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The Chinese character for "warm" in a serif font.

Nuan (暖) is a term used to describe a person's state of mind or a person's behavior to bring about feelings. Throughout history, mastering the origin and roots of language and its role in media can help modern people better understand the use of language in social space and the context of its use. In the current rapidly developing information age, we can start by digging deeper into the audience's perception of this type of media and the trends that are forming in the media. By examining the influence of nuan (暖) and how it played out in different changes in society and culture, we can reveal the dynamics and social ideology of the Chinese people in a particular period, while gaining a clearer view of the development of contemporary society.

The genesis of the keyword

In Chinese popular culture, the word "nuan" (暖)is used as a sensory warmth. A warm, touching word to describe personal feelings and behavior, so it is difficult to trace the exact origin of the word "warm". A classic pop culture term is used to describe society's new definition and demand for men, often translated into “warm boy”. Here are the key characteristics of the word:

体贴细致会关心和照顾人 Being considerate and caring for others

长相清秀并且打扮得体 Handsome and well groomed

开朗阳光,善良,勇于承担责任 Cheerful sunshine, kind, and dare to take responsibility

In addition to daily life, love is often described with warm feelings in TV dramas, because love in TV dramas also has this quality. Men set from the early Qiong Yao play of the deep deception playing with female feelings of men to the back of the infiltration of Taiwan idol drama ushered in the domineering president. The audience eventually got tired of both. The shift in the meaning of the relationship is partly due to the Korean Wave and the boom in South Korean music and TV dramas. Since March 2007, a fan reposted a video of super junior's Korean program. The title was "Warm Men Hot War". At the beginning of the program, the new word "hun-nam" was introduced, which was defined as "a man who feels warm when you see him", and the subtitle group translated it as "warm man".[1] The term has since been applied to male characters in South Korean dramas who are considerate and gentle. Dramas like With You 最好的我们 in 2016, A Love So Beautiful 致我们单纯的小美好 in 2017, Put Your Head On My Shoulder 致我们暖暖的小时光 in 2019.

Glossary of its explicit dictionary meanings

Dictionary Meaning of 暖

The historical evolution of nuan (暖)from the seal script to the regular script.

The word warm, or written as 暖 (pronounced as nuǎn) using Chinese Characters, can be used to describe warming a brazier against the cold. Means to warm up against the cold by basking in the sun. Warm can be used as an adjective and a verb. By extension, it also means having energy, beauty, and happiness. nuan can be used to describe anything that subjectively creates a good feeling[2]. In classical Chinese, "暖" is mainly used as a verb to make warm.

Etymology Meaning of 暖

Chinese characters are one of the earliest writing systems in the world. The first known appearance dates back 5,000 years, when they first appeared as hieroglyphs[3]. Nuan is firstly from "Chen Ji Shang", "Guang Yun", "Chu Ci · Tianwen" and so on. The structure of nuan is left and right: the "ri" (日)on the left, meaning the sun, and the "yuan"(爰) on the right, representing aid. Therefore, the direct translation of "warm" can be regarded as "the sun's aid against the cold[4].

“Warm”暖 in Chinese Popular Culture: Multiple Meanings and Usages

Let's Watch The Meteor Shower 一起来看流星雨:DuanMu Lei(端木磊) is one of the supporting actors, his prince outlooking, warm caring for the female heroine, which just like the subtitle writes, “his existence makes people feel safe and warm.” Although he is the not the leading hero, his popularity degree even exceed the leading hero.

The definition of Warm is derived from a diversified range of physical, psychological and sociopolitical contexts. The common dictionary definition of warm is about the physical sensation and temperate temperature. In contemporary China, Warm(暖) has multiple meanings and usages, which even becomes a network buzzword to praise people’s heart-warming actions and considerate personality.The adoption of this new context and implicit meaning is commonly  seen in mass media about people’s thoughtful behaviours, such as many contemporary Chinese idol dramas will create one character who has this thoughtful characteristic as the attractive point. Let’s Watch the Motor Shower 一起来看流星雨 was a famous television shows in China, which is about the school life between one girl and four boys. One of  the character DuanMu Lei(端木磊) wins many unexpected popularity from audiences because of his warm actions and moderate characteristic, whose popularity even exceeds the male protagonist. Under the influence of this media, many girls even consider such warm trait as one of essential emotional concepts to decide whether they should start the relationship with boys. [5]

