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A cold winter
Slow Chinese 每周漫闻
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Winter in Chinese can be a metaphor for dark or difficult times, as it is in English. But Chinese winters seem darker and colder, as captured in this colloquial phrase:
冰冻三尺，非一日之寒 bīngdòng sān chǐ fēi yī rì zhīhán - It takes more than one cold day for the river to freeze three feet deep
According to media reports this week, it’s going to be a long winter for biotech companies listing in Hong Kong, which is discussed in Words of the Week below.
We also listen in to conversations with working people in China’s big tech firms on how they prepare for their end-of-year reviews.
Finally, in the Recommendations at the end we learn what you are if someone calls you a ‘pinchable persimmon’ in Chinese.
Enjoy, and stay warm!
1. CONVERSATIONS TO CONSUME
How to prepare for your end-of-year review
An article in 36Kr interviews young ’working people’ (打工人 dǎgōngrén) on how they are preparing for their end-of-year reviews.
It’s an entertaining and all-too-familiar read for anyone who has worked in or with Chinese companies.
What should you include in your report? What’s the format? How to present it? Look no further than these conversations. The summary captures it all:
Some people keep screenshots of complimentary messages from their boss to include in their year-end summary; it’s like their whole year’s work has been in preparation for this report. Some are caught up in ‘involuted’ internal competition; in a project of 10 people, eight of them are apparently ‘the leader’. Others produce their end-of-year report as if it were a writing composition contest, with the winners receiving cash prizes; some people are anxious because the year-end bonuses are issued after the year-end reports are presented. Whereas veterans in the workplace understand clearly what should be said and what should not be said in their end of year review.
There’s lots of must-have vocab in the interviews.
严苛 yánkē - harsh
其实领导对年终在总结的要求并没有想象中那么严苛 - Actually, leaders don’t have as high an expectation on the end-of-year review as you’d think.
Related: similar in meaning but more ‘harsh’ than 严格 yángé, and about the same harshness as 苛刻 kēkè.
复盘 fùpán - ‘replay game’, meaning review, analyse and come up with a better way to do things
每周开会复盘，沟通频次更高，开会内容更聚焦 - Every week we meet and review. With higher frequency of communication, meetings are more focussed.
Background: fùpán, replay the game, originates from the Chinese game, Go 围棋 wéiqí.
很坑 hěnkēng - very annoying
还有一点很坑的是，大厂有PPT文化，要注意排版、图片，把PPT做得非常精美 - There’s something else that’s really annoying, which is in the big firms there’s [something called] ‘PPT culture’. You need to pay attention to formatting, images and make it look beautiful.
Related: 好坑 hǎokēng has a similar meaning. It’s related to 坑爹 kēngdiē, an Internet word, which means ‘make things difficult for your dad’. It’s a way to complain about someone who’s really annoying or done something to upset you. It was first used by gamers in chatrooms in the game, World of Warcraft (魔兽世界 móshòu shìjiè), before going mainstream.
她太坑爹了 - She’s so annoying!
More: 坑了 kēngle - hurt, done one over on somebody (see 2 October newsletter for more on this)
拉胯 lākuǎ - make a mistake at a critical time; ‘f*ck things up’
代表你这个人态度起码是好的，不能太拉胯 - At least it shows you’ve got the right attitude. You just have to make sure you don’t f*ck things up.
More: this is a northern Chinese dialect word which has gone mainstream. Its literal translation is ‘even my hip bones have been dragged to the ground’ and can mean ‘unreliable’ (不靠谱) or ‘make a mistake’ (出错).
Related: 掉链子 diào liànzi - ‘drop the chain’, another northern Chinese dialect word meaning the same thing.
歌颂 gēsòng - ‘singing an ode’ - to heap praise on somebody
我们年终总结有一个“格式”：开头抒情、中间复盘、结尾歌颂老板 - The end of year review has a set format: open with something emotional, do the review in the middle, and then say nice things about your boss at the end.
杆秤 gǎnchèng - a measure of somebody or something
汇报做得好坏，每个人心里也都有杆秤 - Everyone knows in their heart if they’ve done well or not at their end of year review.
Background: a gǎnchèng is a type of measuring scale used in China before electronic digital scales were adopted. In the structure, 心里有杆秤, it means ‘have a clear understanding of what is real’, or ‘to know in your heart’.
