Cutting leeks, life-saving straw and ephemeral flowers

Slow Chinese Weekly Newsletter 每周漫闻

This week’s idiom:

昙花一现 (Tán huā yī xiàn)

The Queen of the Night flower blossoms fleetingly

‘Fleeting’ or ‘a flash in the pan’

The Queen of the Night flower (昙花 - Tán huā) is an orchid cactus indigenous to Central America. It was introduced to China in the 1600’s. The flowers bloom only for a single night, and just once every year. So, like Clubhouse in China last week, they are very short-lived.

Word of the week:

割韭菜 (Gē jiǔ cài)

Cutting leeks - ‘Taking advantage of or scamming the people’

Originally used to describe gullible individual investors (散户) in China’s financial markets. The Chinese vegetable jiǔ cài (a bit like a leek) can be cut allowing new ones to grow back quickly. And they keep growing back after each harvest. So, like leeks, once one batch of unsuspecting investors have lost their money and been cut down by big players, the next lot is not far behind. Cutting leeks is also used more broadly to describe consumers who are easily taken advantage of, as China’s film fans were this week, willingly paying for over-priced cinema tickets.

There’s more about these and other Chinese words and idioms from this week’s China news in the two Slow Stories I’ve been reading around this week…

  • Clubhouse brief appearance in Chinese cyber space

  • Record breaking Chinese New Year box office sales (and the complaints that came with it)

Thanks for reading and please forward to anyone who you think will find useful!

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What is the Chinese name for Clubhouse?

Officially there is no Chinese name for Clubhouse.

But its unofficial Chinese name is quite clever: 聊斋 (liáo zhāi).

Made up of Liáo (to chat) and 斋 zhāi - a house, normally where reading or studying happens: a study or library.

So together, it makes ‘talking house.’

But there’s more. Liáo zhāi I also a famous book by Qing Dynasty writer, Pu Songlin (蒲松齡 Pú Sōng líng), who lived from 1640 to 1715. His book was published after his death in 1740.

It’s a collection of surreal stories based on interviews with local people in Pu’s province of Shandong. He ran a tea house (茶棚 - Chá péng) which offered passer’s by free tea in exchange for a casual chat (闲聊).

He would ask guests strange questions, recording their stories, which eventually became the book:

聊斋志异 (Liáo zhāi zhì yì) - ‘Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio’

The name 聊斋 Liáo zhāi (which any Chinese will associate with the book) as the unofficial name for Clubhouse is a clever play on words.

The name of this 300-year old book invokes lots of the ideas behind the modern social media platform - a space to converse directly and equally with thought leaders and learn from them, a space for discussing anything - no matter how surreal or sensitive it is. And, of course - it’s free!

Useful words

  • 昙花一现 (Tán huā yī xiàn) - fleeting

    聊斋已经在中国昙花一现 - Clubhouse is already just a flash in the pan in China

  • 火了 (Huǒ le) - ‘to be on fire,’ to become extremely popular, also 一夜爆红 (Yī yè bào hóng) - overnight success

  • 风口 (Fēng kǒu) - ‘place to catch the tail wind,’ this is one of my favourite Chinese words, it means ‘the next big thing’ (of an industry or sector) - usually disruptive. You need to know this one if you’re Liáo - ing with a plucky Chinese entrepreneur.

    聊斋火了,语音社交是下一个风口? - Clubhouse has become extremely popular, could this mean that voice messaging social media is the next bing thing in the sector?

    站在“互联网+”的风口上顺势而为,会使中国经济飞起来 - catching with the tail wind of ‘Internet+’ strategy the Chinese economy will take off.

  • 上头了 (Shàng tou le) - ‘gone in the head’ or ‘obsessed.’ This has two meanings: 1) originally from the gaming world in China, meaning obsessed with a game to a point of loosing all sense of reality and reason but continuing to play (I’m thinking my son on his X-Box…); 2) also used to say you’ve had too much to drink - ‘it’s gone to my head’.

    这个产品会上瘾,太有毒、上头了 - this product is very addictive, users become obsessed

    酒喝多了,就上头了 - he’s drunk too much, it’s gone to his head

  • 翻墙 (Fān qiáng) - to ‘flip the wall’, to get around the firewall (with a VPN)

  • 墙了 (Qiáng le) - to be ‘walled out,’ to be blocked in China

    聊斋在中国被墙了,只有翻墙的人可以访问 - Clubhouse has been blocked in China, only people with a VPN can access the site

  • 扼杀住 (È shā zhù) - to strangle.

