Chinese office workers jaded with the urban grind have taken to calling themselves “huminerals,” a bitter slang term describing humans born for the sole purpose of being used by society and the economy.
“You are a resource, not a protagonist. You are a means, not an end,” read a blog post that introduced the term to Chinese social media on December 31.
The blog post, originally published on the popular forum site Zhihu, has been taken down by internet censors, reported China Digital Times, a US-based 501 nonprofit that tracks Chinese online censorship.
“Huminerals” is a combination of the Chinese characters for “person” and “mine” or “mineral.”
The post’s author, a user named Zhang Wanzhi, listed various aspects of a humineral’s life.
“Your life’s work will go towards the fulfillment of others instead of pursuing the life you desire,” read the post, per CDT.
A humineral’s life is divided into three stages, wrote Zhang, per CDT.
The first is a Chinese person’s formative and schooling years, which exist so the person can be “mined” and made available for usage, Zhang’s post read. Then, the next few decades are a stage of “consumption” where the worker is exploited, the post read, according CDT.
When the humineral is depleted and can no longer be used, they’re discarded in a way that pollutes the environment as little as possible, the post continued, per CDT.
One key purpose of a humineral is to help cultivate more huminerals for further exploitation, Zhang added, per CDT.
“The wheels of history are fueled by huminerals. Huminerals have little choice but to be fuel for society, or get run over by its wheels,” wrote Zhang.
“On the other hand, if huminerals were to stop propelling history, then the abstaining huminerals would not be crushed,” they added. “But there are always people who believe that life as fuel is better than being run over.”
‘Huminerals’ takes off, and then gets shut down
“Huminerals” only started gaining ground on Chinese social media in 2023, per CDT, but it has already come up against China’s highly active censorship machine.
The nonprofit reported that the term became the 11th-top search on Weibo — China’s version of Twitter — in early January, but was censored by the platform.
While several low-reach posts mentioning “huminerals” were still visible on Weibo as of Insider’s press time, the hashtag for the term was no longer available. The hashtag is also currently unavailable on Zhihu and Douyin, China’s original version of TikTok.
Chinese search engine Baidu has yet to censor several commentaries that acknowledge the existence of the term without advocating for its use.
The origins of the term “humineral” are not immediately clear.
CDT reported that the term was first publicly used in 2010 by Ma Yingjeou, then the president of Taiwan — but in an entirely different context. Ma was promoting Taiwan’s people as the self-governed island’s greatest asset amid its lack of natural resources, and he advocated for a focus on education and nurturing artistic talent.
On the other hand, Radio France Internationale reported that “humineral” first appeared in state media outlet People’s Daily in 1984. The People’s Daily article also used the term to describe people as important assets, per RFI.
The use of “huminerals” echoes growing discontent among China’s youth toward a once-lauded office culture of working to the bone. The term “lie flat” gained traction in 2021, as an endorsement of doing the bare minimum to get by. It was largely seen as a response to “9-9-6” — the pervasive concept of working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for six days a week.
The “lie flat” movement became so widely discussed that it earned condemnation from President Xi Jinping, who warned that the trend would prevent upward social mobility and discourage society from working together to improve.
Another slang term recently used to complain about the rat race is “cows and horses,” which compares working humans to beasts of burden subjected to a life of hard labor and servitude.
“If you compare ‘huminerals’ to being called ‘cows and horses,’ then ‘huminerals’ is easier to accept and spread,” wrote one user on Zhihu, per CDT. Their article has been taken down.
“When you see the word ‘huminerals,’ you’ll naturally ask who is being mined,” they continued, according to the nonprofit. “Who is doing the mining?”