trend of “freedom of speech” is becoming impossible. On all of the social media platforms in China, comments are under restricted regulation. The Internet is full of voices shouting. Many of their views are different from mainstream ideology."Floating in the sea by boat". Someone also took "Water Margin" as an example to conclude: Fang La fought with the court and ended badly; king.[34]

A young man responded calmly and desperately that "we are the last generation" when threatened that disobedience would stain the political background for three generations.

Since 2019 when the pandemic started,China’s forever lockdowns have influenced all of the citizens living in China. Especially after Shanghai’s lockdown case, residents were confined to their homes with limited access to food and healthcare. “The global and relatively liberal image of the city collided with the horror stories recorded online during the lockdown. Chronically ill patients ran out of medication, pets were beaten to death on the street for potentially exposing people to COVID, while authorities have broken into houses to forcefully sanitize them. “("Runology:” How to "Run Away" From China, Kathy Huang)[35]

Dorothy Wang, a young Shanghai office worker, said she had never planned to have children in China before. After going through the strict sequestration of the past two months, she was once again sure of her decision. Children should be out in nature playing with other children, she said, but now they are being sequestered at home, subjected to round after round of nucleic acid testing, listening to outbreak prevention and control officers shouting and stern announcements over loud speakers on the street.

"Adults can be so depressed, so desperate, so physically and emotionally unhealthy, let alone little kids," she said. "They'll definitely grow up with psychological problems." She said she plans to emigrate to a Western country, the only way she can live a normal life with dignity.[36]

Scholarly Discussions on the Reasons for Run (润)

The smog in Shanghai is indicative of the severity of air pollution, which increases Chinese people's inclination to "run" (润).


Zhu and Qin first identified 153 cities with reported severe air pollution.[37] Then, they recorded the changes in search frequency of the Chinese word “Yi Min” (emigration) on the Baidu Index (the Chinese counterpart of Google Trending) and checked the changes in search frequency against the air quality of major Chinese cities.[37] The results show that searches on “Yi Min” would dramatically increase the next day after air pollution is reported, which suggests a positive correlation between environmental problems such as air pollution and Chinese people’s interest in emigration (Run)(润).[37]

Political Suppression

The reinvigorated political suppression in recent years has its roots in the reform era when Deng Xiaoping ushered in the policy of “reform within the (socialist) system,” which left China a legacy of the uneasy combination of market economy and authoritarian governance.[38] The periodical tightening of ideological control since the reform era and the governmental crackdown on public demonstrations are indicative of the oppressive political atmosphere within the PRC, which forced political dissidents to “run” (润) (go into exile).[38] The 1989 Tiananmen square student protest marked a watershed moment in the continuing conflicts between the authority and political dissidents. Immediately after the protest, the number of Chines applicants for political asylum and “political refugee” status in western countries skyrocketed. Some even paid for illegal smuggling into western countries, which constitutes the most direct and politicized example of “run” (润).[38]

As Ma mentions, the political dissidents who ran away from the PRC, whether willingly or involuntarily, are often faced with identity crises. Their status as Chinese political exiles obliges them to continue voicing sharp criticism against the Chinese authority while also prohibiting them from fitting into the society of the host countries.[38]

The search frequency for the word "run" (润) has been increasing since march, the beginning of Shanghai lockdown.

Zero-Covid Policy

The lockdown of Shanghai, China’s primary economic powerhouse, in March 2022 under the directive of the Zero-Covid policy has dealt a detrimental impact on the young generation’s perception of authority and their future in the country[39]. Many have voiced discontent about the deprived liberty, privacy, and freedom because of the strict implementation of Covid related regulations.[40] Well-off middle-class individuals who have the wherewithal to emigrate started to contemplate leaving China and settling down in more liberal neighbouring and western countries.[39] Prior to the pandemic Chinese citizens usually acquiesced in the exchange of freedom for security, but neither could be achieved now when city dwellers faced the possibility of being taken to the quarantine facilities in the middle of the night.[40] The unprecedented lockdown of cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai also has a psychological impact on Chinese people, feeling permanently trapped in an authoritarian country, which increases the inclination to “run” (润).[41]

