In the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (温家宝) scribbled the traditional phrase, “Much stress regenerates a nation,” or duo nan xing bang (多难兴邦), on a classroom blackboard to encompass the sense of a national tragedy in some sense redeemed by solidarity and national strength. In response, Internet users, who criticized this sentiment at empty in the face of government responsibility for such problems as shoddy school construction, coined their own related phrase — replacing the third character xing with the character chuan (穿), meaning to “pierce,” “penetrate” or “pass through.”

The result was a new phrase, “Much stress faced and overcome regenerates a nation,” or duo nan chuan bang (多难穿邦). The phrase has much of the same meaning, but implies that the nation cannot become stronger if disasters, and their human causes, are not faced up to openly, and if lessons are not drawn that prevent future disaster.

For more on this phrase, readers can turn to this powerfully worded essay by CMP fellow Zhai Minglei, “You have failed us, Mr. Wen.”