Ren Zhengfei on leadership, making 'old nose' money, idioms about spilling blood and swallowing mountains

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻


Welcome to this week’s Slow Chinese newsletter 每周漫闻.

My words of the week:

  1. Business word of the week: Huawei’s Ren Zhengfei on leadership

    浆糊理论 (Jiàng Hú lǐlùn) - ‘flour paste theory’ - team cohesion, strong leadership

  2. Colloquialism of the week: useful north-eastern dialect words to make your Chinese sound more authentic

    老鼻子 (Lǎo bízi) - ‘old nose’ - lots of, plentiful

    And some other useful dialect words from other parts of China:

    很水 (Hěn shuǐ) ‘very watery’ - Cantonese meaning ‘crap or low ability’

  3. Idioms of the week: from Xi speeches

    气吞山河 (Qì tūn shān hé) - imbued with a spirit that can conquer mountains and rivers

    And… how to pronounce the character for blood properly:

    头破血流 (Tóu pò xuě liú) - ‘split head, blood flowing’, battered and bloody - “futile”

This week’s word count: 

  • General words: 2

  • Internet / social media words: 3

  • Idioms: 8

  • Colloquialisms: 2

  • Dialect words: 3

  • Political phrases: 1

  • Philosophical phrases: 0

  • Poems: 1

  • Total: 20

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1. Ren Zhengfei on leadership - 浆糊理论 (Jiàng Hú lǐlùn) “flour paste theory”

Ren Zhengfei had a session Huawei’s 2020 ‘gold medal employees’ on 6 May. The transcript was released last weekend.

Ren likes to use animal metaphors to talk about Huawei’s weaknesses and strengths. Probably the most famous is ‘wolf culture’ (狼文化 - Láng wénhuà).

In this discussion he talks about Huawei as:

  • A cat (猫 - Māo)


    Although we are learning from "cats", we’re not doing that well. At the very least least we still can't "climb a tree" […how can we become a tiger…?]

  • A baby bird (小鸟 - Xiǎo Niǎo)


    The mother bird flies back to the nest with bugs to feed her young. With so many little beaks open, chirping, how does she know which ones she has fed? This needs to be managed through coordination […Huawei can learn from this….]

And…. you’ve guessed it….

  • A rotifer (蛭形轮虫 - Zhì xíng lún chóng) - [asexual microscopic slug-like organisms that can survive for thousands of years through self-desiccation and splitting their genetic code to self-breed]

    科学家发现蛭形轮虫的基因链会断裂,又会重新整合。华为文化就是一条单基因链,必须有冲突来促变 - scientists have found that the genetic chains of Rotifers can break and then re-form. Huawei is like a singular genetic chain, it needs to [bring in] conflict [through new team members] in order to drive change

Useful words

Three words and one idiom to better understand where Huawei is, where it’s going and how it will get there:

  • 土包子 (Tǔbāozi) - ‘soil buns’, country bumpkin

    有些高级干部是“土包子”,自己不懂技术、没有能力,还按照自己“土包子”方法 - [until now] many of our high level managers have been ‘country bumpkins’, they don’t understand the technology, they have no ability and use their own ‘country bumpkin’ ways

  • 游击队 (Yóují duì) - ‘guerrilla force’ - Huawei’s approach to growing it’s business until now through aggressive, but somewhat chaotic, ‘guerrilla tactics’, which Ren is keen to change…

    对“游击队”进行整改,让我们逐步转为“正规军” - change our approach from Guerrilla tactics to become like a proper army

  • 浆糊 (Jiàng Hú) - “flour paste”; which means ‘team cohesion’ - Ren’s secret to strong leadership which is now called the ‘flower paster theory’ 浆糊理论:

    我什么都不懂,我就懂一桶桨糊,将这桶浆糊倒在华为人身上,把17万员工黏在一起,朝着一个大的方向拼死命地努力 - I understand nothing. All I do get is pouring a barrel of flour paste all over Huawei’s people, bringing 170,000 employees together, working tirelessly towards a common goal

  • 精益求精 (Jīng yì qiú jīng) - keep improving

    工程领域要精益求精,这不叫内卷,内卷是发生在不应该进行精益求精的地方。Engineering is a sector which requires continual improvement. This is not ‘involution’; involution happens in places where [competition for] continual improvement should not happen (…Huawei needs to continually improve…)

    [see 1 May newsletter for more on involution - intense social competition]


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2. Colloquialism of the week: 老鼻子 (Lǎo bízi) - ‘old nose’, lots of…

Stand-up comedy show Rock and Roast (脱口秀) sketches are always a great source for new words and colloquial phrases.

Comedian Li Xueqin (李雪琴), who first appeared on Rock and Roast in 2019, was the subject of some debate on social media this week. But not because of her jokes.

From SupChina:

a recent photo shoot […] featuring popular stand-up comedian Lǐ Xuěqín 李雪琴 in sexy outfits with low-cut necklines […] ruffled feathers among her long-time fans, who suggested the revealing looks were “hypocritical”

There are some useful Internet words in the Weibo commentary. You can use them to rant on social media, if you really have nothing better to do.

Or, try to deploy in real life and stun people with your authentic Chinese:

  • 特么 (Tè me) - an Internet word to replace 他妈的, TMD - ‘f**k’; how creative netizens avoiding censors removing their content

    特么什么垃圾造型师 - who is this f**king crap stylist!

