You are 'too Feudal', two types of struggle, and super-humans

Slow Chinese Weekly 每周漫闻


Welcome to the Slow Chinese Weekly newsletter.

The idea is to curate slow, news-based content for long-time learners of Chinese, who (like me) are forgetting their hard-earned Chinese language during lockdown, and lack the time, motivation, materials or environment to do anything about it.

Hopefully this newsletter can help a bit, and also be useful to non-Chinese speakers that have an interest in China.

This week, I’ve collated language about pushy parents, colourful ways to criticise NPC delegates, vocab for talking about chauvinism in the Chinese work place and different ways to talk about struggle (Study Group at the end).

Thanks for reading!

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Words of the week

I’ve picked three words and phrases for this week.

  1. 有则改之、无则加勉 (yǒu zé gǎi zhī wú zé jiā miǎn) - “correct mistakes if you make them; guard against making them if you have not”

President Xi dropped this in his speech to young cadres at the Central Party School on Monday.

It’s from The Analects of Confucius (论语 - Lún yǔ).

If you’ve been criticised for making a mistake, or not up to somebody’s standards, a good way to distract from that, and impress with your amazing Chinese, is to quote this Confucian one-liner.

Similarly old, but now with a modern twist to it is this one:

  1. 太封建了 (Tài fēng jiàn le) - [you are] ‘too Feudal,’ ‘old fashioned’ or ‘chauvinistic’

Feudalism (封建 fēng jiàn) was the governance system in ancient China. Amongst other things, Feudal society valued men of women (男尊女卑). Today, to call someone ‘too Feudal’ is to complain about the older generation being old fashioned, or overly paternal, particularly in relation to attitudes towards women.

It came up this week in response to ICBC’s announcement to its staff about putting more distance between men and women at work.

  1. 一方水土难养一方人 (Yīfāng shuǐtǔ nán yǎng yīfāng rén) - it’s hard for the people of one place to survive on the earth and water of that place alone

The Government Work Report delivered by the Premier is not normally a gold mine of interesting idioms and cultural insight. But I spotted this one hidden in Premier Li’s speech yesterday.

It’s a play on words. Normally it’s ‘people are a reflection of their environment’ (一方水土养一方人) - the earth and water cultivates the people that live off it. But Premier Li has added 难 (nán) - ‘difficult’ - which means the land on which people live cannot support them alone, referring to the importance of increasing connectivity and mobility as a tool for fighting poverty.

贫困人口通过易地扶贫搬迁摆脱了“一方水土难养一方人”的困境 - through policies to support people moving from impoverished areas, people are able to escape the trap of not being able to survive off their land.

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Slow Stories

This week I wanted to find a ‘Two Sessions’ story that was not about GDP targets, technology, pandemics or poverty. So the first story is about a proposal made by a NPC delegate around children’s education which caused a stir on social media. The second piece reflects a common theme in lots of news out of China at the moment - attitudes towards women, and gender equality.

There’s some great language in both stories, and they are topical so hopefully you can use some of the language in conversations over the next week.

How to criticise NPC delegates during the Two Sessions

The NPC started this week! Outside of the headline-grabbing numbers and statements of the Government Work Report, I spotted an interesting story which got attention on social media.

NPC delegate, Lǐ Sū yàn (李甦雁) submitted a proposal:

建议把视力状况纳入衡量学生综合素质的标准 - “include eyesight condition as one of the standards by which to measure the comprehensive quality of students”

The well-intentioned proposal seeks to address pressures that Chinese kids face from their parents in having to attain high grades, often sacrificing their health (including their eyesight), with long hours in front of computer screens, additional classes outside of school and hardly playing any sport.

Li believes that if eyesight tests are included in testing of kids’ abilities going into middle schools, then parents will be more inclined to encourage them to be more sporty, reduce their screen time and cut their hours in the classroom. Li also suggests delaying entry into primary school by a year as another solution.

This story is interesting for two reasons.

