Hats, hairdos and different Chinese words for hate

Slow Chinese Weekly 每周漫闻

Hi 大家好!

Welcome to the Slow Chinese newsletter (每周漫闻).

The idea is to gather news-based content for long-time learners of Chinese, who (like me) are forgetting their hard-earned Chinese language during lockdown, and lack the time, motivation, materials or environment to do anything about it. 

Hopefully this weekly dose of useful words and idioms based on what’s been going on in the news can help a little, and also be useful to non-Chinese speakers who have an interest in China. 

This week, there’s an idiom about hats and hairdos from International Women’s Day, an exploration of the confusing world of how to say hate in Chinese and a Du Fu poem about spring.

Thanks for reading!

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Words of the Week

巾帼不让须眉 (Jīnguó bù ràng xūméi)

‘Women are no less than men’

International Women’s Day is big in China.

It’s also known as 三八节 (‘8 March Festival’), and more colloquially as 女神节 ‘Female Goddess Festival.’

The idiom, ‘women are no less than men’ (巾帼不让须眉), came up a lot.

It’s figurative speech from China’s Warring States period (476 - 221 BC). China was a Feudal society (封建社会 - covered in last weeks newsletter) during this period, when women were regarded as inferior to men.

巾帼 (Jīn guó) was a traditional kind of headwear for women at that time, which came to mean women; Xū méi (须眉) is how the wispy hair and long eyebrows of men were described, which apparently was a must-have for heartthrobs (小鲜肉) back in the day. It became used as a term to mean men.

So, to say that a hat (巾帼) is no less (不让) than a hairdo (须眉), is to say that a woman is no less than, or as good as, any man.

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Women hold up (more than) half the sky

Chinese companies, such as T-Mall 天猫, published reports on the economic impact of “She power” 她力量 (Tā lì liàng) to coincide with International Women’s Day earlier this week.

Main take away: women now account for at least half of sales in many sectors in China.

T-Mall’s report had some compelling stats:

  • 80% of new products on T-Mall are aimed at female consumers

  • Female entrepreneurs accounted for 40% of T-mall’s new brands, and more than 50% of apparel brands

The company concluded that:

中国是全球女性创业最活跃的地区之一,无论从数量还是占比来看,均遥遥领先于英美等主要发达国家 - China is one of the most vibrant places for female entrepreneurs to be active in the world. In terms of numbers and proportions [of female entrepreneurs], China is way ahead of the main developed countries such as the UK or the US.

According to another report, ‘She power’ is also big in the alcoholic drinks sector, in which women represent over half of consumers for some upmarket drinks brands.

Useful words

Here are some must-have words to get stuck into this topic:

  • 她力量 (Tā lì liàng) - ‘she power’

    综上可见,强大的“她力量”不容酒类行业忽视 - In summary, the strength of ‘She-power’ should not be overlooked by the drinks industry

    行业拥抱这一股汹涌而来的“她力量” - the industry is embracing this surge in ‘She power’

  • 她经济 (Tā jīng jì) - ‘she economy’ also 女性经济- female economy

  • 单身经济 (Dānshēn jīngjì) - single economy (in example below)

  • 单身狗 (Dān shēn gǒu) - ‘single dog’ - apparently was used more to describe single boys, but now it seems to be used for both

    以90后女性为代表的“单身经济”,她们也渐渐适应了单身狗称号,让他们对单身的理解也发生了改变 - taking single women born in the ‘90’s as representatives of the ‘single economy,’ they are gradually becoming more used to being called things like ‘single dogs,’ and their understanding of what it means to be single is also changing.

  • 半边天 (Bàn biān tiān) - ‘half the sky’ a shortened version of the famous Mao quote from 1968:

    妇女能顶半边天 - women can hold up half of the sky


I picked out three good idioms that are quite widely used:

  • 铿锵玫瑰 (Kēngqiāng méiguī) - ‘iron roses’, used to describe tough women

  • 砥砺奋进 (Dǐ lì fèn jìn) - ‘forge ahead’, one of the many idioms about striving towards a goal, which I covered in last week’s newsletter

    凝聚砥砺奋进的“她”力量 - pulling together the surging power of ‘She-power’ [in the market]

  • 半壁江山 (Bàn bì jiāng shān) - ‘half of the rivers and mountains,’ meaning ‘half’ when talking about markets, normally when there are two main players or actors

    “女酒鬼”已经占据90后饮酒群体的半壁江山 - ‘female boozers’ are now half of all consumers in China born in the 1990’s.

