Stumbling blocks, throwing pots, mountains that can't move and towers made of sand

Slow Chinese Weekly News Digest

聚沙成塔,集腋成裘 (Jùshāchéngtǎ, jí yè chéng qiú)

Grains of sand can be gathered into a tower; clumps of fur can be made into a robe

“Start small, aim big”

Hi all! 大家好!

This is the first mail-out of my newsletter, Slow Chinese.

The idea is to take a few stories from China that week that you’ve probably already read about, but I’ll try and dig out some new, useful and interesting stuff to give a bit more colour and take a slower view.

This will be ‘one throw two catches’ 一举两得 for us both; I’ll learn some new things while also trying to curate engaging content for you, 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.

I’d like to invite you to help me shape this concept over the coming weeks and months - helping me create a tower and/or robe of Chinese language learning from a pile of sand and clumps of fur.

So here goes! Thanks for reading, and please do keep sharing your excellent feedback….

In this weeks Slow Chinese…

  1. Words of the week

  2. Three slow stories

  3. Self reflection questions


1. Words of the week…

  • “绊脚石” (bànjiǎoshí) - stumbling block

  • 甩锅 (shuǎi guō) - not taking responsibility, blaming someone else

  • 山和山不相遇,人和人要相逢 (Shān hé shān bù xiāngyù, rén hé rén yào xiāngféng) - ‘mountains can never meet, but people must come together’


2. Three slow stories

  • Tesla apologies for the first time in China

  • Yang speech to National Committee on U.S.-China Relations

  • China get’s (even more) annoyed with the UK

Tesla apology

Story: Tesla solemnly apologised (深表歉意) last Monday for blaming the State Grid following a charging incident with one of its vehicles in Nanchang.

Context:  The owner (车主) of a Tesla Model 3 complained that his car didn’t start after charging at one of its supercharger stations (专用充电桩). Tesla’s service staff (售后人员) said it could be caused by an overload current during charging (电流过大). Unfortunately for Tesla, and the sales staff, the unhappy customer recorded and then edited (剪辑) the conversation before publishing it on social media.

New words

  • 甩锅 (Shuǎi guō) - literally ‘throwing the pot’ - which means to blame someone else, or to not take responsibility (推卸责任) . Tesla was criticised for doing exactly that. 甩锅 became popular in 2020, often used to describe America’s position on Covid-19.

    你别甩锅给我 - don’t blame me!

    我被你甩锅了 - you’ve put it all on me!

    特斯拉甩锅电网 - Tesla blamed the National Grid

    恶意甩锅 - intentionally lay the blame (with negative/ill intentions)

    美国把心思都用在“甩锅”中国上 - America is blaming China (instead of taking responsibility for it’s own mistakes)

  • 背锅 (Bèi guō) or 背黑锅, carrying the (black) pot on the back, should not be confused with ‘throwing the pot’; to carry the pot is to take the blame for somebody when you didn’t do it - the opposite of 甩锅.

    这锅我不背 - I’m not taking the blame for this

    他事实上是无辜的,他只是在替心爱的人背锅罢了 - he’s actually innocent, he’s just taking the blame for the one he loves.

  • 话糙理不糙 (Huà cāo lǐ bù cāo) - “harsh words, but true”. Also 话丑理正 (Huà chǒu lǐ zhèng). Used to soften the blow when something is said that is hurtful, but true. 糙 (cāo) means coarse - 糙米 is brown rice.

  • 打脸 (Dǎ liǎn) - A slap in the face, take liberties with, mistreat….

    三家公司“打脸”的事也没少干 - It’s not like like all three companies haven’t had their fair share of mistreating their customers

    “打脸”不可怕,可怕的是顽固不化 - It’s not the taking liberties that’s the problem; it’s the fact that they don’t change (their stubborn attitude)!

Further reading

Yang speech

Story: Yang Jiechi gave a speech via video link as part of a dialogue with the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations on 1 February.

