In this video One Child Policy: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) there's a description of only children:

little emperors or little meatballs as they're sometimes called in Chinese

These terms are referring to spoiled only kids.

Little emperor is easy: 小皇帝. But I don't think I've ever heard mention of "little meatballs." What's the original term? 小丸子? 小肉丸?

Any ideas? Where'd the term originate from?


Little meat ball (小肉丸 or 小肉球) is not a standard English expression,

  • He is a child therefore he's small (小)

  • He is full of meat (肉)

  • And he is plump/ round like a ball (丸/ 球) -- another words for fat

Oliver was making fun of that little plump child, saying he looked like a little meat ball (小肉丸).

If you indulge your child with excessive food, allow him to not do any work or exercise, he will be spoiled and looked like a little meat ball,

  • Do you have any references that back up your claim that 小肉丸 is a Chinese term that refers to spoiled only children on a par with 小皇帝? – user3306356 Oct 9 at 7:22
  • I said it is not a standard term – Tang Ho Oct 9 at 7:32
  • Correct. You said it’s not a standard English expression, but the news article is insinuating that it is in fact a common enough Chinese term. – user3306356 Oct 9 at 7:33
  • @user3306356 I have never heard the term 小肉球 being used when referring spoiled child. 小肉球 just means little meat ball, it can refer to 'plump child' or the "meatballs" under cat or dog's paws that people love to squeeze – Tang Ho Oct 10 at 20:25

Not a very standard way to refer to a small/newborn baby/child. 小肉丸/球 is a way to materialize the baby as a small meatball, which is cute and delicate.

This is because the kid is the only child, so parents stuff the child with excessive resources.


My Best Guess, "little meatball" should be refer to the Chinese word "小宝贝" which should be translate into "little sweety", but "little sweety" is a common nickname in English. To avoid confusion of audience and highlight the imagination of being spoiled, the speaker used "little meatball" instead.
There's another interesting fact about this, in traditional Chinese families, using such nicknames in public can be considered as a sign of spoiling, since traditional Chinese culture do not encourage people to express their love and affections in public.

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  • I think the original quote refers to a literal meatball, i.e.: 丸子,肉丸,圆子,etc. – user3306356 Nov 11 at 6:53

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