Further reading

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How to hate someone correctly in Chinese

Onto a slightly more difficult topic. Hate.

In the last week or two, words in Chinese and English for ‘hate’ 憎恨, ‘venomous’ 恶毒 and others, have come up regularly.

Such strong words become even more difficult when crossing a cultural and language divide with vast yet subtle differences.

In Chinese, one person’s hate may be another’s regret, or remorse, even obsessive love or jealousy. Or, perhaps all of them jumbled up together! (And that’s just the different meanings hidden within one particular character for hate - Hèn above).

So this week I decided to explore the different ways to say ‘hate’ in Chinese.

There are perhaps more than thirty different words linked to feelings of hate (not including idioms).

Main characters

The six main characters for hate, three of which are in the words mentioned above (hate, venomous), are:

  • 憎 (Zēng)

    To hate, abhor, detest (the opposite of love, 爱); focussed on deep emotions

  • 恨 (Hèn)

    To ‘hate’; also ‘regret’ or hopeless ‘remorse’ (悔恨 - Huǐ hèn - I’ll look at this next week), even to love in an obsessive way; sometimes even used in an affectionate jokey way (although I probably wouldn’t go there!). Hèn is one of the most conceptually complex and interesting Chinese characters there is, and a reminder of just how hard Chinese is to truly grasp for people like you and me

  • 仇 (Chóu)

    Hatred (of enemies), this kind of hate involves hurt, perhaps revenge

  • 厌 (Yàn)

    To loathe or hate, normally associated with being tired of it, or bored of it (厌烦)

  • 嫌 (Xián)

    To dislike, or detest, resent; associated with ill will

  • 恶 (è, ě, wù)

    ‘Hatred’, ‘evil’, ‘disgusting’; with three different pronunciations depending on what kind of hate you are talking about, and a fourth from classical Chinese - - which has nothing to do with hate at all!

Different combinations

If that’s not confusing enough, most of these can also be used in various combinations with each other, as well as with other characters. Some of the most popular ways to say ‘hate’ in Chinese (in descending order from most hated at the top) are:

  • 仇恨 (Chóu hèn) - the most serious type of hate, focus is on Chóu, ‘revenge’

    饱含仇恨的眼睛在燃烧 - eyes full of burning hatred

    仇恨言论 - hate speech

  • 憎恨 (Zēng hèn) - a deep emotional kind of hate

    外国媒体憎恨中国吗?- does the foreign press hate China?

  • 憎恶 (Zēngwù) - to really dislike or be disgusted with

    喜欢一个人就希望他长期活下去,憎恶一个人就希望他赶快死去 - to like someone is to hope that they live a long life; to hate someone is more like wanting them to die as soon as possible

  • 嫌厌 (Xián yàn) - to despise, be really annoyed with or sickened by

    每次你都用这个理由,我听了都嫌厌了 - I hate hearing you use this excuse every time

The combinations can go on forever. Each one with its own particular kind of hate contained within it - emotional, prejudiced, jealous, vengeful, annoyed, bored, sickened, obsessive and so on.

It’s worth paying special attention to the character (or traditional - ) in all its confusing glory. With three distinct pronunciations (è, ě, wù) for its hate, all with subtle differences in the hateful emotions expressed.

These three pronunciations all come up regularly when talking about people, things, ideas, places or food you hate, or that are horrible:

  • 恶 (è) - terrible, horrible, aggressive, illegal

    • 恶毒 (è - dú) - venomous

    以'言论自由'旗号炮制假新闻、恶毒攻击中国 - concocting fake news and venomously attacking China under the banner of free speech

    • 恶人 (è - rén) - horrible person

    你这么做,真是成为了世界上最坏的恶人之一了 - in doing that you really have become one of the most horrible people in the world

    • 恶劣 (è - liè) - abominable, terrible

    以前在中国做生意,当时的环境比现在还恶劣多了 - the environment for doing business in China is nowhere near as bad as it used to be

    • 罪恶 (Zuì 'è) - sin, crime, evil

    世界上到处都是罪恶横行 - evil is rampant throughout the world [it could also mean sin or even crime]

  • 恶 (ě) - disgusting, horrible - normally of taste or behaviour

    • 恶心 (ě - xīn) - horrible, sick

    你们他妈的真让我恶心 - you guys are really f-ing terrible [you make me feel sick] / I hate you [sorry for the f-word so early in the morning, but if you’re going to hate authentically you do need to swear properly]

    这个啤酒喝得太恶心了 - this beer is horrible / I hate this beer

  • 恶 (wù) - hate, dislike, horrible, normally of people

    • 可恶 (kě wù) - horrible

    象他这种可恶的傲慢,对他自己有什么好处 - what benefit is it to himself in being so horribly arrogant?

