'All in' or 'too little, too late...'?
Slow Chinese 每周漫闻
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If you’ve been learning Chinese for some time, you probably know this idiom:
全力以赴 quánlì yǐfù - do everything in one’s power, or go all out to achieve something
It’s traced back to the Qing dynasty poet and historian, Zhào Yì 赵翼, from his most famous work, Notes on the Twenty-Two Dynastic Histories (二十二史札记 Èrshí'èr shǐ zhájì).
Nowadays, it’s often translated as ‘all-in’. It’s also one of those Chinese words where people sometimes just say the English instead:
你all in吗？ Are you all-in?
我完完全全是All in的！ Abso-f-ing-lutely!
‘All-in’ connects two news stories in China this week:
Netizen reactions to the Xi’An government’s so-called ‘all-in’ approach to lock-down policy.
A speech delivered by entrepreneur, Yú Mǐnhóng 俞敏洪, the founder of New Oriental, who is still ‘all-in’ despite losing $3 billion last year.
We dig into these two stories below, with some fantastic words and phrases to share, including interesting and creative references to the Ming and Qing dynasties as metaphors for what’s going on in China now.
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Here are the deets again if you missed it or haven’t had time to read it…
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1. CONVERSATIONS WORTH CONSUMING
Too little too late in Xi’An
In an epidemic prevention and control press conference held in Xi'An on January 7th, an official from the municipal health administration updated on the ongoing efforts (in Chinese) to bring the COVID-19 outbreak in the city of 13 million people under control.
He apologised for mistakes made since the city went into lockdown on 23 December:
Although the Xi'an Municipal Health Commission has done everything it possibly can [‘all in’], it still failed to consider the overall situation thoroughly. We failed to provide adequate medical services; we failed to properly handle the tensions between epidemic prevention and control and the people's demand for medical treatment. Xi'an Municipal Health and Health Commission expresses its deep regret and apologises to the people of the city.
The ‘all-in’ approach and the ‘apology’ were mocked on social media…
官帽 guānmào - ‘official hat’, derogatory term for government position
是全力以赴保官帽子，还是全力以赴在疫情中保障人民生命安全？Is it ‘all-in’ on protecting officials’ jobs, or is it ‘all-in’ on protecting people’s lives during a pandemic?
摘帽 zhāimào - ‘remove hat’, take the label of something away; here it means remove a local government official from their post
不对上负责，上面人会摘你帽子，下面人摘不了你的帽子！- If they don’t deliver on their promises to their political bosses, those bosses will get rid of them, but the people cannot remove these officials from their jobs.
诛心 zhūxīn - harsh words that reveal the truth about a hidden motive
说句诛心的话，长远看，这场疫情大考来的及时，筛出了不合格的地方和干部 - To put it bluntly, from a long-term perspective, the challenges brought about by the pandemic are a timely test that singled out some local governments and local-level leaders who are not qualified for the positions they hold.
乌纱帽 wūshāmào - ‘black gauze hat’, government official position (pejorative)
只有这样才能保住乌纱帽和不担一点责任 - This is the only way these officials can protect their jobs without taking any responsibility.
Background: This dates back to the Ming dynasty when government officials wore black gauze hats made of hemp. Different shaped hats would indicate differences in seniority.
黄泉政府 huángquán zhèngfǔ - government that caused a lot of suffering and even death
西安，一个罪孽至深的黄泉政府 - The Xi'An government is appalling.
Note: 黄泉 huángquán means where the dead are buried, or hell (阴间 yīnjiān).
榆木脑袋 yúmù nǎodai - stupid
笑死了，这群榆木脑袋的官员 - Hilarious. These officials are so stupid.
草木皆兵 cǎomù jiēbīng - to mistake all the grass and trees as enemy soldiers; paranoid
领导脑子里就只有草木皆兵的一刀切 - There is a ‘one-size fits all’ approach with these paranoid officials.