First, it reflects the angst of competitive parents that will do everything they can to ensure their kids get the highest grades possible, at almost any cost;

Second, it’s excellent reading for picking up some colourful language for having a go at your least favourite NPC delegate.

Useful words

  • 唯分数、唯升学 (Wéi fēnshù, wéi shēngxué) - only high grades can get you into good schools [these are two of the ‘five only’s’ (五唯) which the government is trying to stamp out]

    不仅部分学校存在“唯分数、唯升学” - it’s not only some schools which have the problem of pressuring kids to get high grades….

  • 校内减负校外补 (Xiàonèi jiǎnfù xiàowài bǔ) - reducing pressures at school but increasing out-of-school classes

    结果校内减负校外补,课业负担不降反升 - as a result, pressure on kids has actually increased because although pressures at school have decreased, kids are doing more out-of-school lessons.

  • 加餐 (Jiā cān) - adding an extra meal; adding more (of lessons)

    许多家长也对教育存在过于焦虑的心态,主动通过培训班等形式给孩子“加餐” - many parents arrange for kids to take extra classes outside of school because they are excessively worried about their grades

  • 抢跑 (Qiǎng pǎo) - rushing to the front, trying to beat everyone else

    因此,推迟一年入学,改变家长‘抢跑’心理 - therefore, delaying entry into school for one year could change the competitive mindset of parents

Best criticisms

There’s some useful slang and colourful language that people have used to object to the proposal.

  • 惹 (Rě) - annoy, provoke, piss off

    那些天生的视力不好惹到你了??Have some naturally short-sighted people pissed you off?

  • 一肚子坏水 (Yī dùzi huàishuǐ) - a belly full of bad water; nasty intentions

    神经病,有的人大代表是真心想为人谋幸福,有的是一肚子坏水 - This guy’s crazy; some delegates really do want to bring benefits to the people; others are just selfish.

  • 人上人 (Rén shàng rén) - ‘people on people’, super human

    不戴眼镜就是人上人了 - so people without glasses are now superhuman?

  • 货 (Huò) - slang for ‘person,’ derogatory, means something like ‘thicko’

    这货为什么这么逗 - how come this guy’s so ridiculous?

  • 傻子 (Shǎzi) - fool, idiot

    傻子都能当个代表 - So even idiots can now become NPC delegates?

  • 无死角 (Wú sǐ jiǎo) - ‘no dead angle’, all-round, 360 degrees

    这是要全方位、无死角的对付学生吗 - Does this mean students are going to get even more pressure in every area of life now?

  • 站台 (Zhàntái) - ‘platform’, give support for

    给近视眼手术站台? - so are you now supporting eyesight surgeries? [there is speculation that Li is associated with an eye-surgery]

Further reading

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ICBC announcement to staff on harassment

ICBC published a memo earlier this week with ten guidelines to staff on appropriate behaviour in the work place which all employees are asked to abide by (恪守 - Kè shǒu), avoiding ‘zero’ distance with colleagues of the opposite gender.

Here’s the full list.

Some of the recommendations are just common sense, such as dressing appropriately, keeping check of your communications (on and offline), addressing people appropriately and so on.

Generally, the reaction have been positive. And it is recognised that workplace harassment is a problem in China. It’s also likely to lead to more companies following suit.

Some of the recommendations seem a bit of over kill, or just a weird. For example:

  • 沟通控制相处时间 (“control the length of time you talk [to someone]”) - a useful way to get rid of excessive talkers!

  • 尽量避免肢体接触 (“do your best to avoid bodily contact”) - REALLY? I’m glad that’s cleared that one up, I will do my best!

    Useless language fact: 肢体 Zhī tǐ actually means limbs, but is also used to mean ‘body’ or ‘bodily.’ For example, 肢体语言 means body language]

There’s entertaining comments about the bank being too old fashioned (太封建了 - ‘too Feudal’), overly meddling in people’s lives while not addressing deeper problems in the work place such as some older men in senior roles taking advantage of their positions of power, or that harassment might not just be between men and women.

