So I know that 社会 is society, so I'd assume that 社会人 means people that contribute to society

However, for some reason for the past few weeks I've actually heard it used a few times in different situations, I'm assuming that it's picking up popularity in slang / meme potential

I first heard it in this phrase, 小猪佩奇身上纹 掌声送给社会人

And the person who taught me that told me that 社会人 meant common-man, and in this case, it was used facetiously as a sort of insult. But I was also assured that this wasn't an insult

Earlier this week, I heard it again, I forgot the full context, but I was assured that it was an insult

Does anybody have some extra light they can shed on the implied meaning behind 社会人?

  • bkrs:社会人 2) (Ru) dial. kids, guys, dudes, brothers, young people spending a major amount of time away from home (non-negative implication)
    – user6065
    May 10, 2018 at 20:50
  • @AO You should probably check out this MV to get an idea of 社会 really means nowadays: youtu.be/r4GWF8_MgK4 it's called《超社会》by a Chinese artist called GAI - Sichuanese pinyin of 街 because 社会 is about being off of the streets. If you see the first text on the screen it clearly says "gangsta" in English. The song talks about pimping, running underground casinos and getting into knife group fights.
    – Mou某
    May 11, 2018 at 2:11
  • As a Chinese, I first see the phrase lol from here lol
    – Chen Li
    May 17, 2018 at 12:10
  • @陳力 It's the college kids using this. I have already asked several from the college next to me and it's the new slang apparently. a meme, i guess
    – A O
    May 18, 2018 at 1:41
  • @Actually, I'm Junior(college). Maybe because I seldom communicate with others.(haha)
    – Chen Li
    May 18, 2018 at 2:55

2 Answers 2


I believe "社会人" means gangsters or scoundrels. We have 黑社会(black society) for crime organizations, so basically 社会人 means someone in such a organization. I think at first it is only in the northeastern China that the phrase 社会人is used. But now everyone seems to know what it means. Yet the meaning of 社会人 has also changed in the sense that it is usually used in an ironic sense. Jobless youngsters who behave like gangsters (though in many cases they are not criminals and they do not belong to any organization) are often described as 社会人 as well. As for the popularity of the word, I guess it is mainly because there is some kind of funny irony in the word. There is something ridiculously fuuny when a jobless young man living in the lower class aspires to be successful not by working hard but by becoming a 社会人. Yet I guess this phrase will soon be forgotten just like any memes on the Internet.(except the +1s one which will never be forgotten as long as the Chinese language is still alive. Long live the Toad!)


社会人 https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E7%A4%BE%E4%BC%9A%E4%BA%BA is a Japanese coined Kanji term, meaning "working adult" (not children who don't work, not students who work part time, not retired people)

The Chinese counterpart of "社会人" is "在職人仕"

Any adult who is making a living by working or trading is considered a "在職人仕" or "在職者"

If you see Chinese article using the term 社会人, it is most likely reverse imported from Japanese language. Meaning Japanese coined the term with the Kanji they learned from Chinese and now the Chinese is using this term in the Chinese language to describe something similar to "老江湖" (old hand in society) and "老江湖" was originally used to describe "old hand in criminal circle" so it is not exactly a polite term.

Notice: Chinese consider 社会 is made up by everyone in it, therefore "社会上的人" (people in society) would include students and retired people

  • 2
    Not exactly like Japanese. 社会人 is more like a sub-culture thing. It means that the 社会人 spent more time on the real world( working ) so that they know more about all those dirty fact of the real world which a newbee can not imaging. In short it more like a "veteran" who experienced and enjoyed the ugliness of the real life. May 10, 2018 at 21:11
  • @zyc That's the definition of "老江湖" (old hand in society)
    – Tang Ho
    May 10, 2018 at 21:16
  • @TangHo I think 社会人 basically = 古惑仔, at least in Mandarin. I'd be pretty afraid if students and retired people became 古惑仔.
    – Mou某
    May 11, 2018 at 2:12
  • @TangHo nah, no young guy says 老江湖 anymore. May 11, 2018 at 20:51

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