Related: 一刀切 yīdāoqiē - one size fits all (see 24 July newsletter)
Related: same as 杯弓蛇影 bēigōng shéyǐng - ‘see a snake in the reflection of a bow in a cup’, paranoid
亡羊补牢，为时已晚 wángyáng bǔláo wéishí yǐwǎn - fixing the fence after the sheep has escaped; too little, too late
你现在这句话说的好像是你亡羊补牢为时不晚 - Saying this now is the same as trying to fix the fence after the sheep has escaped.
Note: Similar to the English idiom ‘shutting the gate after the horse has bolted’
Background: traced back to the Strategies of the Warring States (战国策 zhànguócè), an ancient Chinese text that contains anecdotes of political manipulation and warfare during the Warring States period (5th to 3rd centuries BC).
Related: 汽车撞墙了，你知道拐了 qìchē zhuàngqiángle, nǐ zhīdào guǎile - you know when to turn only after you’ve crashed into the wall
Colloquialisms and phrases
If you only take a couple of things from this newsletter, please commit these two to memory!
头痛医头，脚痛医脚 tóutòng yī tóu, jiǎo tòng yī jiǎo - treating the symptoms not the root problem
头痛医头脚痛医脚…这样的做法完全是傻子，连本质矛盾都发现不了，这些领导还在这个位置上干什么？ Treating the symptoms, and ignoring the root issues... This approach is totally idiotic. They [the local government] cannot even identify the nature of the problem. Why have these officials not gone yet?
More: read more about this excellent phrase in SupChina’s phrase of the week column.
牺牲个体保集体 xīshēng gètǐ bǎojítǐ - sacrifice the individual in order to protect the people
现在的大局，没到需要这种牺牲个体保集体，是有条件做好民生工作 - In China today there is no need to take the approach of sacrificing individuals for the sake of the many. China is now well-placed to look after the lives of all the people.
2. WORDS OF THEW WEEK
Yu Minhong speech: I’m still all-in
New Oriental (新东方 xīndōngfāng), China’s largest private tutoring company, has been hit hard since the introduction of the double-alleviation policy (双减政策 shuāngjiǎn zhèngcè) last July.
According to a recent announcement, its revenues in 2021 fell by 80 percent, 60,000 employees were dismissed, and the company lost 20 billion yuan ($3 billion).
Yú Mǐnhóng 俞敏洪, the founder of the company, is nonetheless still an optimistic bloke. In a speech this week, he outlined his 2022 plans (Sina - in Chinese). He said he had no choice other than being all-in:
The growth of New Oriental remains my responsibility and my mission. It does not matter whether I like it or not; I have to give it my all.
Most (but not all) Netizens were forgiving of Yu, and the impossible challenges he and his business face due top policy changes.
Social media comments
Some of the top comments included:
砸饭碗 záfànwǎn - break the rice bowl; be out of work
一纸命令就要砸了几十万人的饭碗，人民群众还拍手叫好，这是大清吗？- With a single policy announcement, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs. The people still support the government in spite of that. Are we back in the dying days of the Qing dynasty？
More: 大清 dàqīng - ‘Qing dynasty’ is a metaphor used by critics of the Chinese government, meaning a regime that doesn't tolerate any dissent; people are only allowed to say good things about the government no matter what it does.
Related: 拍手叫好 pāishǒu jiàohǎo - ‘clap and shout bravo’, be supportive of something. In this context it may have an irony to it, but this idiom can be used in a positive way too.
Related: 吃中国的饭砸中国的锅 chī zhōngguó de fàn zá zhōngguó de guō - ‘eat the rice of the Chinese people while breaking their pot’. A fave of Zhao Lijian and others to have a go at multinational companies in China. A similar meaning to the English proverb: ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too’.
拼死拼活 pīnsǐ pīnhuó - working desperately
拼死拼活做出一番事业，一纸文件，几乎说没就没，人们谁敢创新，谈何创业？ [Yu] has worked tirelessly to build a business. With a single document, that has pretty much gone in an instant. Who would dare to be an entrepreneur in such a difficult environment?