老油条 lǎoyóutiáo - ‘old fried stick’, been around the block; wily old fox
这几年逐渐从一个年终总结小白进阶到了老油条 - Over the past few years I’ve advanced from someone who was wet behind the ears to and old hand at the end-of-year review.
More: a lǎoyóutiáo has a negative connotation, so something like ‘wily old fox’ is the better translation.
Related: 小白 xiǎobái - newby, or wet behind the ears, which is the opposite to wily old fox. (See 9 October newsletter for this, and advice from Megatron on how to deal with a rude tourist).
印象分 yìnxiàngfēn - ‘impression points’, meaning brownie points
领导收到的那一刹那还是会影响对你的印象分 - When the message lands with the boss, in that instant it does have an impact on the number of brownie points you have with him/her.
忙里偷闲 mánglǐ tōuxián - enjoy a moment of leisure while working (used ironically here)
忙着写年终总结，还要“忙里偷闲”算算自己能拿多少年终奖 - While busy writing my end-of-year report, I still had to find time to calculate how much I’m going to get in my end of year bonus.
Related: this idiom is different to 摸鱼 mōyú, ‘feeling fish’, which is to slack off while on the job (negative connotation). Read more about ‘feeling fish’ in 10 April newsletter from last year.
提心吊胆 tíxīn diàodǎn - worried, nervous
提心吊胆这么久，总结完我心里一下轻松了很多 - I was nervous about the end-of-year review for so long. But as soon as I’d finished it, I felt so much better!
信手拈来 xìnshǒu niānlái - at your fingertips, comes naturally
做过太多次年终汇报，对这种事已经信手拈来了 - I’ve done so many end-of-year reviews that it just comes naturally to me now.
Colloquialisms and phrases
摸不着头脑 mōbùzháo tóunǎo - ‘can’t scratch my head’; confused, puzzled
我算是刚入职公司不久的文员，还没有做出成绩，我有些摸不着头脑 - I’ve only just joined the firm as an administrative staff, I haven’t achieved anything to speak of. I have no idea how to do my year-end review.
More: similar meaning to the English ‘can’t wrap my head around something’.
放之四海而皆准 fàngzhī sìhǎi ér jiēzhǔn - universal
我没法总结出放之四海而皆准的经验，简单来说就是让困难和办法之间形成反差 - I have no way of coming to all the right conclusions based on my own experience. But what I can do is to show how difficult this problem was and how well my solution worked.
Background: this is a very old Chinese idiom, which literally translated means: ‘it’s as sure as there are seas on the four sides of China’. Philosophers in ancient China believed that China was surrounded on all sides by seas. This idiom originates from the Book of Rites (礼记 Lǐ Jì). The Book of Rites was written during the Warring States period (475-221 BC) about social norms and practices in the Zhou Dynasty, which dates back to around 1000 BC!
2. WORDS OF THE WEEK
A cold winter for Chinese pharma stocks
In 2021, 14 companies that listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange ended their first day trading lower than their starting price. Six of them were pharma companies (36Kr - in Chinese).
In 2021, the number of companies whose stock price ended lower than the opening price on the first day of trading increased. Pharma and biotech stocks are the main contributor to this trend. According to statistics, there were a total of 14 such companies, of which six were from the biotech sector - accounting for over 40% of the total.
The conclusion: it’s going to be a long and cold winter for biotech firms.
There’s some useful language in the media coverage, much of which you can use in general life, and not just when nattering about the latest stock market crash.
破发 pòfā - falling lower than starting share price on first day of trading
科创板上市首日大跌18%，成为近期又一只破发的生物医药公司 - On the first day of trading on the STAR market, its share price dropped 18% - making it the most recent company to finish on the first day of trading with a lower valuation.
Note: this is one of those beautifully short Chinese words which requires an entire sentence in English to translate!
白菜价 báicàijià - the price of Chinese cabbage; dirt cheap
如果按它们在一级市场融资时的标准，它们的定价实际上已经很白菜价了 - If you compare the price now to the valuation when they first raised capital in the primary markets, the share price is ridiculously cheap.
断崖式 duànyáshì - cliff-edge-like
之后无不断崖式下滑 - After that, all of their daily turnover fell off a cliff edge, without exception.
