he year 2016 has been one of big news, from the intense US presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to the impeachment of South Korean President Park Geun-hye due to her close friend Choi Soon-sil’s alleged meddling in the State’s affairs. Those events happened a long way from most Chinese netizens, but there’s still a strong interest in following the events, just like watching a TV show. In Chinese, these people are referred to as “chigua qunzhong,” rubberneckers or random onlookers.
Chigua means “eating sunflower seeds,” a popular snack in China, and qunzhong is one of many Chinese terms referring to the masses or the public. The term thus conjures up the image of onlookers snacking while watching from the sidelines. It originated online, where it was originally used for people who followed the course of an incident or event but didn’t take a side or make any comments. It’s common for people to post “I’m just here eating my sunflower seeds and waiting to see what happens next” or “I’m just here to sell sunflower seeds.”
As the term spread fast both online and offline, its meaning has extended to indicate that the chigua qunzhong actually have no idea about the truth of an incident, which forces them to stay silent. It often happens following controversial news breaks. For example, recent media reports revealed that a pupil in an elementary school in Beijing was bullied by his classmates who allegedly tossed a trashcan full of toilet paper over his head. But the parents of the alleged bullies claimed it was “just a prank.” As the two sides stuck to their own arguments, many netizens did not know which side they should believe, and so resorted to saying “Well, I’m just a chigua qunzhong.”
This way of thinking is particularly common following government-related scandals, since many Chinese do not trust officialdom due to the lack of transparency. As a result, people are often doubtful even after official sources deny or explain a scandal, saying “As chigua qunzhong, we’ll never know what’s really going on, right?”