Screen floods, dogwood, little fresh meat and Three Ox Spirit

Slow Chinese Weekly Newsletter

独在异乡为异客,每逢佳节倍思亲 (Dú zài yìxiāng wéi yì kè, měi féng jiājié bèi sī qīn)

“All alone in a foreign land, I am twice as homesick on this festive day”

If you want to impress your Chinese friends during CNY, especially if they are away from home, then you can drop a one-liner from this poem by Tang Dynasty poet, Wang Wei (王维 - Wáng Wéi).

If you’re feeling ambitious you can go for the last two lines as well…

遥知兄弟登高处,遍插茱萸少一人 (Yáo zhī xiōngdì dēnggāo chù, biàn chā zhūyú shǎo yīrén)

When brothers carry dogwood (茱萸 - zhūyú) up the mountain, Each of them a branch -- and my branch missing.

In ancient China, Dog wood (茱萸 - zhūyú) was used during the Double Ninth Festival (农历九月初九重阳节), worn in people’s hair to rid of them of evil spirits and sickness (驱邪治病 Qū xié zhì bìng).

Wang Wei (王维), as well as having 420 poems attributed to him, was also a musician, painter and politician. Read more here.

This is the second Slow Chinese newsletter.

My aim is to try to stop forgetting any more Chinese during lockdown, learning a few new things every week while keeping on top of the news. I’ll share what I find - hopefully curating some engaging, slow, news-based content for long-time learners of Chinese, who (like me) want to keep their language skills up, take their Chinese to the next level, but lack the time, motivation, materials or environment to do it.

In this weeks Slow Chinese…

  1. Words of the Week

  2. Slow Stories

  3. Chinese New Year language tips


1. Words of the week

  1. 刷屏 (Shuā píng) - ‘flooding the screen’, or going viral

  2. 小鲜肉 (Xiǎo xiān ròu) - ‘little fresh meat,’ describing young boy-band pop-stars

  3. 三牛精神 (Sān niú jīngshén) - three Ox spirit


2. Slow stories

  1. Honest grandmother pays back loan, goes viral

  2. Boys should be less like like girls

Honest grandmother (诚信奶奶) pays back loan, goes viral

Story: 90-year old entrepreneur Chen Jinying (陈金英) went viral and was then highlighted as a model (榜样) by state media after paying back RMB20 million loan over ten years.

Context: after setting up her second (二次创业) clothing business, Chen Jinying previously faced bankruptcy (破产) but refused to give in. After ten long years of hard work, sticking to her word (坚守诚信), and with some help from her friends, she eventually paid her debts off, just before New Year.

New words:

  • 刷屏 (Shuā píng) - ‘flooding the screen.’ Originally used in online chat rooms to describe an overload of messages, or spam messages. Nowadays it seems to be used like ‘going viral’ (although I can’t find anywhere that translates it as that). Shuā is the action for swiping the phone screen, (píng). Chen Jinying was one of the pre-New Year viral ‘good news’ stories this year.

    我朋友圈都被刷屏了,你竟然不知道?This has gone viral in my (online) network, how can you not have heard about it?!

  • 千方百计 (Qiān fāng bǎi jì) - try everything possible to… (avoid something)

  • 老赖 (Lǎo lài) - deadbeat, slacker [UK = lazy git]

    有些“老赖”千方百计逃债 - some slackers will try anything to get out of paying their debts

  • 一诺千金 (Yī nuò qiān jīn) - one promise is worth a thousand golden taels; a promise kept is priceless. The story behind this idiom is worth a read. It’s about Li Bu (李布), a general during the Qin Dynasty, who became famous for keeping his word while avoiding execution by being dressing up and sold as a female servant (strangely relevant to the story below!), not being caught by, and then winning the trust of, bounty hunters who were after him.

    你可以相信我,我是一个一诺千金的人 - you can trust me, I’m a man/woman/person of my word

Further reading/watching

To go deeper into this story the links below are helpful - read the article first and then watch the video.

Boys should be less like girls (男性青少年女性化)

Story: the Chinese gov’t is anxious about teenage boys not being manly enough, so the Ministry of Education is taking action, but that’s not gone down too well so far…

Context:

  • MoE published the plan last week with recommendations of how to build male energy (男子气概) in the teenage boy population. This was in response (回函) to a proposal by 斯泽夫 (Sī zé fū), a delegate of the CPPCC, and the boss of Harbin [a very manly place, apparently] Electric Corp (哈尔滨电气集团).

  • The plan seeks to address concerns raised by Si of young boys being “feminised” (女性气质化), becoming weak (柔弱 Róu ruò), timid (胆怯 Dǎn qiè), having low self-esteem (自卑 Zì bēi) and being cowardly (胆小 Dǎn xiǎo)! If not addressed, according to Si, this will harm the survival and development of the Chinese people (危害中华民族的生存发展). Serious stuff!

