Flowers in a greenhouse, idioms about mistakes and how to talk about movies you love

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻


Welcome to the Slow Chinese newsletter - 每周漫闻. 

It’s a weekly dose of useful words and phrases from the news for Chinese language learners who lack the time, motivation, materials or environment to keep their language skills going.

This week:

  1. Word of the week:

    温室里的花朵 (Wēnshì lǐ de huāduǒ) - ‘a flower in the greenhouse’ and its different meanings

  2. Quote of the week: Zhao Lijian on release of radioactive waste water

    殷鉴不远 (Yīnjiàn bù yuǎn) - lessons from the past are not far behind

  3. Idioms for talking about films you love: from ‘Sister’

    丝丝入扣 (Sī sī rù kòu) - [the plot] holds together beautifully

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1. Word of the week: a ‘flower in the greenhouse’ - 温室里的花朵 (Wēnshì lǐ de huāduǒ)

‘A flower in a greenhouse’ is normally used to describe a spoilt child with protective parents.

青年绝不可成为不知辛苦的温室里的花朵 - a teenager must not become a ‘flower in a greenhouse’ who doesn’t know hard work

Another idiom that means something similar was covered in the 13 Feb issue of this newsletter:

  • 娇生惯养 (Jiāo shēng guàn yǎng) - spoilt (as a result of being an only child - mostly boys)

    他从小娇生惯养,什么苦都吃不了 - he’s been spoilt by his parents since he was a baby, he can’t take any hardships

But as with any Chinese word, the meaning can change or be open to interpretation if there’s an opportunity for colourful play on words.

Since January this year, ‘a flower in the greenhouse’ has also been China’s position on US-China climate change talks when MFA spokesperson said this:

中美在具体领域的合作不是“温室里的花朵” US-China cooperation in specific areas cannot be ‘a flower in the greenhouse’

Meaning: issues within the bilateral relationship cannot be treated in isolation (or as standalone issues)

The Chinese media have repeated this message in the last two days as meetings between US and Chinese Climate Envoys continue.

Question: will that still be the position in the readout of the meetings between John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua in the next few days?

Other useful words:

Considering the frothy rhetoric from China towards the US in recent months, the limited Chinese media coverage so far of the John Kerry - Xie Zhenhua meetings in Shanghai is restrained, even hopeful in tone:

  • 小气候 (Xiǎo qì hòu) - ‘small atmosphere’; atmosphere of US-China relations

    中美合力应对全球“大气候”或将为双边“小气候”带来一些新的变化 - US and China working together on addressing the global ‘big climate’ issue, perhaps will bring some changes to the ‘small climate’ of US-China cooperation

  • 窗口期 (Chuāng kǒu qī) - window [of opportunity]

    两国关系走向新的“窗口期” - the bilateral relationship is entering a new window [of opportunity]

  • 知华派 (Zhī huá pài) - person who understands China [similar to 中国通, but more formal], the Chinese view of John Kerry

    克里被视为美国政府的“知华派” - Kerry is regarded as the one who best understands China in the US government

    Note: Unlike Sinophile, 亲华派 Qīn huá pài (covered in 27 Feb issue of this newsletter), a Zhī huá pài doesn’t always have to be supportive of China - sometimes they can disagree or be critical. Whereas a Sinophile is positive on everything China.

  • 安全门 (Ān quán mén) - exit, escape route; in this context it means ‘a way out of’ a difficult situation or negotiation

    分析认为,一份挑衅意味明显的报告单列气候问题,是在为与中国进行气候合作设置“安全门” Analysts believe that in singling out climate change in this otherwise provocative report, [the US] is providing a ‘way through’ for cooperation with China

Further reading:

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2. Quote of the week

From Zhao Lijian during the MFA regular press conference on Wednesday, in response to a question about the release of radioactive wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear disaster:


MFA translation:

The oceans are not Japan's trash can; and the Pacific Ocean is not Japan's sewer. Japan should not expect the world to pay the bill for its treatment of wastewater. As for the individual Japanese official's remarks that the water is okay to drink, why doesn't he take a sip first? The lesson from Japan's Minamata disease is not far behind us.