一地鸡毛 yīdì jīmáo - ‘feathers all over the ground’ - a mess
2021除了垄断国企其他企业大都一地鸡毛，建议下岗的老师们去公务猿家要求共产共富 - Apart from state-owned monopolies, virtually all companies in 2021 had a terrible year. I suggest all the teachers who have lost their jobs go to the houses of civil servants and demand ‘common prosperity’.
Related: 公务猿 gōngwùyuán - pejorative play on words, sounds the same as the Chinese for civil servant (公务员 gōngwùyuán). 猿 means ‘ape’, so this term might be translated as ‘civil servant monkeys’.
割头顶辫子易，割心中辫子难 gē tóudǐng biànzi yì, gē xīnzhōng biànzi nán - cutting the braids from your head is easy, removing them from your heart is hard
看到我评论里的各种为新东方洗地的言论，我只能感叹割掉人身上的辫子易，去掉人心中的辫子难 - Having seen so many comments trying to justify New Oriental’s mistakes. I can only sigh and say some people just don't change their way of thinking even though the Qing Dynasty is long gone.
Background: ‘Cutting braids’ happened at the end of the Qing dynasty to signify getting rid of the feudal past and welcoming the beginning of modern China. It’s a metaphor for making superficial changes but not changing old ways of thinking. This is different to ‘treating the symptom not the problem’, which is more about being lazy.
Related: 洗地 xǐdì - ‘wash the floor’ - Internet slang meaning trying to justify the mistakes of others, sometimes similar to ‘whitewashing’ in English.
Idioms in the speech
Yu dropped some useful idioms in his speech. If you just look at the ordering of them you get an idea of the journey he takes his listeners on: from tough times, to getting through them, to the importance of keeping the team motivated.
心烦意乱 xīnfán yìluàn - ‘annoyed heart, chaotic thoughts’; upsetting
令人心烦意乱的事情不少 - There were plenty of annoying things that came up.
跌宕起伏 diēdàng qǐfú - ups and downs
骨干力量在跌宕起伏的过程中，绝大部分人团结一致、同舟共济、在风雨中努力前行 - While there were ups and downs within the core team, the majority of people were united together and moved forward as one in the face of challenges.
壮士断臂 zhuàngshì duànbì - a hero cuts his arm off; cut losses in order to survive
新东方决定全面停止K9的地面和在线培训，壮士断臂 - New Oriental Group made the decision to cut face-to-face and online training for K9 in order to survive.
Related: 壮士断腕 zhuàngshì duànwàn - cut losses (see 28 August newsletter) - same meaning but cutting at the wrist instead of the arm
随机应变 suíjī yìngbiàn - reacting and adjusting to changes and opportunities
我们要配合形势和政策的改变，随机应变 - We need to quickly adapt to the changes in trends and policies, be flexible and adaptable.
嬉笑怒骂 xīxiào nùmà - ‘happily laugh, angrily scold’ - chit-chatting, chewing the fat
严肃是讨论业务，活泼是互相之间的嬉笑怒骂、轻松调侃 - The serious discussions were relating to the business, the lively parts were when colleagues were laughing together with a bit of good-natured ribbing thrown in.
觥筹交错 gōngchóu jiāocuò - ‘wine horns [cups] and chopsticks lay around cross-over’, a dinner party at which wine flows freely
大家欣然接受，依然喝得不亦乐乎，觥筹交错，其乐融融 - Everyone accepted [the much reduced budget for the dinner], and drank and made merry, we had a great time together.
Note: the ‘rule of three’ in communication is just as applicable in Chinese. If you want to really make a point, say it with three idioms, not one, as in this sentence.
Related: 龃龉 jǔyǔ - ‘crooked teeth’ - differing opinions
同事之间可以更亲密交流，互相之间有点龃龉的地方，几杯酒下去就解决了问题 - Sure, some colleagues had issues with each other, but after a few drinks, those differences were all gone.
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