Context: This is the latest in a series of high level speeches by Chinese officials aimed at the American business and policy community. There’s nothing like a good 领导 speech to pick up some great new words and chengyu…

New words

  • “绊脚石” (bànjiǎoshí) - stumbling block. 绊 (Bàn) - ‘to trip’ (绊倒 - to trip over) is not to be confused with 搬 (Bān) - to move… You certainly wouldn’t want to shoot yourself in the foot by mixing those up! 搬石头砸自己的脚 (Bān shítou zá zìjǐ de jiǎo)

搬掉阻碍两国各界交往合作的“绊脚石” - remove stumbling blocks that get in the way of progress of bilateral cooperation in all areas

  • 山和山不相遇,人和人要相逢 (Shān hé shān bù xiāngyù, rén hé rén yào xiāngféng) - ‘mountains can never meet, but people must come together’. You can’t get much more floral and Chinese sounding than this! But no, this is actually a German idiom (Berg und Tal kommen nicht zusammen, wohl aber die Menschen) about valleys and mountains not coming together. Something like this is ideal to deploy during a toast at a boozy dinner when you are trying to impress. Much more interesting and unexpected that say the ‘old old’ one of 有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎, but with similar affect. You can add a further ‘哇-factor’ by quoting Yang’s speech specifically, and explaining that it’s originally German.

  • 中美“乒乓外交” (Zhōng měi “pīngpāng wàijiāo”) - ‘US-China ping-pong diplomacy’. This refers to exchange of table tennis players between the US and China in the early 1970s, that began during the 1971 World Table Tennis Championships in April in Nagoya, Japan. This started a thaw in US-China relations that paved the way for the President Nixon visit to Beijing in 1972. Dropping this into a convo shows you know your stuff about US-China history. 

Further reading:

China gets even more annoyed with the UK

Story: Decision by Ofcom to revoke CGTN’s broadcast license in the UK

Context: this is the latest in a series of actions in/from the UK that have increasingly annoyed China. There’s nothing like a good argument to pick up some colourful new words!

New words

  • 吊销 (Diàoxiāo) - ‘revoke’ - normally a licence of some sort; such as a business licence etc.

  • 重新翻炒 (Chóngxīn fān chǎo) - idiom: ‘stirring things up, again)’.

  • 裁决 (Cáijué) - ‘ruling.’ Not to be confused with 判决 (Pànjué) which is a ruling by a court, or 决定, which is a decision.

  • 严正 (Yánzhèng) - ‘solemn.’ This is normally translated in Western media as solemn, but I think it comes across much better as ‘serious.’ Normally coupled with 交涉, which is to ‘make a representation.’ Also useful in a business negotiation if you really don’t like the terms (我不得不提出严正交涉).

  • 搞事情 (Gǎo shìqíng) - causing trouble, normally referring to someone who is a handful. Very useful when gossiping with colleagues/friends.

    他又搞事情去了 - he’s causing trouble again!

    这个人太会搞事情了 - this person is a handful!

    此人事儿太多了 - this person is way to much trouble

  • 双标 (Shuāng biāo) - double standard(ed)

  • 挑衅 (Tiǎoxìn) - provoke

    英国挑衅中国“上瘾”? - is the UK addicted to provoking China?

Further reading


3. Weekly Self Reflection 一周一次的自我反省

This is an imperfect newsletter. But I just decided to give it a go. I want to find something that I enjoy doing that can also bring value to others, while providing a little bit of light relief.

So this is the first attempt. I’m going to aim to publish every weekend from now on.

So, I’d love any feedback from you please - either reply to this email or leave in the comments:

  1. Any new words in here for you? How many? Too easy? Too difficult?

  2. Can they apply to your real (Chinese) life?

  3. Have you spotted many mistakes? Did I get things wrong?

  4. What’s missing? What would make it more interesting and readable?

  5. Can it be structured differently?

  6. Does it need pictures?

  7. What other sections could be included in addition to news based stuff?

  8. Do you know anyone else who’d enjoy reading this? (please do share with them!)

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