Poems of hypocrisy, idioms of arrogance and how to talk about a stock market blood bath

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻


Welcome to the Slow Chinese newsletter - 每周漫闻.

My words of the week this week follow the theme of the powerful abusing their status:

  1. Poem: from Du Fu about hypocrisy (MFA spokesperson)

    朱门酒肉臭 (Zhūmén jiǔròu chòu) - Behind the Vermillion gates of the rich…

  2. Idiom: Dong Mingzhu patronises the young

    倚老卖老 (Yǐ lǎo mài lǎo) - the arrogance of the old


    吃苦, 艰难, 艰苦 - Different words for hardships

  3. Colloquialism (俗语): Elon Musk, bitcoin price fluctuations and China:

    脱不了干系 (Tuō bùliǎo gānxì) - cannot be separated from; inextricably linked


    翻云覆雨 (Fānyúnfùyǔ) - ‘produce clouds with one turn of the hand and rain with another’; abuse one’s power

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1. A Dù Fǔ Poem about Hypocrisy

MFA spokesperson, Hua Chunying (华春莹), quoted a Du Fu (杜甫 - Dù Fǔ) poem last Friday (14 May).

It was in a response to a question about China’s international vaccine roll out. She said:


The US has 330 million people, only 4% of the world's population. However, it has purchased 2.6 billion vaccine doses, or a quarter of the world's total.

It reminded her of a line from a Du Fu poem:

朱门酒肉臭,路有冻死骨 (Zhūmén jiǔròu chòu, lù yǒu dòng sǐ gǔ)


Behind the vermilion gates of the rich, meat and wine go to waste,

Along the road are bones of the poor who have frozen to death.

It’s a well known line from a poem called Feelings from Beijing to Fengxian County in 500 Words (自京赴奉先縣詠懷五百字).

The full poem and a translation is here.


Hua dropped three good idioms also useful in everyday life.

  • 道貌岸然 (Dào mào 'àn rán) - ‘pose as someone with high morals’, arrogant, full of themselves [Yang Jiechi used a similar idiom in the Alaska meetings which went viral on social media in March - 居高临下 (Jū gāo lín xià) - ‘condescending’, see 27 March newsletter for more]

    美方不仅在人权问题上道貌岸然,在疫苗问题上也是如此 - The US is not only full of sanctimonious hypocrisy in relation to human rights, it is the same too for vaccines

  • 落井下石 (luò jǐng xià shí) - throw a stone on someone who has fallen in a well; add insult to injury

    要么无所作为、落井下石,要么开空头支票 - the US either sits idly by and makes things worse for those already in difficulty, or pays lip service only.

  • 言行一致 (yán xíng yī zhì) - do what you say

    如果真的相信他们嘴上所说的民主和人权,他们就应该言行一致 - If the US really cares about life and health of people in other countries, if it really stands with them, if it really believes in democracy and human rights as it claims to, it should honour words with deeds.

    Note: this is similar in meaning to the Mozi (墨子) teaching…

    政者,口言之,身必行之 - Zhèng zhě, kǒu yán zhī, shēn bì xíng zhī

    To govern is to carry out what one teaches

    … which came up this week in the latest in the CCTV series, "Communist Party Member Xi Jinping" (共产党员习近平), highlighted in Thursday’s Sinocism.


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2. Dong Mingzhu: young people don’t know hardships 吃苦 (Chī kǔ)

A 2 minute clip of an interview of Dong Mingzhu (董明珠), founder of Gree Electric (格力电器) with talk show host Yang Lan (杨澜) is worth a watch for language learners.

Dong complained that kids today don’t know what real hard work is.

Young Weibo users were not so impressed. Top comments include a useful idiom:

倚老卖老 (Yǐlǎomàilǎo) - rely on one’s age to look down on the young; the arrogance of the old

Netizens continued….

董阿姨不知道现在的格力是年轻人在内卷的环境里赚得辛苦钱成就起来的 - does Aunty Dong not realise that Gree is built on the success of young people earning hard money in an environment of unhealthy competition? [see 1 May newsletter for more on unhealthy competition 内卷].