    我的创造力被工作扼杀住了 - my work has strangled my creativity [not sure where that came from…;)]

  • 邀请制 (Yāo qǐng zhì) - invitation only

    通过“邀请制”俱乐部的形式,召集到了一批优质的精英用户入驻讨论 - a group of ‘elites’ have been invited to engage in discussions through an invitation-only club model

  • 听后即焚 (Tīng hòu jí fén) - ‘to burn after listening,’ no record is kept

    聊斋这个平台的好处是,听后即焚,不留下任何记录 - the advantage of Clubhouse is that there is no record of the conversations within the app

Further reading

How to complain about expensive cinema tickets in Chinese

This week’s record breaking Chinese CNY box office (春节档电影票房) sales is a reminder of how price sensitive Chinese consumers are, and how colourful the language is to complain about getting a bad deal.

The first five days of the holiday daily box office sales (连续五天单日票房) exceeded RMB 1 billion (10亿) for the first time. And all the top films are Chinese-made - also a first (史上首次).

Sales have been going up anyway over the last few years, but this year was further boosted by improved quality of Chinese films, and with many younger people not going home as they were 就地过年-ing - staying in first tier cities.

But according to lots of unhappy Chinese cinema fans (影迷) ticket prices were more than double (翻倍) the usual price.

No more ticket subsidies (票补) from ticket sellers, lack of seats with cinemas only operating at half of 75% capacity and desperation of some cinemas clawing back revenues from an otherwise terrible year have all been citied as factors.

Following these developments is a great way to brush up on how to complain about being ripped off in Chinese.

Useful words

  • 割韭菜 (Gē jiǔ cài) - scamming the people

    影迷被影院割韭菜 - film fans have been ripped off by cinemas

  • 吐槽 (Tǔ cáo) - to complain or rant (吐 is to spit or puke; 槽 - seems to be used to express surprise)

    有影迷向媒体吐槽,电影票价贵 - cinema goes complained to media that prices were to high

    预售票价高被吐槽 - there have been complaints about early sales prices being too high

  • 一票难求 (Yī piào nán qiú) - tickets are very hard to get hold of

    今年中国的电影市场实在是一票难求 - cinema tickets are extremely hard to get hold of in China this year

  • 给…..再添一把火 (Zài tiān yī bǎ huǒ) - adding fire to the flames; also 再添一把柴 - throwing fuel on the fire

    智能手机的诞生给手机市场添了一把火 - the advent of smart phones added further fuel to the fire in the mobile phone industry

  • 疯长 (Fēng zhǎng) - increasing crazily

    一线城市每天的票价都在疯长 - ticket prices in first tier cities are going crazy

Business words

There’s also some very useful business-y words and idioms which are worth refreshing….

  • 救命稻草 (Jiù mìng dào cǎo) - ‘a drowning man clutches for straw’. This is originally an American idiom from the 1800’s. It’s used in a negative sense - trying something that is totally hopeless but with no other option.

    他那样做好像一个快要淹死的人拼命想捞救命稻草一样 - it’s like someone gasping for air desperately clutching for straw as they drown

  • 下沉市场 (Xià chén shìchǎng) - lower tier markets; second-, third-, fourth-tier

    互联网巨头直接用行动表达了自己对“下沉 市场”的青睐 - the big internet players have used direct actions to show their preference to focus on second-, third- and fourth-tier markets

  • 水涨船高 (Shuǐ zhǎngchuán gāo) - rising waters lift the ship (of price)

    原材料涨价,我们的产品也只得水涨船高 - the cost of raw materials has gone up, so our prices will have to put put up too

  • 颗粒无收 (Kē lì wú shōu) - no grain to harvest, no income

    影院半年颗粒无收,停业倒闭已成常态 - cinemas have had no income for half a year, bankruptcies have become common

  • 杀鸡取卵 (Shā jī qǔ luǎn) - kill the chicken and steal the eggs, ‘greedy’

    他们是我们的主要顾客,我们可以就他们的业务提高我们的利润幅度,但我们不要杀鸡取卵 - they are our main client; we can carefully increase our margins, but we can’t be too greedy

    这无异于杀鸡取卵 - this is no different than killing the chickens and taking the eggs


There’s also some great slang words too!

  • 掏腰包 (Tāo yāo bāo) - take money from or pay from your own pocket

    她被迫自己掏腰包付了账 - she was forced to pay out of her own pocket

  • 白瞎 (Bái xiā) - ‘a waste’ - love this one! It’s slang from Northern China, but seems to be quite common

    白瞎我那么贵的票钱 - what a waste of money (buying expensive cinema tickets)

Further reading

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Finally, please share feedback…

  • Were there some new words in here for you? Which ones?

  • What other stuff did you discover this week? Please share!

  • How can this newsletter be made more helpful in your Chinese learning?

Thanks for reading and please do share with other dedicated learners of Chinese.

Have a great weekend!


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