There’s a good idiom at the end:

殷鉴不远  (Yīnjiàn bù yuǎn) - “the lessons of the past are not far behind”

It’s from Mencius (孟子), the full text is:

殷鉴不远,在夏后之世 (Yīnjiàn bù yuǎn, zài xià hòu zhī shì)

  • Background殷 (Yīn) is the latter part of the Shang Dynasty (商朝), China’s second dynasty, which ruled China from 1766 to 1122 BC; the 夏 (xià) was the first Chinese dynasty, just before the Shang, which existed 2070 and 1600 BC (according to Chinese government chronology) 

  • Meaning:

    ‘Those in the Shang Dynasty should learn the lessons from the perishing of the Xia’. (殷商子孙应以夏的灭亡为借戒)

  • Other notes: it’s similar to the idiom 以史为鉴 (Yǐ shǐ wèi jiàn) - ‘learning the lessons of history’. But 殷鉴不远  (Yīnjiàn bù yuǎn) seems to often be used to refer to a specific event, or something in the not too distant past. Whereas 以史为鉴 can be used more generally about any time in history.

There’s also some historical context:

  • 水俣病 (Shuǐ yǔ bìng) - ‘Minamata disease’: an awful disease caused by the release of methylmercury in industrial wastewater. It was first discovered in, and named after, the Japanese city of Minamata, when release of methylmercury from an industrial plant continued there from 1932 to 1968.

Further reading / watching

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3. Idioms for talking about movies you love in Chinese

Sister (我的姐姐 - ‘My Sister‘), a homegrown movie released in China last week, has captivated Chinese audiences.

It’s about An Ran (安然), an 18-year-old girl who has to look after her 6-year-old brother following the death of both parents. While trying to find her own way in life, she is faced with the choice of having to put the needs of caring for her brother ahead of her own.

A Weibo post by Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe (李银河) discusses how the film highlights the clash between traditional Chinese values and the aspirations of modern Chinese today.

The article is a challenging read but is a great resource for language learners who want to talk about films they love with impressive idioms.

Impressive idioms

I’ve divided into two groups - general ones for talking about movies, and good ones to talk about emotions while watching. Rather than giving example sentences for each one, I’ve tried something new - a text from the article with all the idioms.

Movie idioms

  • 引人入胜 (Yǐn rén rù shèng) - fascinating

  • 匪夷所思 (Fěi yí suǒ sī) - incredible, inconceivable

  • 丝丝入扣 (Sī sī rù kòu) - all threads neatly tie-up - the plot holds together really well

  • 浮想联翩 (Fú xiǎng lián piān) - leaves a lot to the imagination

Emotions idioms

  • 潸然泪下 (Shān rán lèi xià) - shedding tears

  • 欲罢不能 (Yù bà bù néng) - can’t stop [yourself from…]

  • 忍俊不禁 (Rěn jùn bù jīn) - can’t help but laugh

Here’s a text from the Li Yinhe article. As you can see, idioms are either used on their own, or with 令人 (Lìng rén) - ‘to cause’ [people to] in front:



Further reading

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Finally, reading into China’s climate change and renewable energy stories this week, I found this amazing image:

Question: which province is it in, and what size is this array?

Reply to this email with your best guess.

Also - please do share feedback! This will really help me.

  • What do you like about this newsletter?

  • What would you change / improve?

  • How can it be better or more valuable to language learners?

  • Has it helped you improve your Chinese?

Any feedback and/or answers to these questions would be much appreciated.

That’s it for this week. 

Thanks for reading. 

I’ll see you in your inbox around the same time next Saturday.

And please do help share Slow Chinese with anyone who you think needs to brush up on their spoken, written, slang, idiomatic, poetic or classical Chinese language skills. 

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