Weasels and chickens, "showing your hooves" and out-of-touch vaccine policies

Slow Chinese 每周漫闻


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

My words of the week:

  1. Best proverb: Le Yucheng on US-China relations. America is….

    黄鼠狼给鸡拜年 (Huángshǔláng gěi jī bàinián) - [like a] “weasel pretending to offer New Year's greetings to a chicken” - ulterior motives

  2. Most useful three-character word: netizens on vaccine policies of some Chinese cities. The policies are….

    一刀切 (Yīdāoqiē) - ‘one knife cut’ or one size fits all - out of touch with the real world

  3. Scandal of the week: netizen reactions to Lin Shengbin announcement. He has….

    露马脚 (Lòu mǎ jiǎo) - ‘shown his hooves’; shown his true colours

    Also, some excellent internet slang to rant about your favourite car crash celebs:

    实锤 (Shí chuí) - proven, evidenced, confirmed

This week’s word count: 

  • General business words: 6

  • Internet / social media words: 4 

  • Idioms: 6

  • Colloquialisms: 4 

  • Proverbs: 1

  • Dialect words: 1 

  • Political phrases: 0 

  • Philosophical phrases: 1 (it could also be a colloquialism) 

  • Poems: 0

  • Total: 23

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1. Proverb of the week: “weasels wishing chickens happy new year” (黄鼠狼给鸡拜年)

This week’s Guancha.cn interview with China’s Vice Foreign Minister, Le Yucheng (乐玉成), is worth a watch for language learners.

Le has a strong-ish accent to make things more challenging.

For readers obsessed with (or depressed about) trying to perfect their tones, take comfort from this interview. It’s a reminder that even Chinese people with regional accents mix them up. For example:

  • 彼此 (Bǐ cǐ) - Bǐ is pronounced as fourth tone, not third

  • 适应 (Shì yìng) - Shì pronounced as third tone, not fourth

  • 导致 (Dǎo zhì) - Dǎo pronounced as fourth tone, not third

Le uses a proverbial phrase (a Yàn yǔ):

  • 黄鼠狼给鸡拜年 (Huángshǔláng gěi jī bàinián) - [like a] “weasel pretending to offer New Year's greetings to a chicken” - selfish or negative intentions, or to have an ulterior motive

    中国的网民都在说,美国一些人关心中国的人权,总给人一种黄鼠狼给鸡拜年的感觉 - Chinese netizens are saying that the America’s focus on human rights can’t gives people the feeling that there is an ulterior motive

    • Proverb story: at Chinese New Year the weasel had no food. So he went to the Chicken’s house to wish her a happy new year (拜年), stealing food while she wasn’t looking. (See China Daily link for more on this).

Useful words

He drops three useful three-character words.

  • 开单子 (Kāi dānzi) - ‘open an order’, make a list (same as 拉清单); meaning ‘making unreasonable demands’ or doing so in a condescending way

    而不是单方面向中方提要求、开单子 [the US] should not unilaterally make unreasonable demands of China

  • 站住脚 (Zhàn zhù jiǎo) - stand up to [a theory]

    这个结论显然站不住脚 - this conclusion clearly does not stick

  • 秀肌肉 (Xiù jīròu) - show muscles, show off, intimidate

    无非就是秀肌肉 - this is simply just them flexing their muscles


And three idioms about making mistakes.

  • 合则两利,斗则俱伤 (Hé zé liǎng lì, dòu zé jù shāng) - partnership brings both sides benefits, conflict brings harm to both

    历史经验归结为一条,就是合则两利,都则俱伤 - if history tells us one thing, it is that working together brings benefits to both countries; engaging in struggle hurts both sides

  • 适得其反 (Shì dé qí fǎn) - to backfire

    和中国搞零和对抗是危险的,将会适得其反 - engaging in zero-sum confrontation with China is dangerous and will backfire

  • 重蹈前撤 (Chóng dǎo qián chè) - ‘follow the tracks of an overthrown chariot’, repeat old mistakes; [the idiom is actually 重蹈覆辙 Chóng dǎo fù zhé, but Le uses his own version which means the same thing]

    回来了还会迷失方向,还会重蹈前撤 if [the US] has returned, they should ensure they don’t make the same mistakes again


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2. Word of the week: reactions to discriminatory vaccine policies 一刀切 (Yīdāoqiē) “one size fits all”

The debate about vaccine equality is alive in China, as in other countries.