Politically, Warm is also defined as the main spirit that PRC tries to convey, to enhance the public solidarity and cohesion. Some state-owned entertainment companies even creating specific micro-films to propagandize this core post-socialist value, for example Tencent Company as  the head of entertainment enterprise publishes a micr-film《Warm》to show citizens’ cross-age, workplace and the sense of familiarity caring, which satisfying with the collective moral campaigns for sociopolitical goals. For example, the ending scene of 《Warm》, stuck in characers' smiling face and the frame amplifies this heart-warming moment. Meanwhile, the upper corner red words highlight the core post-socialist ideology: appeal to the elderly groups and promote the solidarity.

Associate Words:

Warm man (暖男)

The screenshoot from IU’s latest music video “Ending Scene”. The use of close-up shoot captures Kim Soo Hyun’s warm actions, who is protecting IU’s forehead with his hands to avoid being hurt by the corner of the cabinet.

This buzzword originates from Korean appellation: OPPA(欧巴), normally when girls call guys who is slightly older than them, but it is also a name for intimacy between  young men and women. There are several standards of evaluating a warm man:

For the girl: A warm man should not only pay attention to every details of girl’s conversation, but also willing to listen their whimper patiently.

For the family: A warm man can share some houseworks without complaining, and able to maintain a good parent-child relationship.[6]

NuanXin (暖心)

In sociological term, it means some heart-warming actions or sentences from the stranger,  which brings the unexpected warmth to people’s heart. The way of defining NuanXin does not have to be something necessarily spectacular. Instead, it normally just a small movement or even one short sentence reveal your concern. Nowadays, CCTV news and many state online accounts like sharing different types of heart-warming moments or stories, to improve the collective moral campaign in public and emphasize harmonious aspects of society. For example, “Heart-warming stories in the quarantines” is a  hot topic over past two years, many popular mass media like Weibo微博 and Douyin抖音creates the specific platform for people to share their heart-warming moments. One side, the PRC tries to comfort citizens’ anxious while they are blocked out of the normal daily life, but also gathers their solidarity toward fighting against the pandemic.   

Nuan Sang (暖嗓)

This bullet curtain comes from the HuNan television show “Singer”(歌手). The underlined praises says that “Greenly has such a warm voice, my heart in melting when he sings”.

Beside describes the physical and emotional warmth, "Warm" is also a modern evaluation to judge people’s voice. This new usage comes from the Cullet curtain弹幕, which is the most popular press to create many new usages. Many young audiences like using Warm to praise the singer’s voice quality while watching some professional music programs. Beside the lyrics, the idea of warm is more trend to be singer’s special voices,  which closely related to another popular word called “fairy voice” (神仙嗓音). A more detailed explanation will be this warm voice has the therapeutic effect to people’s nervous, able to smooth people’s stress and anxiety while listening to it. [2]  There are many represented singers who has such “fair voice”: ZhouShen(周深) and Greeny(吴青峰). [7]

Rén Qíng Lěng Nuǎn(人情冷暖)

This idiom extends the meaning of warm from the physical level to the humanistic level. RenQing represents the social customs, and cold means indifferent attitude and warm means intense caring, this popular idiom also highly consistent with the tenet of post-socialism. This point to traditional Chinese culture reflect the importance given to   humanized requirements.

Commercial Usage:

Network Technology:Love Nikki (奇迹暖暖)

The cover page of Love Nikki, is full of the warm pink colour and fantasy elements like the background castle and the character's princess dress, which match most female players' fantasy imagination.

