Languages of Security in the Asia-Pacific

College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University

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Chinese – Nàoshì

May 27th, 2011 · No Comments · Chinese, Riot

鬧事 (闹事)


Relates to riot, creating trouble or disturbance

The term combines the two characters, 鬧 (nào) and 事 (shì).

鬧 – nào – noisy; to make a noise; bustling; to disturb[1]

事 – shì – a matter; a trouble, an event or an accident[2]

Nàoshì (鬧事) carries the meaning of a person or a group of people making trouble or disturbance contributing to disorder. The usage of the term nàoshì in the Chinese language dates back to the late 19th century during the Qing Dynasty. In a literary work, Odd Things Witnessed over Twenty Years, it states, “a government official in the beginning only knew that his son and his son’s advisor created a disturbance. But the official did not know that they hit and injured others” (Fán tái qǐchū zhǐ zhīdào er zi hé shīyé zàiwài nàoshì, bùcéng zhīdào dă shāng rén yījié. 藩臺起初只知道兒子和師爺在外鬧事,不曾知道打傷人一節).[3] The term is applied in various contexts, for example, jiŭ zuì nàoshì (酒醉鬧事), getting drunk and creating a disturbance; qiúmí nàoshìi (球迷鬧事), fans at a sports game creating a disturbance; dăjià nàoshì (打架鬧事), fighting and creating a disturbance; and shìwēi nàoshì (示威鬧事) holding a demonstration and creating disturbance.

The term nàoshì is intimately tied to Chinese perspectives on power and those that oppose it.  Nàoshì covers a broader range of meanings tied to the management and control of social issues which are considered a direct threat to the state’s authority. However, some assert that the real significance of nàoshì is that it is used in a way that can delegitimise troublemakers who are seen as worthy of government sanction.

According to Mao Zedong, nàoshì is a contradiction among people.[4] In stating this, Mao is explicitly linking nàoshì Marxist ideology, in which the emergence of contradictions highlights the structural defects of a given political superstructure, necessitating the evolution of society towards its socialism.  Nàoshì results from clash of interests among people of different groups in a society, from conflicts between people and the bureaucracy, or from conflicts between a leader and the public. Nàoshì is manifested in various formats, both violent and non-violent. For example, fans of two teams at a soccer game fight or scuffle with each other because of conflicting views on the result, farmers stage protests against the local government because their land rights were deprived during government redevelopment, labourers go on strike demanding management increase their wages, or people get together outside a court to protest against a unfair ruling. Thus nàoshì occupied an important, positive, ideological role under Mao rule. The CCP regarded it as a way to strengthen the bureaucracy and as a way to resolve social problems. Mao Zedong once said, “In a big country like us, there is no need for us to make such a fuss about a few people making disturbance (nàoshì). Instead, it will be able to help us overcome the bureaucracy … in our society, the public making a disturbance is a bad thing which we do not approve. However, the occurrence of these incidents (nàoshì) could prompt us to learn lessons, overcome bureaucracy, and educate cadre members and the public.”[5]

Today, however, unrestrained nàoshì is increasingly seen as a problem for the state. With rapid economic development, China is seeing an exacerbation of social problems, such as the enlarged poverty gap, people’s interests infringed, and people’s discontent with bureaucracy’s inefficiency and corruption. Unsurprisingly, this period has seen a decrease in ideological references to nàoshì, with authorities shifting tack towards managing these challenges quietly. Beijing’s approach is defined by the principle of “mediating, not blocking; dispersing, not assembling; giving way, not agitating; unknotting, not tying a knot (yi shū bùyí dǔ, yi sàn bùyí jù, yi shùn bùyí jī, yi jiě bùyí jié (宜疏不宜堵,宜散不宜聚、宜顺不宜激、宜解不宜结)” when dealing with nàoshì so as to pacify the anger of the public and solve their problems.