This week, several Chinese cities announced that proof of vaccination will be needed to go to some public places.

Social media responses were against the idea, with comments like:


The government [note: 国家 ‘country’ here means ‘central government’] has always emphasised "voluntary" vaccination. Even if someone does not want to be vaccinated without any reason, they should not be discriminated against. Why does the central government emphasise "voluntary vaccination"? What is "voluntary"? Personally, I feel that local governments can adopt various policies to encourage people to be vaccinated, but they should not apply policies to restrict those who have not been vaccinated.

Useful words

The social media commentary is not as colourful as I’d hoped, but there are some good three-character combos worth knowing.

  • 一刀切 (Yīdāoqiē) - ‘one-knife-cut’, “one size fits all”; used to complain about government policy that’s out of touch with reality; also used in the positive sense in business when a simple solution is needed to cut through complexity

    一刀切,不就是懒政么?有些有慢性病的是没法打得 - a one size fits all [approach], is this not lazy government? Those with chronic illnesses cannot have the vaccine

  • 要不得 (Yàobùdé) - intolerable, can’t stand it, ridiculous

    一刀切,懒政,是要不得的 - one size fits all, lazy governing, ridiculous!

  • 不作为 (Bù zuòwéi) - abstain from an act; a negative act, something done badly

    不作为!很多人不是不想接种,是因为身体原因不能接种 - [this policy is] rubbish! Lots of people don’t want to not take the vaccine. It’s because they can’t because of health reasons.


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3. Scandal of the week: Lin Shengbin “shows his hoof” (露马脚 - Lòu mǎ jiǎo)

Lin Shengbin (林生斌) tragically lost his wife and three kids in 2017 when the family domestic helper deliberately set fire to their home in Hangzhou.

He gained huge public support during subsequent legal battles, and his philanthropy in the years afterwards, attracting over 4.3 million fans on Weibo.

Last week Lin shared news of his new wife and baby on social media. His fans were not impressed, accusing him of taking advantage of the dead and cashing in on public sympathy.

Not only that, he had:

  • 露马脚 (Lòumǎjiǎo) - “exposed his hooves”, shown his true colours, let the cat out of the bag

    自己做了亏心事,肯定早晚有一天会露出马脚的 - if you’ve done something wrong, it’s inevitable that sooner or later you’ll let the cat out of the bag

    • More on the background of this word in this 2 min video - which dates back to the Tang dynasty.

The story is evolving with new revelations each day.

This week his new wife issued a statement on Weibo which further annoyed netizens.

An article in Sina about the reaction to it is a good read, packed with idioms and colloquial phrases.

Colloquialisms 俗语

Three colloquialisms to talk about the rise and fall of Internet celebs:

  • 月满则亏,水满则溢 (Yuè mǎn zé kuī, shuǐ mǎn zé yì) - “The moon waxes only to wane, water brims only to overflow”; similar to English idioms “the higher you go, the harder you fall”, or “all good things come to an end”

    俗话说得好,月满则亏,水满则溢,当初有多么的深情,现在就有多么的虚伪,站得越高摔得越重 - the colloqliasm puts it best, The moon waxes only to wane, water brims only to overflow. At that time he was portrayed as someone with such deep emotions, and now he is a fake. The higher you stand the harder you fall.

  • 吃着人血馒头 (Chīzhe rén xuè mántou) - “eating human-blood steamed buns”: taking advantage of the misfortunes of others

    那些打着正义旗号不断制造谣言、传播谎言的人,你们才是吃着人血馒头 - those people creating lies and spreading rumours under the banner of justice, you are actually the ones who are taking advantage of [Lin’s] misfortune for your own benefit

    • Note: eating steamed buns soaked in human-blood was apparently a thing, used in traditional Chinese medicine. It’s evolved to mean taking advantage of others’ misfortune. More on that here in this 1 min video.