The popularity of “run”(润) related concepts such as “runxue (runology 润学)” and “run philosophy” dramatically increased. Searches of related words on Chinese social media like Weibo, WeChat, and Baidu surged, which is indicative of the growing desire of cosmopolitan elites to flee from China.[39]

Socioeconomic Paradox of Run (润)

The young generation of the PRC faces three choices: “lying flat,” “involution,” and “run” (润).[41] The increasingly competitive market economy and exploiting global capitalism threaten the livelihood of increasing numbers of young Chinese. The periodical economic standstill because of the harsh lockdown and Covid related regulations further exacerbated the economic situation of many Chinese in the lower socioeconomic strata, propelling them to “run” (润) to seek a better life.[40][42] However, the exact reason for “run” (润) (low income) prohibits them from emigrating. Those who managed to “run” (润) through studying or working abroad are almost exclusively the well-off, educated individuals in the middle class. As such, the poor often resort to illegal emigration, either forging admission letters from foreign universities or simply by illegal border crossing.[42]

Run (润), Diaspora, and the Transnational Perspective

The Chinese trend of “run” (润) or escaping from the communist, authoritarian regime is not an isolated case. Instead, it fits well in the global political and sociological phenomenon of diaspora.[43] The overseas Chinese emigrated willingly or involuntarily face similar circumstances as the global diasporic communities of the Jewish, Kurdish, Tibetan, Indian, Albania, Cuban, Turkish and Palestinian expatriates.[43] Though the reasons for diaspora or running away from the homeland are diverse, ranging from ideological opposition, racial discrimination, economic plight, and famine to political and religious persecution, the diasporic communities all bear the same characteristics. According to Safran, they retain the traditions, ceremonies, and rituals of their indigenous culture and resist assimilation even in a host country with freer socio-political context and better livelihood.[43][38]


From “living off one’s parents” (啃老), which appeared many years ago, to “Involution” (内卷) in the previous years, to “lying flat” (躺平) in the past two years and “Run” (润) recently. The changes in Internet buzzwords bear witness to the social, psychological, cultural, and political sea changes. And those words offer a unique perspective to observe the dynamics of the young generation’s thoughts and emotional reactions and the Chinese ever-changing socio-political context.

The politicization of the word “run” (润) and the transformation of its meaning from “benefit,” “moisturizing,” and “comfortable and decent life” to fleeing the country is indicative of the contemporary Chinese context of tightening political, ideological control, multifaceted structural social problems, and Zero-Covid policy. The word itself is multifaceted and full of contradictions. Ostensibly, it is associated with negative feelings against the Chinese authority, propelling the young, well-off, and educated elites to flee from the totalitarian regime. The brain drain effect, the loss of talent and the tightening governmental control over passport issuing and emigration converges with the conventional interpretation of “run” 润. However, the nascent trend of “Hui Liu” 回流, the opposite and inverse direction of “run” 润, complicates the sweeping generalization of people fleeing from the country as the imminent collapse of the regime[17].

A transnational perspective is identifiable in the parallels between “run” and the North Korean defectors and the global diasporic communities.  In addition to China’s socio-political, cultural, and economic problems suggested by the increasing popularity of “run” 润, the word is also associated with highly nationalistic, anti-western, and anti-foreign rhetoric. This dimension is evident in Zhihu users’ opinions that the act of “run” 润 by many anti-Chinese, pro-western Chinese is good for the country as a whole because of the reduced domestic instability and hatred against the government[8]. Therefore, academic research on the symptomatic meanings of “run” should adopt a flexible and multifaceted approach that could best capture the complexities of the phenomenon of “run” 润.


UBC Asian Centre, Bell Shrine, Winter 2013.JPG
This resource was created by Course:ASIA319.
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