Zhan Pianyi

A few weeks ago I read an excellent New Yorker piece on the novelist Yan Lianke. A paragraph stuck out as especially relevant in my money-world:

But there was trouble, Yan explained to me, employing the phrase zhan pianyi (literally, “occupy small advantages”), which means to be on the sweeter end of a bargain. One legacy of Communism, he believes, is that people think the only way to get ahead is by pulling a fast one of some kind. In an unjust world, zhan pianyi becomes a private way of keeping score, so that, even when a deal seems demonstrably equitable, people are always asking themselves if they are being taken advantage of or, preferably, taking advantage of someone else. For the Chinese, Yan said, the feeling of coming out ahead produces a “skewed, misbegotten joy” that has become his mother’s most intense pleasure.

I’m not certain I agree that this is a legacy of communism, as I can immediately and vividly understand this ethos as a non-Communism-experiencer.

But I love that this its own phrase in Chinese, and I appreciate the clunkiness of the literal translation, “occupy small advantages”. In my experience, this type of questionable mental accounting is pervasive, and informs more huge decisions - financial and otherwise - than we’d like to admit.

Robinson Crawford