Related: 无不 wúbù - ‘no - no’ actually means ‘all’ or ‘without exception’.
炙手可热 zhìshǒu kěrè - so hot that it scorches the hands; white hot
已经炙手可热了两三年的生物科技赛道 - The biopharma sector has already been hot [with investors] for two to three years.
戛然而止 jiárán érzhǐ - come to an abrupt end
这些生物科技公司的估值增长之路都在上市那一刻戛然而止 - The road to increasingly high valuations came to an abrupt end for these biotech companies at the moment they went public.
烈火烹油 lièhuǒ pēngyóu - ‘add oil to the flames’ - burning brighter and brighter (positive), has a similar meaning to 炙手可热 above.
这两年热的烈火烹油一般的生物技术公司 - Over the past two years the biotech sector has become an increasingly hot sector for investors as more biotech companies have come along.
Related: 火上浇油 huǒshàng jiāoyóu - ‘throwing oil on the fire’ - which is different as this has a negative connotation to it.
可望而不可及 kěwàng ér bùkějí - within sight but out of reach, so near and yet so far
退出依然是一件可望而不可及的事 - Exiting from the market is still the desirable outcome but totally out of reach.
Background: this is a line from a poem called 明河篇 mínghé piān, The Bright River. It’s by early Tang Dynasty poet, Sòng Zhīwèn 宋之问, who is well-known for developing a style followed by Tang poets after him. He died at age 52 in 712 AD when he was ordered to kill himself by the incoming emperor, Xuanzong. The line from the poem is:
白云在青天，可望不可即 báiyún zài qīngtiān, kě wàng bùkě jí
White clouds in the sky,
So near and yet so far
Colloquialisms and phrases
冰冻三尺，非一日之寒 bīngdòng sān chǐ fēi yī rì zhī hán - It takes more than one cold day for the river to freeze three feet deep
冰冻三尺非一日之寒，生物医药新股不受二级市场待见至少已经有半年之久了 - It’s going to be a long winter ahead. Newly listed biopharma stocks have not had a good time on the secondary markets for at least half a year [but it’s going to last much longer].
Note: this is sometimes translated as ‘Rome was not build in one day’ but that’s a bit misleading as this idiom has a more negative feel than ‘Rome…’. My preferred translations is ‘there is a long winter ahead’.
Related: 待见 dài jiàn - to like or to be in favour
你不好好做，会有你好果子吃的 nǐ bù hǎohǎo zuò, huì yǒu nǐ hǎo guǒzi chī de - if you don’t work hard, you won’t be rewarded
以前那么轻易赚钱的时代过去了，一窝蜂而上肯定没好果子吃 - The time when it’s easy to make money has passed. Simply joining the rush [into this sector] and not putting the work in will not lead to good returns.
Background: the negative (没) is implied in the original phrase but included in the shortened version. Both can work.
Phrase of the week: pushover persimmon
What are you if someone calls you a ‘pinchable persimmon’ (捏软柿子 niē ruǎn shìzi) in Chinese?
You’re a push-over.
Read more about this phrase in my new column in SupChina - Pushover persimmon — phrase of the week!
Persimmons (柿子 shìzi) grow all over China and ripen in the winter.
‘Pinching a soft persimmon’ comes from the phrase:
老太太吃柿子，专挑软的捏 lǎotàitài chī shìzi, zhuāntiāo ruǎnde niē - When an old lady eats persimmons, she chooses the soft ones to pinch'
It’s a xiēhòuyǔ 歇后语, which is a metaphor said in two parts - the second half is sometimes not said but implied. The closest we have in English is a pun. Here are some other puns with Chinese characteristics we’ve learned in previous newsletters:
熊猫点外卖，笋到家了 xióngmāo diǎn wàimài, sǔn dàojiāle - ‘a panda ordering take away, the bamboo shoots arrive home.’
Meaning: ridiculous or going way too far
猪八戒照镜子——里外不是人 zhūbājiè zhào jìngzi, lǐ wài bùshì rén
- Zhu Bajia [pig monk] is just as much of a pig in the mirror as in the flesh
Meaning: he/she/it is in an impossible situation, they’re in the wrong whatever they say or do
That’s it for this week!
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(There will be much more detail in the briefing on Wednesday).