There are two words in her comments worth looking at: making money (挣钱) and ‘bearing hardships’ (吃苦).

Making money

The two main ways to make money in Chinese: 挣钱 and 赚钱.

There is a subtle difference in the characters.

  • 挣钱 (Zhèng qián)

    The Zhèng is made up of ‘hand’ (手) and ‘strive’ (争); meaning using your own hands through hard work to get reward.

  • 赚钱 (Zhuàn qián)

    Zhuàn is also made up of two parts, ‘shell’ (贝), meaning money, and 兼 (Jiān), which means ‘simultaneous’; this in turn made up of a ‘hand’ (手) holding two seedlings (禾); meaning use money to buy seeds, grow crops, sell them and make more money - making a profit and creating wealth.

So, 挣钱 is working people making small money; 赚钱 is an entrepreneurial endeavour:

  • 挣钱:用手去争来的 - using your hands to make money (also more informal use)

  • 赚钱:用钱去兼来的 - using money to make more money

Different ways to say hardships

Dong uses two words for hardships - 吃苦 and 艰苦.

There are at least five other words that can all be translated as ‘hard’ but are used in different ways.

  • 吃苦 (Chī kǔ): ‘bear hardships’ - experience of hard work or a hard life

    年轻人不知道怎么吃苦 - the young don’t appreciate hardships

  • 艰苦 (Jiān-kǔ): ‘hard’ - environment or conditions (‘it’s a hard life’)’

    我们知道什么叫艰苦,年轻人不知道艰苦 - we know what it’s like to live a hard life, kids today do not

  • 艰辛 (Jiān xīn): ‘hard’ - environment, similar to Jiān-kǔ; conditions often haven’t improved despite their efforts

    红军走完二万五千里长征,是漫长而又艰辛的 - the Red Army’s Long March was long and hard [at the end of it, the conditions were still just as hard]

  • 辛苦 (Xīn-kǔ): ‘hard’ - referring to time and energy spent completing a task or ‘working’; [similar use to 吃力 or 费力]

    每天上班,我们真的很辛苦 - it’s very hard going to work every day

    It’s also a useful compliment if you’re looking for a one-liner to impress a big boss with your excellent Chinese:

    首长辛苦了 - [there’s no English for this but it means: ‘you’ve worked very hard - well done’]

  • 艰难 (Jiān-nán): ‘hard’ - referring to the process involved in a task or undertaking

    这个任务很艰难,不过他付出努力还是完成了 - this task was extremely hard, but after much effort he eventually completed [the process]

  • 艰巨 (Jiān-jù): ‘hard’ - of a task, it feels ‘harder’ and heavier than Jiān-nán

    这是一项艰巨庞杂的任务 - this is a hard and complex challenge

  • 困难 (Kùnnán): ‘hard’ - a problem that is too hard to over come

    敢于挑战自己极限的人,就不怕遇到什么困难 - those who are willing to challenge their upper limits are not afraid of coming up against difficulties

See earlier newsletters for deep dives on Chinese words for hate and scold.


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3. Musk, Bitcoin and China

Last week’s newsletter translated two colloquialisms 俗语 about reactions of crypto investors to Elon Musk’s joke about Dogocoin (狗狗币).

This week as the price of digital currencies continued to fall, Chinese media describing the influence of Elon Musk on Bitcoin price fluctuations as….

  • 脱不了干系 (Tuō bùliǎo gānxì) - inextricably linked

    年内比特币行情马斯克脱不了干系 - the [fluctuations in the] price of Bitcoin this year are inextricable linked to Musk


  • 翻云覆雨 (Fānyúnfùyǔ) - ‘produce clouds with one turn of the hand and rain with another’; it’s another idiom derived from a Du Fu poem, describing corrupt leaders at the end of the Tang Dynasty:

    马斯克已经成为了[翻手为云,覆手为雨]的掌控者 - Musk has become someone with enormous influence over Bitcoin [through what he says and does]

    [This idiom also has a slightly ruder meaning in modern Chinese which I’m sure would surprise, and perhaps even please, Du Fu]

Useful words

Here’s some essential vocab if you want to talk about a stock market crash….