Nàoshì can also refer to criminal acts that disrupt law and order; however it is most often used to refer to the unleashing of tensions amongst people that have tolerated their circumstances without seeing any improvement over a long period of time. Sometimes people feel that they have to resort to their own methods through nàoshì’ to seek a resolution. There is a slang phrase, ‘bù nào bù jiějué, xiǎo nào xiăo jiějué, dà nào dà jiějué’ (不鬧不解決、小鬧小解決、大鬧大解決), which conveys the sense that  ‘issues will not be settled without making disturbances; issues will be settled at a minor scale if a minor scale of disturbances were made; issues will be settled in a large scale if a large scale of disturbances are made’. The prevalence of such beliefs, and the increased frequency of nàoshì reveal the lack of an efficient legal system and the absence of any well-functioning administrations in China. Consequently, it is hard for people to express their disenchantment or even to make an appeal. The people are increasingly aware of their rights vis-à-vis the bureaucracy – but their inadequate knowledge of the legal means of defending them – is another key reason for the increased occurrence of nàoshì. Ironically, judging from the abundant commentary on nàoshì and the sharing of experiences on how to deal with it in the administrations’ public announcements and academic circles, the Chinese central and local governments seem to have developed cleared ideas on how to respond to nàoshì.

Nàoshì has a negative connotation from the Chinese authorities’ perspective because it is associated with disturbances emanating from the grass-roots of society that threaten state stability. However, from a popular perspective, nàoshì is a way to express resentment against social problems and inefficient bureaucracy as well as a way to fight for rights perceived to be deprived to them by the administration. The Chinese central and local governments are not unaware of these concerns; indeed, they understand that people’s voices must be taken seriously, and measures must be established so as to defuse and deal with nàoshì. These measures include improving the legal system and distribution of resources, establishing effective social and community channels for people to release tension and reinforcing the ideological pressure on the general public to conform to ideals of social stability.

Whether nàoshì can be settled or calmed is a critical test of the crisis management capabilities of Chinese central and local authorities. Judging from the scale and frequency of nàoshì in the past, Chinese authorities are experienced and confident in handling nàoshì that result from social problems. Another important aspect of the contemporary phenomenon is that Chinese authorities and media sometimes refer to a small scale of disturbances with political or religious agenda as nàoshì as well, such as Tibetan independence movements, East Turkistan (Xinjiang) independence movements, or the Falun Gong. The use of nàoshì with regards to these movements reveals the Chinese authorities’ intention of negatively casting these ‘disturbances’ in the general public’s perception. Nevertheless, there is a contradiction here if the Chinese authorities respond to nàoshì resulting from social problems but fail to respond to nàoshì relating to political incidents. Another concern for the CCP is that once people begin to take ‘nàoshì’ for granted and use nàoshì as a ‘normal’ way to solve their problems, how much nàoshì can the authorities tolerate as part of a way to improve its bureaucracy. There is a fear that nàoshì will eventually get out of control and evolve into large-scale uprisings, which will not only jeopardise the stability of China but also the longevity of the CCP regime – especially if China cannot effectively advance its bureaucracy.

In recent years, a more neutral term, ‘qúntĭ xìng shìjiàn’ (群體性事件), meaning ‘group incidents or events’, has emerged to describe those social and political flashpoints designated as nàoshì. Qúntĭ xìng shìjiàn is used extensively in Chinese official remarks, research papers, speeches and media when they are actually referring to nàoshì. The trend reflects the Chinese government’s growing willingness to hold a more sympathetic attitude towards dealing with the disturbances and resolving people’s problems. For example, in the Chinese official media outlet, Xinhuanet, a commentary advised officials that ‘group incidents’ should not simply be conceived as nàoshì, rather, officials should not respond with oppressive measures to silence people’s voices.[6]




[1] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 985. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1996, Vol 12, p. 720

[2] Xiandai Hanyu Cidian (Modern Chinese Dictionary, the 5th Edition), Beijing: Commercial Press, 2006, p. 1245. Hanyu Da Cidian (Comprehensive Dictionary of Chinese Words), Shanghai: Hanyu Da Cidian Press, 1994, Vol 1, p. 544

[3] The 72nd Chapter of “Odd Things Witnessed over Twenty Years,” 註解待

[4] Another form of contradiction that Mao suggested is a contradiction between people and their enemies, for example, international anti-China forces, those who undermine the socialist political system and those who are opponents of the Chinese Communist Party. Please see a speech that Mao Zedong delivered at the State Conference on February 27, 1957, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” [accessed March 26, 2009]

[5] A speech Mao Zedong delivered at the State Conference on February 27, 1957, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” [accessed March 26, 2009]

[6] “A Commentary: Officials Who Are in Charge Should Not Preconceive Group Incidents as ‘Disturbance’,” the, [accessed April 2, 2009]


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