ZB readers pick 'ma' as Chinese character of 2018

What Chinese character might sum up 2018? That would be "ma", the first character for the Chinese translation of Malaysia, according to Lianhe Zaobao readers.

The character, which is also the first character of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's name in Chinese, garnered the most votes in Zaobao's annual Character of the Year poll.

The results of the poll were announced yesterday through a live broadcast on zaobao.sg, 96.3 Hao FM, UFM100.3 and zbComma's Facebook page.

The poll, which was first organised in 2011, invites readers to choose a Chinese character that they feel would best summarise the major local and international news events of the year.

More than 17,000 votes were received this year.

"Mao", which refers to trade in Chinese, came in a close second, while "jin" came in third. Jin represents one of the characters in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's name in Chinese, and is also the first character of martial arts novelist Louis Cha's pen name, Jin Yong. Cha died in October.

Lianhe Zaobao and Lianhe Wanbao editor Goh Sin Teck said of the poll results: "There have been a few events in the past year that are considered historic, including the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, the United States-China trade war, as well as the discussion on how to tackle fake news around the globe.

"Ma" is the first character for the Chinese translation of Malaysia. It is also the first character of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's name in Chinese.

"With our readers voting ma as the Character of the Year, it is clear that our neighbour Malaysia has garnered more attention from Singaporeans."

Mr Goh added that after the Malaysian general election in May, there was a historic change in the country's new government led by Tun Dr Mahathir, which took a different direction, thus affecting the relationship between Singapore and Malaysia. "Even in December, issues over airspace and sea boundaries have surfaced, putting further stresses on bilateral relations. Entering 2019, ma may continue to be a buzzword in the news," said Mr Goh.

The editorial team of Lianhe Zaobao, along with a panel of professionals comprising experts and academics from different fields, selected 10 characters for the poll.

The other seven characters were "jia" (fake), "wang" (Internet or network), "hui" (meeting), "jia" (price or value), "xing" (gender or sexuality), "zheng" (righteous) and "jian" (reduce).

Out of the 10 characters, ma topped the poll with almost 30 per cent of the total votes.

The character ma caught readers' attention as Malaysian news has been making headlines. In particular, issues between Singapore and Malaysia, such as Dr Mahathir's suggestion to raise water prices, and the delay of the high-speed rail project, were hot topics.

During the voting period, Lianhe Zaobao featured each of the 10 Chinese characters in a full-page report for 10 consecutive days.

The articles explained the definitions of the characters up for voting, and how their meanings were related to the major local and international events that took place in 2018.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 09, 2018, with the headline 'ZB readers pick 'ma' as Chinese character of 2018'. Print Edition | Subscribe