  • 血洗 (Xuě xǐ) - ‘blood bath’

    虚拟货币被血洗 - a blood bath for digital currency  

  • 爆仓 (Bào cāng) - ‘explode stores’; lose all their money [cāng means ‘holdings’ or investments; so you can also have 持仓 - hold onto shares, and 清仓 - clear your holdings]

    近24小时内,全网爆仓120亿 - RMB 12 billion value was wiped out from online investor’s holdings

  • 雪崩 (Xuěbēng) - avalanche

    虚拟货币整体价格雪崩 - an avalanche in the price of digital money

  • 跳水 (Tiàoshuǐ) - jump in water; plunge in price (similar to avalanche)

    数字货币市场再次大跳水 - the digital currency market has plunged again

  • 崩盘 (Bēngpán) - ‘collapse’ or crash

    比特币崩盘13%、狗狗币暴跌20% - Bitcoin price crashed 13%, Dogecoin fell 20%

  • 蒸发 (Zhēngfā) - evaporate, disappear

    日内跌幅超13%,市值单日蒸发千亿美元 - The intraday drop exceeded 13%, with hundreds of billions of dollars being lost in a single day

Useful idioms

There’s also some colourful idioms for talking about unhappy investors or investments….

  • 上蹿下跳 (Shàng cuān xià tiào) - jumping up and down [price]

    近一个月以来,比特币走出了“上蹿下跳”的行情 - the price of Bitcoin has jumped erratically over the past month

  • 腥风血雨 (Xīngfēngxuèyǔ) - a foul wind and a rain of blood

    中国三大监管机构一出手,币圈腥风血雨 - the move by the three associations caused chaos in bitcoin investor circles

  • 哀鸿遍野 (Āihóngbiànyě) - a land of wailing and despair

    币圈一片哀鸿遍野 - bitcoin circles are in despair

  • 血本无归 (Xuèběn wú guī) - lose blood; lose everything

    前提是以要做血本无归的准备 - you need to prepare for the possibility of loosing everything


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Odds and ends: how to talk about China’s space program

With the landing of China’s first rover on Mars on 14 May, I thought I would brush up on the names of China’s space missions.

So, here’s a list of the missions and spacecraft, with their translations:

  • Shenzhou - 神舟 (Shénzhōu) - ‘Divine Ship’

    China’s first Crewed spaceflight program. Shenzhou-5 put the first Chinese citizen, Yang Liwei, into orbit on 15 October, 2003.

  • Chang'e - 嫦娥 (Cháng'é) - ‘Moon Goddess’

    An ongoing program of moon exploration missions, with the first flight launching on 24 October, 2007.

  • Yutu - 玉兔 (Yùtù) - ‘Jade Rabbit’

    Lunar rover part of the Chang'e-3 mission reaching the Moon's surface on 14 December 2013; Yutu-2 was the first rover ever to be landed on the dark side of the moon, part of the Chang'e 4 mission, in December, 2018.

  • Tiangong - 天宫 (Tiāngōng) - ‘Heavenly Palace’

    China's program to create a modular space station, launching its first space laboratory, Tiangong-1, on 29 September 2011.

  • Tianwen - 天问 (Tiān wèn) - ‘Questions to Heaven’ (172 questions written in poem format by Qu Yuan during the Zhou Dynasty, 1046 BC – 256 BC)

    China’s first interplanetary mission to send a robotic spacecraft to Mars, launched on 23 July 2020, entering Martian orbit on 10 February 2021

  • Zhu Rong - 祝融 (Zhùróng) - ‘Fire God’ (Zhurong is a god of fire and of the south, according to the philosophical texts of Mozi (墨子)

    The lander/rover of the Tianwen mission which successfully touched down on Mars on 14 May 2021.

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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 this newsletter with fellow Chinese learners and China watchers…

Thank you!


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