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Nu Hanzi, by literal translation, is female (Nu) man (Hanzi). The term is a word of inverted order. Female (Nu) is the subject, and man (Hanzi) is an adjective. Literally, it means manly women. The term has a complex, layered meaning. There are some similarities between the term Nü Hanzi and some other terms such as Nanren Po (男人婆, literally translated as a manly old woman), Jia Xiaozi (假小子, generally translated as tomboy), and Tie Guniang (铁姑娘, literally translated as Iron Girls), etc.}
According to China Daily News, Nu Hanzi is a woman who do certain things such as smoking and weightlifting that are most associated with men. The term has gained popularity over the past few years and is now a trendy term in which “seemingly every woman has come to admit that they were closeted Nü Hanzi all along.” The word choice “closeted” by China’s Daily News is vague and not entirely accurate. It is more reasonable to state that, given the trendiness of the term Nü Hanzi, most women do not mind being associated with the term Nü Hanzi. A part of the reason is female celebrities’ acceptance of the term’s positive connotations in media use.
The contexts of Nanren Po, Jia Xiaozi, and Tie Guniang are complex. To pinpoint a couple similarities, all three terms, just like Nü Hanzi, describe women who do certain things that are associated with men. To partially parse out a couple of differences between the terms and Nü Hanzi, Tie Guniang was used by the state to motivate women to work outside of their homes, so the term has a significant political context, Nanren Po came out of Taiwanese lingo, and Jia Xiaozi has more significant LGBTQ+ connotations. The term Nü Hanzi does not have long historical background and the involvement of the state, nor does it have significant LGBTQ+ connotations or an origin that is strongly associated with Taiwanese lingo.
The following are the twenty common actions associated with Nu Hanzi, listed by China News online on November 6th, 2013:
1. When she cannot open the water bottle, she will try harder and will not seek help. (矿泉水瓶拧不开，会较劲而不是求助 。)
2.When it is hot, she will be naked at home. (天气太热时，会在家里“裸奔”。)
3. She often says and thinks, “it is so much work to be a woman.” (时常发出 “当女生好麻烦” 的感慨。)
4. She likes to tilt her head up and shake the rest of the chips from the bag to her mouth. (喜欢仰着头把袋里的薯片往嘴里倒。)
5. She swears both online and in daily conversations. (平时或网上聊天喜欢说脏话。)
6. She is willing to eat hotpot in places that do not have air conditioning in the summer. (夏天也愿意去吃没有空调的老火锅。)
7. She can replace the huge water bottles on the water dispensers by herself. (能自己换饮水机水桶。)
8. She likes playing online video games such as League of Legends and Dota. (爱玩魔兽争霸、英雄联盟等网络游戏。)
9. If it is too late at night, she will go to bed without brushing her teeth or showering. (时间太晚会不洗漱直接上床睡觉。)
10. She does not wear makeup, and she rarely takes selfies. (不爱化妆，很少自拍。)
11. She can easily become bros with guys. (跟男生很容易成为 “哥们”。)
12. When she dines out, she likes to sit cross-legged or shake her legs. (在外吃饭时喜欢跷二郎腿或抖腿。)
13. She thinks shopping is a hassle. (觉得逛街购物是种麻烦。)
14. She seldom goes to hair or nail salons. (很少进理发店、美甲店或美容院等。)
15. She eats apples without peeling. (吃苹果通常是洗干净直接啃。)
16. She does not wash her face or hair when she stays at home. (在家的时候经常不洗脸不洗头。)
17. She carries her own luggage when she travels. (外出旅游行李自己扛。)
18. She dislikes girls who deliberately act shy or weak because she thinks that is cheesy. (看不惯娇羞发嗲的女生，觉得矫情。)
19. She would run to catch the subway or bus even when wearing high heels. (即便穿高跟鞋也敢猛跑着去追地铁公交。)
20. She would order large plates even when parties of the opposite sex are present. (有异性在场时点餐也敢点大份。)
The list of actions showed the characteristics of Nü Hanzi. Actions 1, 7, and 17 showed a Nü Hanzi's reluctance to seek help and her independence. Actions 2, 4, 5, 6,18,19, and 20 showed Nü Hanzi's disregard for the traditional norm around women's decency and the shy, delicate, refrained characteristics associated with women. Action 3 showed Nü Hanzi's frustration with the limitations that come with being a girl. Action 11 showed Nü Hanzi's characteristics of being in homosocial groups with men. Actions 10, 14, 15, and 16 showed Nü Hanzi's characteristics of lack of hygiene and care for beauty products.