Love Nikki is a popular female-oriented mobile game, targeted on young girls  who are aged 12 and over. And scholars (2021) in a case study conducted in Indonesia contends that most respondents for the Love Nikki Game were women with percentage of 95.74% in the gender category.[8]

Dressing-up and role playing are two attracting points in this game. The main character Nikki, whose Chinese name is “NuanNuan”(暖暖), this virtual lovely girl’s fairytale world satisfies with most girls’ shopping desires and their fantasy outfits like Lolita or princess dresses in reality. The replicated form of name “NuanNuan” in Chinese culture, which closely attaches to the sense of affinity or likeable impression. Therefore, the setting of this virtual character caters to the public preference about the ideal model of a girl who is over 12 years, who always takes care of her friends and be friendly to everyone in the life. However, the image of Nikki easily limits girls’ characteristics in both appearance and personality, it delivers the type of gender stereotype on girls and invisibly forces them to come close this setting, for example tomboy’s(假小子) image is opposed to Nikki’s tender one.

We know that this game is targeted to girls because Purnami and Argus [9] in their case study on Mobile Legend and Love Nikki found that 95.74% of players were women and that 49.17% of players were aged between 12-22. Although this case study was conducted in Indonesia, it can give us insights to the situation in China. As we know “眼” represents to some extend social expectations for girl. So, calling a girl game 奇迹暖暖 has several implications. Love Nikki is a dress-up game mostly targeted to girls, around half of them are aged between 12 and 22. The objective of the game is to collect outfits and dress our in-game characters. However, in-game characters are very “anime like” and not very realistic and diverse, they share common facial and body features. They look like dolls with perfect proportions. In other words, they are represented according to beauty standards, for most unrealistic beauty standards. There is also the fact this game further objectifies women, not only does the characters look like dolls but also this game purpose is to dress them meaning they can’t do anything besides being dressed-up. They are doll-like puppets that can’t act. We can ask ourselves what effects playing this game have on young girls? What kind of effect will these unrealistic beauty standards have on their development? Will they project themselves on these in-game characters? Will their behavior change? Here lies the danger, the girls playing this game can internalize these unrealistic beauty standards. This will impact their mind development. If they identify themselves with these characters, it can also change their behavior and perception of femininity or what is "beautiful".

Transferred, distorted, or subverted Meaning:

Bǎo Nuǎn Sī Yín Yù (饱暖思淫欲):[10]

The original usage of  Bao Nuan(饱暖) is describing the perfect lifestyle, people have enough food and warm clothes. However, this positive word is embedded in the folk idiom(as part of low-culture 低俗文化) as the progress of times.

This Folk idiom usually appears with warning sense and educational purpose,  the basic meaning is: Compare to ancient people, many new generations have not only been satisfied with basic food and clothing issues, but have more desires in the level of spiritual satisfaction, such as the pursuit of social status. Therefore, this folk is used to expose the ugly side of human nature.

Non-Chinese counterparts

In French, there is the equivalent of several Chinese meanings. Firstly, the noun 暖和 can be translated in French with chaud, both term have the same meaning. Also, the adjective 暖心的 which is equivalent to “qui fait chaud au cœur » or “réconfortant” can’t be translate by a single word but a phrase, an example phrase would be: “son geste m’a fait chaud au cœur”. Previously in the associated meaning of Nuan, we mentioned Nuanxin, this phrase reflects the same concept. There is also the adjective 暖和地, equivalent to the adverb chaudement, en example phrase would be “Je me suis habillé chaudement pour cette journée d’hiver”. All of the equivalences are related to temperature.

However, French also has equivalents on idioms. Hence, “chaleur humaine” is the equivalent of 人情冷暖, representing human warmth. “Pleurer à chaudes larmes” is similar to 热泪盈眶, expressing tears of genuine grief. Another common expression present in both Chinese and French is “Il faut battre le fer quand il est chaud” or 趁热打铁, meaning taking action before it’s too late. Chinese and French share equivalence for different meanings of 暖 but we notice that in French “chaud” is mostly used to describe warmth that can be felt physically, hence it has less “abstract” meaning in comparison to Chinese 暖.

Social, cultural, and political problems

Cultural Problem

The ideology of “Nuan” in Naming culture, which relates to the gender stereotype. In China, the name is a main carrier. Name embodies the parents' affection and expectations for their children, and plays a subtle role in life. In the social aspect, it is an indispensable tool in daily communication, since it will deliver a certain social value. When we mention a person's name, we immediately think of the person's appearance, temperament, temperament, experience and deeds This especially affects girls as they are the one that receive the word “Nuan” in their name. It expresses the parents intention for the girl to grow up and have this personality trait : warm and gentle. It also represents the stereotyped and desired personality for girls. Even from a gender perspective, this word is more associated with women when it is used as an adjective.