  • 很水 (Hěn shuǐ) ‘very watery’; Cantonese meaning ‘crap or low ability’ which has crossed over into an Internet slang word

    我想说造型师摄影师都很水 - the stylist is really shit

    [Note: to add to the confusion it’s also Hakka (闽南话) describing someone who is ‘very beautiful’! I think its the Cantonese meaning here]

  • 绝了 (Jué le) - colloqial word for ‘amazing’, ‘the best’

    好好看  绝了绝了 - she looks amazing

Useful words

Li has a strong north eastern drawl and speaks with pace.

Try getting through these two 6-min sketches without reading the subtitles:

Here are some good words with a north eastern dialect feel:

  • 贼 (Zéi) - ‘very’ or ‘extremely’; previously in 19 June newsletter, but included here again because it’s such a great word

    红了之后,贼能接广告 - once I became famous I was getting a lot of interest from advertisers

  • 霍霍 (Huòhuò) - ‘scrape’; ‘pull a fast one’ on somebody, ‘take advantage’; similar to 欺负, 折磨 or 占便宜

    老板你不能这么霍霍我 - boss, you can’t treat me like that

  • 老鼻子 (Lǎo bízi) - ‘old nose’ - lots of

    我爸一年挣老鼻子钱了 - my dad makes a huge amount of money each year


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3. Xi Speeches - Idioms about blood baths and swallowing mountains

Two big Xi speeches this week:

  • 29 June - at a ceremony presenting the centenary medals to 29 ordinary heroes

  • 1 July - the big one at Tiananmen Square

Much attention was given to this idiom in the 1 July speech:

  • 头破血流 (Tóu pò xuě liú) - ‘split head, blood flowing’, battered and bloody

    …必将在14亿多中国人民用血肉筑成的钢铁长城面前碰得头破血流 - "…will face broken heads and bloodshed in front of the iron Great Wall of the 1.4 billion Chinese people."

The official translation:

  • “On a collision course”

NYT version:

  • “crack their heads and spill blood”

Sky interpretation:

  • “broken heads and bloodshed”

I think it actually means:

  • “absolutely futile” - like banging your head against the wall until it bleeds

But of course it’s heavily loaded and intended to make a strong rhetorical point - which clearly it did, judging by the reaction it got on the day, and in the subsequent media kerfuffle.

The character for blood 血 crops up eight times in that speech.

It’s a confusing one for language learners because there are three pronunciations:

  • xuè - usually for technical words like ‘blood type’ (血型 - xuè xíng)

  • xiě - used in spoken langauge, for example ‘blood’ (血液 - Xiěyè)

  • xuě - colloquial / regional pronunciation which comes up in certain expressions that use ‘blood’ figuratively - such as the idiom above. Another good one which uses this pronunciation, and has been mistranslated by the English language media, is:

    杀出一条血路来 (Shā chū yītiáo xuě lù lái) - “blaze a trail” of blood [credited to Deng Xiaoping from a speech in Shenzhen in 1979]

Bonus idiom: here’s one more idiom in the 1 July speech about bloodshed:

  • 浴血奋战 (Yùxiě fènzhàn) - a bloody fight [but which pronunciation is it? Please reply to this email if you know ;)]

A poem and idioms about the elements

One line of the same poem was in both speeches:

  • 敢教日月换新天 (Gǎn jiào rì yuè huàn xīn tiān) - “Which dares to make sun and moon shine in new skies”

    保持“敢教日月换新天”的昂扬斗志,埋头苦干、攻坚克难 - Maintain the high morals of "daring to teach the sun and the moon to change the sky", working hard and overcome difficulties

It’s a line from Shaoshan Revisited (七律·到韶山), written by Mao Zedong in June, 1959, about sacrifice, having the bravery to ‘teach the sun and the moon’ [‘move heaven and earth’] and rid the countryside of evil influences.

  • Read the full poem in Chinese and English here.

A similarly visual and powerful idiom about overcoming the elements was in the 29 June speech:

  • 气吞山河 (Qìtūnshānhé) - imbued with a spirit that can swallow mountains and rivers

    谱写了气吞山河的英雄壮歌 - written a song of bravery and heroism imbued with the spirit that can conquer mountains and rivers [meaning: “we can achieve anything”]

And, if you can’t stomach an entire mountain and/or river, build a tunnel and a bridge….

  • 逢山开道、遇水架桥 (Féng shān kāidào, yù shuǐ jià qiáo) - build roads through mountains, build bridges to cross rivers

    敢于斗争,善于斗争,逢山开道、遇水架桥,勇于战胜一切风险挑战!- dare to enter the struggle, adept at the struggle, [with the spirit of] overcoming mountains, bridging rivers, and with the bravery to overcome any danger or challenge

Idioms about struggle

Here are three idioms from the speeches that you might also hear an entrepreneur or big boss saying to motivate his team to work even harder.

  • 苦干实干 (Kǔ gàn shígàn) - working hard and working real - “hard work”

    苦干实干,充分展示了共产党人无私无畏的奉献精神 - working hard, fully demonstrating the selfless and sacrificing spirit of CCP members

  • 不畏艰险 (Bù wèi jiānxiǎn) - fearless in the face of danger and hardships

    尽职尽责作为人生目标,不畏艰险、敢于牺牲 - showing responsibility as [our] lifetime goal, fearless, willing to sacrafice

  • 奋勇前进 (Fènyǒng qiánjìn) - advance courageously

    向着中华民族伟大复兴的中国梦奋勇前进 - bravely working towards realising the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation


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Two things to recommend this week:

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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.

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