Under the narrative of this list, a Nü Hanzi is rebellious against following traditional gender norms such as the homosocial culture, is stubborn about not asking for nonessential favors, and is carefree about hygiene and beauty.
Negative Connotations in Media Use
When comedian Guo Degang called a woman hanzi(man) in 2009, he was trying to demonstrate that Beauty, the name of the woman in his fictional dating story, ironically had a face “like one of the Transformers (film series)” and weighed at least 130 kilograms because that was the largest number on the scale. Beauty then started shaving her beard and smoking. After she asked Guo Degang to marry her, he commented that marrying her would be equivalent to donating to the red cross and repairing the Great Wall of China. By using the term hanzi, he was implying that the woman he was describing was rude and ugly, and she lacked the polite and poised traits of a feminine woman. This is why he called her hanzi, a man.
In comedian Jia Ling’s performance during the CCTV New Year's Gala in 2015, she portrayed a leftover woman Nü Hanzi who needed help from the goddess to show her how to be prettier and attract more suitors. The Nü Hanzi had to fix household appliances by herself because she did not have any suitors to help her.This part of her nationally televised performance had received some backslash because it made fun of normal women who are in their thirties, have not married, and are not pretty by typical standards. Such a portrayal conflicted with the then already popular positive connotations around Nü Hanzi being a term for female independence and empowerment.
Positive Connotations in Media Use
On Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, Li Ai popularized the term Nü Hanzi in 2013. She put a positive spin on the term when she posted: “who are Nu Hanzi? If you still associate the term with “women who are like men,” your understanding might need an update. Her comments started a discussion about Nü Hanzi, which brought out a sense of female empowerment to the term Nu Hanzi. In this renewed definition of Nü Hanzi, she tossed aside the meaning that deemed Nü Hanzi ugly and uncouth and instead emphasized their independence, decisiveness, and free will.
After this new definition, many famous women celebrities started to use the term Nü Hanzi to describe themselves, and the media started using the term to compliment women celebrities. And the term becomes a popular and trendy slang to describe women who are brave and independent in both their professional careers and personal lives. In popular media, many female celebrities are described as Nü Hanzi for trying out new acts and putting in visible efforts toward certain programs. When it comes to personal lives, female celebrities are either called by people online or called themselves Nü Hanzi for bravely showing pictures of selfies without makeup on or moving heavy appliances around the house. It is important to note that these are just a couple of examples of how certain expressions of women could be called a Nü Hanzi.
Interestingly, Yao Chen, a famous actress, initially expressed her opinion in 2014 that she refused to adopt the term Nü Hanzi because Nü Hanzi, to her, was still describing women as having manly traits. It enforces the gender binary and thus does not fully “respect the women” for being themselves.
Timeline of the Term's Popularizations
The term has negative connotations about women and was, before and during the first few years of its rise to popularity, used online to critique a woman, but it has gained popularity and now has more positive connotations.
In 2009, comedian Guo Degang’s punchline “Girl, you are a real hanzi (man)” became famous in his xiangsheng (crosstalk) show “你得娶我 (you have to marry me).”
2013-06-05 #女汉子的自我修养(# Self Cultivation of Nü
Hanzi) trending on Weibo Corporation.
2013-08-29 Actress Sun Li (actress) was called Nü Hanzi by China News.
2013-08-07 Actress Fan Bingbing urged the media to call her Nü Hanzi instead of Nü Shen (Goddess).
2013-08-08 Actress Fan Bingbing and Angelababy claimed to not want to be Nü Shen.
2013-12-25 Actress Zhang Ziyi was called Nü Hanzi by Sina News.
2014-08-11 Actress Yao Chen criticizes the term Nü Hanzi as a disrespectful term for women.
2014-09-30 Actress Fan Bingbing, Yang Mi, Shi Tianqi, Zhang Jingchu were identified as Nu Hanzi by China Daily News.
2014-10-29 Actress Liu Yifei was called a Nü Hanzi by Sina News.
2014-11-13 Actress Zhou Xun was described as Nü Hanzi by China Daily News. 
2015-02-19 Model Qu Ying and Comedian Jia Ling’s show “女神和女汉子” (Nü Shen and Nü Hanzi) on the 2015 CCTV Spring Festival GalaDraft:Nü Hanzi#%20ftn15.
2016-12-13: Actress Shu Qi was called Nü Hanzi by the media.
The timeline serves to show how quickly first-string women celebrities in China adopted or were associated with the term Nü Hanzi after Li Ai’s Weibo post in 2013. The examples here only show the tip of the iceberg of the prevalence of that adoption of Nü Hanzi in media. Nü Hanzi’s popularization has continued after 2016.
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