Chinese Urban Dictionary: Ningmengjing

By Mia Li, September 20, 2019

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Ningmengjing / níng méng jīng / 柠檬精 n. someone who is so envious of another person’s possessions or achievements so as to harbor suspicion and resentment

A: Look! This guy is live-streaming proposing to his girlfriend with 100,000 Xiaomi phones! 

B: I bet they’ll get divorced within the year. 

A: You are such a ningmengjing

B: Ugh. I don’t even have a boyfriend. 

Imagine doing internship after internship for no pay after graduating from college or even grad school, but seeing your peers on WeChat moments sitting on the board of public companies founded by their fathers. Imagine working a regular nine-to-five job and having to think twice about buying things on Pinduoduo, but reading stories on Zhihu about others dropping tens of thousands of kuai on bottles of champagne at night clubs. Imagine never having the chance to buy an apartment in Beijing, while seeing others showing off stacks of fangchanzheng (apartment ownership certificates) on Douyin. Imagine having your girlfriend break up with you because you can’t buy her the latest Huawei phone, while seeing some guy livestreaming vacationing with their girlfriends at five-star hotels in Sanya. 

If you were to bite yourself in those moments, what would you taste like? Probably either sour or bitter, because you have just been turned into a human-shaped lemon filled with bitter juice! 

Welcome to the age of social media, where the lifestyle of the rich and privileged is only one click away from us regular people. Platforms from WeChat to Alipay love to promote their aspirational content and fans up-vote their answers on Zhihu until they become KOLs. Coupled with the fact that we only see the most up-voted content (because come on – ain’t nobody got time for anything else), suddenly we are all wobbling yellow lemons bursting with bitter juice wondering “How come they have so much and I have so little?” 

And that is a ningmengjing. Literally meaning “lemon essence,” a ningmengjing is someone who is envious of those who are more successful than themselves. Some ningmengjing are bitter, blaming themselves and others for their misfortune; others are sour, thinking that the rich will eventually fall from their thrones one day. Some call themselves ningmengjing as a form of self-deprecation, because they know they will never be in the social media spotlight and will always be up-voting KOLs from the sidelines. 

Welcome to the People’s Republic of Envy. Whether you are a bitter or a sour ningmengjing, we hope you make lemonade of it all. 


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