  • 永远叫不醒装睡的人 (Yǒngyuǎn jiào bù xǐng zhuāng shuì de rén) - “you can never wake up someone who’s pretending to be asleep; meaning - you can’t expect a liar to admit he’s not telling the truth

Useful words

The story is rich in internet words and slang about the collapse of an internet celeb.

  • 实锤 (Shí chuí) - proven, evidenced, confirmed - internet word meaning ‘there is evidence that confirms this beyond doubt’

    直接曝出来一切深情都是假的,锤了个渣男的身份 - it exposed that his emotional public persona is fake, it’s shown him for what he is which is scum [in the UK you might also translate 渣男 as ‘twat’]

    • 石锤 (Shí chuí) - “stone hammer”; irrefutable evidence [same pronunciation, slightly different meaning, just to keep you guessing]

      林生斌的同学晒出石锤 - Lin Shengbin’s former classmate has produced clear evidence [of wrong doing]

  • 人设 (Rén shè) - character design - “public persona”

    将自己的虚假人设高高立起 - established a high public persona based on lies

  • 塌房 (Tā fáng) - ‘collapse house’, internet word for ‘fallen from grace’, similar to ‘car crash’ (翻车 - see 27 March newsletter), normally relates to a collapse in support from fans

    林生斌深情人设塌房 - Li Shengbin’s emotional public persona is in tatters

  • 扎堆 (Zhāduī) - regional dialect word meaning ‘gathered together’ - usually in the negative

    是多家官媒扎堆狠批他的话 - the state media joined in harshly criticising him


Finally, three idioms to rant about your favourite internet celebrity.

  • 沽名钓誉 (Gūmíngdiàoyù) - fish for fame

    不应该利用公众的同情心沽名钓誉 - he shouldn’t use people’s sympathies towards him in order to win fame

  • 危言耸听 (Wēiyánsǒngtīng) - saying alarmist things; sensationalising

    这可不是危言耸听 - this is definitely not going over the top

  • 冷嘲热讽 (Lěngcháorèfěng) - take a dig at someone; cutting remarks

    他的朋友也都不忘冷嘲热讽一番 - even his friends took a dig at him


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Recommendations - Looking back on previous newsletters

The purpose of this newsletter is to help you (and me) improve our Chinese.

Hopefully readers can use the content to help have conversations using more authentic langauge. Even if it’s just adding one or two new things to your arsenal of idioms, colloquialisms and internet words each week.

To get the most out of it, I recommend a bit of hard, boring graft to revise things we’ve learned before.

So, here’s some ‘words of the week’ from previous newsletters to drop into conversations about out-of-touch government policies, or the fall of internet celebrities.

  • 何不食肉糜 (Hébù shí ròumí)

    Why can’t they eat meat porridge? “Out of touch”

    See 5 June newsletter.

  • 一粒老鼠屎坏了一锅粥 (Yī lì lǎoshǔ shǐ huàile yīguōzhōu)

    “One rat shit ruined the pot of porridge”

    See 12 June newsletter.

  • 罗生门 (Luō shēng mén)

    “A Rashomon Affair” - a story of lies, deception, twists and turns

    See 1 May newsletter.

  • 滑跪 (Huá guì)

    A celebrity giving in to public pressure and apologising

    See 27 March newsletter.

  • 史诗级 (Shǐshī jí)

    [Disaster] of epic proportions

    See 27 March newsletter.

That’s it for this week. 

Thanks for reading. 

I’ll see you in your inbox around the same time next Saturday.

Finally, please do help share this newsletter with anyone who you think needs to brush up on their spoken, written, slang, idiomatic, poetic or classical Chinese language skills:

  • With colleagues and friends,

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And if you spot any mistakes, or discover any new words - please do share by replying to this email. 

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