‘Back from the dead’ — phrase of the week

Business & Technology

One of China's unluckiest entrepreneurs is making a miraculous comeback after a pivot into live-stream ecommerce. He’s brought his business back from the dead.

Illustration by Derek Zheng

Our phrase of the week is: Back from the dead (咸鱼翻身 xián yú fān shēn).


China’s biggest private education group, New Oriental (新东方 xīn dōng fāng), has suffered huge losses since July 2020, when China’s Double Reduction policy (双减政策 shuāng jiǎn zhèng cè) banned private education services at primary and secondary levels. The Chinese media dubbed the company’s founder, Yú Mǐnhóng 俞敏洪, China’s unluckiest entrepreneur of 2021.

Six months ago, however, the company pivoted, launching a livestream ecommerce channel, Oriental Select (东方甄选 dōngfāng zhēnxuǎn), on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok. The channel showcased some of its former English teachers selling agricultural products, such as expensive steaks or farm-fresh products.

Growth had been slow until last week, when a livestream by former English-teacher turned-online-salesman, Dǒng Yǔhuī 董宇辉, went viral.

The number of viewers tuning into Dong’s session reached 12 million, with sales on that day reaching 21 million yuan ($3.13 million), making it the sixth highest cash-earning broadcast room on the platform.

Dong’s online popularity boosted investor confidence on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange: New Oriental’s share price surged 71%, and shares of Koolearn Technology Holding, which operates the livestreaming account, tripled in value.

Now the talk in the Chinese media is of how New Oriental’s founder, Yú Mǐnhóng 俞敏洪, and his new online sales star have turned the business around:

Dong Yuhui has brought New Oriental back from the dead, and Yu Minhong has made a comeback. Can the overnight success of Oriental Select save New Oriental?


Dǒng yǔhuī xiányú fānshēn, yú mǐnhóng dōngshān zàiqǐ, yīyè bào hóng de “dōngfāng zhēnxuǎn” néng fǒu zhěngjiù xīndōngfāng?


Brought back from the dead directly translates as “a salted fish flips over.”

The idiom originally came from the Cantonese dialect, described as being “from the people (民间 mín jiān),” which means that the saying cannot be traced to a particular reference or literary work.

“A salted fish” in the Cantonese dialect is a metaphor for being dead — very dead. The phrase is used to describe someone or something that has escaped a very bad situation thanks to a sudden change in luck.

In the case of New Oriental, the sudden viral success of livestreams by Dong Yuhui has potentially brought the company back from the dead, giving hope that it’s pivot from English teaching to selling bilingual lessons online could just work.

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Andrew Methven