    你太可恶了 - you are horrible / I hate you

There are even some words in which pronunciations of 恶 are interchangeable, such as 厌恶 (detest, abhor), which I’ve heard being pronounced as either Yàn-wù, or Yàn-è!

Still not found the right kind of hate?

No problem - there’s plenty more!

You can bring in more unpleasantries for extra colour in your hatred by adding a mix of yet more grumpy words to use in particular situations, such as blame (), pain () and anger ():

  • 怨恨 (Yuàn hèn) - to hate with resentment

    他被老板解雇了,心里充滿了怨恨 - his heart was full of hate after being sacked by his boss [it’s unfair]

  • 痛恨 (Tòng hèn) - to hate with a pain

    我痛恨这种粗鲁的态度 - I hate this kind of rude attitude [I’m hurt, offended]

  • 愤恨 (Fèn hèn) - to hate with anger

    一股无法控制的愤恨的情绪,在我心里翻腾 - an uncontrollable hateful emotion is seething in my heart [I’m really angry]

Words for hate can also be combined with simple verbs like to view (视), to mean (意) or to feel (感) to add more emotion.

  • 仇视 (Chóu shì) - hate, resent

    请不要以仇视的眼光看着我 - please don’t look at me with hateful eyes

  • 恶意 (È yì) - hateful or malicious intentions

    恶意造谣抹黑中国只会一次又一次被事实和真相打脸 - Maliciously spreading rumors to discredit China will only be slapped in the face by the facts and truth time-and-time-again(!)

  • 恶感 (È gǎn) - hateful feelings

    我对他并没有恶感 - I don’t hate him

I could go deeper into this interesting black hole of hate but I’ve stopped myself.

For example, I could have gone on a journey to explore the hundreds of hateful idioms, but I’ve managed to keep it to just two interesting ones.

First, in English we hate people’s guts; in Chinese we hate them to the bone:

  • 恨之入骨 (Hèn zhī rùgǔ) - hate him/her to their bones

    对那些贪官污吏,人民群众恨之入骨 - the people hate corrupt officials to their bones

Second, in Chinese idioms you can have the different kinds of hate combined:

  • 新仇旧恨 (Xīn chóu jiù hèn) - new (vengeful hate) on top of old (deep emotional hate) - also 旧恨新仇, just to make matters more confusing

    对敌人的新仇旧恨,一齐涌上心头 - deep hateful feelings towards the enemy surge in my heart

To conclude, talking about feelings of hate in Chinese, and translating into English, is extremely difficult, confusing and risky. In fact, it really is impossible to capture the full depth of emotions.

It’s also very easy to get things completely wrong!

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A Du Fu poem about Spring from the Two Sessions

There’s plenty of excellent analysis out there about the Two Sessions. So I’ve focussed on a small poetic detail that you probably didn’t spot.

Some press articles of the Two Sessions this week started with this poem:  

迟日江山丽,春风花草香 (Chí rì jiāngshān lì, chūnfēng huācǎo xiāng)

Rivers and mountains gleam in the evening sun,

Fragrance of flowers and grass lingers on the spring breeze.

(There are lots of translations of this poem. This is my effort. It’s hard to capture the same feeling in Chinese as in English.)

Most non-Chinese observers on reading the translation would think: well, that’s a bit weird and cheesy!

And unless you are Chinese you probably wouldn’t know that these are actually the first two lines of a four-line poem by Du Fu (杜甫), called the 2nd Quatrain, Part 1 (绝句二首,其一). 

Here’s the full poem with pin yin.

Having a few short poems, such as this one, at the ready is a great way to impress with your Chinese, breakdown barriers and is an excellent way to kick off a productive Baijiu session!

Using poems or floral language to kick off a speech or a discussion is also quite common - its sets the tone, atmosphere and context - and is a really important part of communicating effectively in Chinese.

Further reading

Here are two media articles that start with the poem.

And on that note, that’s it for this week.

Thanks for reading and see you next week!

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