  • Si appears to be from another century, perhaps another planet even, not just the far north of the PRC. Needless to say there was much debate on both sides of the argument with tonnes of ‘must know’ words to have a coherent discussion about this topic…

Useful words:

  • 小鲜肉 (Xiǎo xiān ròu) - ‘little fresh meat’ describing young (12-20), handsome (帅气) boys. Is this the Chinese for ‘heartthrob’ or am I being too ‘Take That’? Originally used in 2014 referring to K-pop stars. The female equivalent is 小花, ‘little flower’. Seems to be neutral / positive, but in this context it can have negative connotations.

    我以前,也是个小鲜肉 - I was also a heart throb (when I was younger)! [delivered with comic, self-deprecating irony]

  • 娇生惯养 (Jiāo shēng guàn yǎng) - spoilt (as a result of being an only child - mostly boys) - very important word in discussing modern Chinese society!

    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 (吃苦)

  • 阳刚之气 (Yáng gāng zhī qì) - masculinity

    更多注重学生“阳刚之气”的培养 - there’s a need to’ focus more on cultivating student’s masculinity

  • 贴上…标签 (Tiē shàng…biāo qiān) - ‘to label someone as’. (This is a really useful phrase).

    男性青少年被贴上女性标签 - teenaged boys have been labelled as feminine

This is a huge and topic. I tried to stick to a handful of the most interesting and useful phrases. There’s a lot more in the links below. NYT piece is excellent.

Further reading


3. Chinese language new year tips

The basics

Do you know when to use the three different 拜年 (Bàinián)? 早年 (early), 大年 (big) and 晚年 (late). I double-checked - here you go!

拜早年 - it’s early any time before New Year’s eve (除夕)

拜大年 - you wish a big New Year between 除夕 and the fifth day of the New Year (正月初五) - today is 大年初二, so you should be Dà nián-ing at the moment.

拜晚年 - it’s a late new year any time after the fifth day up to the final (15th) day of the New Year period (正月十五) .

After that, you really are too late and you’ll have to wait for the next year. More in the link below.

Good ways to wish somebody a new year include:

牛年吉祥 (Niú nián jíxiáng) - ‘lucky Ox year’

牛气冲天 (Nǐ qì chōng tiān) - ‘Ox power will take us to the sky’

Must know Ox Year idioms

These two idioms have been knocking around since before the western New Year. If you haven’t got them yet, you really should do!

2020实鼠不易 (Shí shǔ bùyì) - a play on words of the idiom 实属不易 - ‘it’s really not been easy (in the Year of the Rat)’

2021牛转乾坤 (Niú zhuǎn qiánkūn) - a play on words of the idiom 扭转乾坤 - ‘there’s going to be a radical or big change, things are going to get much better (in the Year of the Ox).’ 乾坤 qián kūn is ‘heaven and earth’, or the universe; 乾 means ‘sky,’ 坤 is earth. They are two of the eight Trigrams (八卦) from the I-Ching (易经).

President Xi CNY speech

There’s some good stuff hidden in the Xi Jinping speech from the 10th Feb Chinese New Year gathering 团拜会.

奋力拼搏 (Fènlì pīn bó) - fight hard (for or towards an objective)

为我们共同的目标而奋力拼搏 - fight hard for our joint objective (good for set piece speeches)

暖意融融 (Nuǎn yì róngróng) - warmth (of an environment)

春风吹的暖意融融 - warm spring breeze (good for setting the scene at the start of a CNY speech)

向心力 (Xiàngxīnlì) - centrifugal force (‘force pointing to the heart’)

中国人民和中华民族具有无比强大的向心力 - the Chinese people are bound together by an incomparably unstoppable force

大鹏一日同风起,扶摇直上九万里 (Dà péng yī rì tóng fēng qǐ, fúyáozhíshàng jiǔ wàn lǐ) - line from a Li Bai poem:

“The Roc [giant mythical bird] will one day catch the wind,

And fly to the heavens and beyond”.

Meaning: We’re going to have an AMAZING year, people!

三牛精神 (Sān niú jīngshén) - three ox spirit - first mentioned in Xi’s New Year’s speech in Jan. The three Ox’s are:

孺子牛 (Rú zǐ niú) - willing Ox (serves the people)

拓荒牛 (Tuò huāng niú) - pioneering Ox (innovative, brave)

老黄牛 (Lǎo huáng niú) - hard working Ox (diligent, dedicated)

Now, armed with all this, you can enjoy the speech…

Feedback please…

Thanks for reading.

  • Any feedback, thoughts, comments and ideas?

  • What new words have you discovered this week?

  • What have I missed? Please share!

If you know anyone who you think might enjoy this please do forward to them.

See you next week/year!

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