Sociopolitical issues from Bǎo Nuǎn Sī Yín Yù (饱暖思淫欲)

The phrase is often used to describe a degeneration of morality and human nature of irresistible to temptation. Once people have adequate material conditions, they will pursue more to satisfy illegitimate desires. This phenomenon is widespread among those who hold power and influence in political circles and other fields. Lei Lei said in "Men get worse when they have power" that with the constant satisfaction of "fullness(暖)", news related to officials' sex scandals about them "sleeping with someone" and being involved in "naked chatting" emerge endlessly[11]. Under the bureaucratic system, many officials use their power to play with women, embezzle and take bribes. However, another author, Zhang Yu, states that there is no logical causal relationship between "fullness" and "lust". She argues that the degeneration of behaviour originates from the decline of ideology and morality[12]. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize the necessity and importance of moral education, so that socialist modernization can proceed along a healthy path in an all-around way[12].

The modern Chinese people demand much more than adequate "food and clothing" (饱暖). Culture and cultural policies are also crucial in realizing the goal of achieving a "fairly prosperous society" (小康社会) (Yao, 2002)[13]. Under foreign culture shock and globalization trends, it is necessary to select and absorb new and old cultures. Therefore, in the process of cultivating a new culture in modern society, the most important thing is to find traditional values that align with modern concepts so that absorption and innovation are more likely to produce positive effects (Yao, 2002)[13].

Political issues from the State

In this poster, the PRC government wants to show that they are concerned about working class people’s difficulties and that they will take concrete actions to understand and improve their living conditions. It’s part of their propaganda to comfort them,  here “暖” is used to show the state’s care and consideration for the people.

The Chinese government uses the concept of “warmth” in its propaganda. They used it to portray “love” and warmth in society to strengthen and promote social cohesion. “眼” is used to describe warmth in human interactions. It can portray family love between several generations: grandparents, parents, and children. It reflects Confucian values with the notion of filial piety. It can also portray social warmth between the citizens like juniors helping elders or the wealthy helping the poor. Sun and Zhao in their article “Television culture with « Chinese characteristics »” [14] talked about how the state through television programs built a “cross-class love” narrative, smoothing inequality and appeasing discontentment over inequalities and social class conflicts. Another aim of this propaganda is to shift the focus to achieve “happy life” rather than focusing on negative aspects. Wanning Sun in his paper “Consumption Plus Love: Inequality, Domestic Utopia, and China’s New Politics of the Future” [15] shows how CCTV solves social inequality with its love stories. He takes the example of rural migrants' love stories. CCTV love stories instead of focusing on inequalities that migrant workers face such as the hukou system, it focuses on optimism of a better future. The message is to not lament on your current situation but work toward a better one.

Based on this propaganda poster, there is no traits that reveal the female protagonist's professional and calm characteristics. Instead, audience only see the sweet and romantic relationship between this couple.

Social Problem from the gender perspective

The Mass media is the projection of social reality, reflecting the real-life scene. Many modern words such as “Warm man”(Nuan Nan)and “heart-warming”(Nuan Xin) have been active in public media recently. Huang argues that the image of "warm men" in TV dramas is gradually affecting the construction of social gender.[16] In those televisions, women no longer regard masculinity(男子气概) as a unified standard that men should possess but hope to receive more understanding and spiritual communication from them.

With the enhancement of women's education level and economic independence, women rely less on material needs while looking for their life partners. Specifically, they shift their criteria from the pursuit of men’s economic strength to the spiritual pursuit of men’s consideration. “The Rational Life” is a recent popular TV series, mainly about the cradle-snatcher relationship. The female protagonist is a professional career woman in her 30s who struggles in a male-dominated company. On the other hand, the male protagonist is a college student who just entered society, he falls in love with the female protagonist at first glimpse then decides to accompany, guard by side. Based on this storyline, indicates that women have more opportunities in social life, but they still struggled with some kind of unequal situation. Women are more likely to feel emotionally stressed due to the physical disadvantages of working place; therefore, they need more spiritual protection than usual. Back in real life, the "warm man" image constructed by television affects Chinese women's view of love and mate choice. To some extent, the image of "warm men" on TV significantly affects women's aesthetic preferences for men around them and their expectations for soul mates. From the social psychological perspective, the emergence of this “warm man hot” phenomenon amplifies that women in the new era need someone to accept their vulnerable parts and understand where they do not perform well.