I’ve picked out the most interesting, amusing and useful words below.

Useful words

  • 碍于面子 (Ài yú miàn zi) - be afraid of hurting somebody’s feelings

    她因为碍于面子的原因,没敢反对老板说的话 - she didn’t dare object to what her boss said as she was worried it would cause embarrassment

  • 换汤不换药 (huàn tāng bù huàn yào) - changing the soup [liquid] but not the ingredients; make superficial changes, papering over the cracks

    工行这个通知,只不过是换汤不换药,没有解决职场上的本质问题 - the ICBC memo has not addressed the fundamental issues in the work place, it’s simply just papering over the cracks

  • 开黄腔 (Kāi huáng qiāng) - ‘open - yellow - mouth,’ be rude, vulgar, talk dirty

    这个人一喝酒就不知不觉的开黄腔了 - this bloke gets a bit pervy after he’s had a few [drinks]

  • 附和 (Fù Hé) - uncomfortably or unwillingly go along with something

    很多单位的男性领导经常在工作场合或者吃饭时开黄腔,周围人碍于面子还要附和着假笑 - many male leaders can become inappropriate and start talking dirty during dinners, those around him tend to ‘fake laugh’ and awkwardly go along with it

Ancient Wisdom

From dodgy Chinese dinners, to some more cultured ideas. Here’s some very useable ancient Chinese sayings that can be dropped in this context:

  • 君子之交淡如水 (Jūn zǐ zhī jiāo dàn rú shuǐ) - ‘friendship between gentlemen is pure.’ Nowadays it can also be used to decribe how men should behave around women. This is one of Zhaungzi’s famous sayings.

  • 万恶淫为首 (Wàn'è yín wéishǒu) - ‘temptation of the flesh is the worst of all evils.’ This is credited to Zhang Sanfeng who was alive during the Ming Dynasty. Zhang is also credited with inventing Tai Qi, and he apparently lived for 300 years!

Further reading

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Study Group 学习小组

How to struggle in style in Chinese

Welcome to the Study Group part. Here I’ll either review some things from previous weeks, or dive into an interesting political speech from the week.

President Xi’s speech to young party members on Monday was all about a historical struggle; being able to do it, being good at it and daring to do it.

There are two types of struggle in Chinese:

  • 斗争 (Dòu zhēng) - to struggle or fight against an enemy (real or imagined) - it’s mentioned 14 times in the speech, all in the same para.

  • 奋斗 (Fèndòu) - to struggle towards a goal or objective - it has a positive feel to it; often used in business settings; mentioned five times in the speech.

So, according to Xi, the struggling (奋斗) towards the ambitious goals set, still requires a lot more struggling (斗争) against the enemy to get there.

There’s a bunch of idioms about struggle in the speech too.

I’ve picked out the most useful ones below.

Idioms about struggle

There are ten idioms in total. I’ve kept it to five.

  • 不屈不挠 (Bù qū bù náo) - refuse to give in or be cowed by something

    他全靠不屈不挠的精神获得胜利 - he seized victory though his indomitable spirit

  • 永不懈怠 (Yǒng bù xiè dài) - never slacken effort

    以永不懈怠的精神状态 - with a spirit of never giving up

  • 一心一意 (yī xīn yī yì) - whole heartedly, absolute focus

    当一个人一心一意做好事情的时候,他最终是必然会成功的 - when someone puts their heart into something they will always succeed

  • 奋勇争先 (Fèn yǒng zhēng xiān) - strive for first place

    中外选手奋勇争先 - Chinese and international players competed for first place

  • 一以贯之 (Yī yǐ guàn zhī) - a single principal running through everything, of policies

    只有如此理解,有关立法才能一以贯之 - it’s only with that understanding that the law can be implemented with absolute consistency

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A final thought. The first phrase of the week and the last idiom in this newsletter are both from the Analects of Confucius (论语 - Lún yǔ), written by his students during the Warring States period, 475–221 BC.

That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading and look forward to seeing you next week.

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