Studies related to the keyword

Language Studies

In the publication “The Linguistics of Temperature”, the authors Koptjevskaja-Tamm and Benjamins suggested that the level of warmth is usually compared with the experiencer's subjective comfort standard. “Warm” is often an intermediate term in the system of temperature terminology. Also, there are different understandings and expressions of the degree of warmth across cultures and regions. For example, in the Ubanguian language, there are as many as twelve ideophones for expressing the term “warm”[17]. While in Indonesian, there is only one simple native word that means “warm”[17]. Therefore, it is important to encode the temperature words across languages based on the distinctions of each specific term to convey the most appropriate meaning[17].

Literary Studies

In Liang Hong's "How warm is warmth? - A discussion of writing aesthetics from Massage", she looked at the significance of "warm" in literature. Massage is a novel by Bi Feiyu that focuses on a group of blind people living in the dark, which is considered warm, touching and healing to readers. In Liang's interpretation, the "warmth" delivered by the story is not just "the true, the good and the beautiful"(真善美) but a state of mind, never giving up self-esteem and self-worth in this hardened and ruthless reality (Liang, 2008)[18]. This determination and courage to overcome all resistance is a more complex and solemn emotion that the author wants to express and affirm. At the same time, "warmth" is reflected in Bi's writing angle and attitude. Bi enters the life of blind people from an ordinary and usual perspective. He doesn't portray the characters as the "bottom" who need mercy and rescue but as a special group living normally around us[18]. "Warmth" represents such a vision that it listens, cares and understands, rather than pity or displace their voice[18]. Such literary views and values achieve a truly warm work.

Psychological Science Studies

In Ou and Luo’s research on colour emotion and colour preference, they found out that participants of the experiment considered warm colours like red often associated with feelings of happiness, showiness, and forcefulness. These emotional implications are usually related to the colour-appearance attributes of warm colour, such as greater hue, lightness, and chroma (Ou & Luo, 2004)[19]. A similar study by Keller Matthew and his colleagues also identified that warm atmospheres, such as a high level of sunlight, were associated with participants’ high moods. For example, the warm and sunny spring creates a pleasant environment for people’s memories and cognition (Keller, 2005)[20]. Meanwhile, the study showed that excessive heat reliably induced violent behaviours or low potency[20]. Both studies proposed that humans’ physical or visual perception of “warmth” can directly affect psychological processes and decisions.


The character of warm (暖) has multiple definitions, physically means the temperate heat that makes people feel comfortable; mentally means that act considerate and gentle to other people. In the current rapidly developing information age, “warm” has become a collective term that includes different characteristics, such as being considerate, thoughtful, cheerful, etc. To follow up this modern trend, the Chinese government adopts this term as one of the core socialist values, to enhance the solidarity among the different working classes. 暖 is also used for commercial purposes: the image of "warm man" (暖男) is particularly popular on screen and the term is used to name girls game like Love Nikki. Therefore, the definition of “Warm” has been extended widely in social, political and commercial areas. However, while the derived meanings are numerous, equivalence can't always be found in other languages, showing the complexity of the Chinese language. The term due to its diverse usage raises several socio-political issues: gender stereotypes and social expectations of women, greed of human nature and the illusion of social harmony constructed by State propaganda. Lastly, studies have found that the 暖 goes beyond just a temperature, it can reflect a state of mind or/and a visual perception directly linked to our cognitive functions.  

For further investigation, we can focus on how the idea of warmth is related to the romantic spirit in contemporary televisions? By comparing the figure of Warm man and the love relationship between QiongYao and San Mao's romance. Moreover, we can explore how PRC edits the physical definition of "Warm" and incorporates it into the ideology of post-socialism.


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