Donations to the Sichuan earthquake, more or less will be appreciated just the same

The China commerce minister on 22nd May took an unusual step to thank foreign agencies and companies on national television for donating to the the Sichuan earthquake aids. The donations were said to amount to 1.7 billion Yuan in cash and 200 million Yuan in supplies. It was in response to some China’s web surfers accusing foreign corporations for not doing enough comparing to their Chinese counterparts and called them “international misers”. One of the surfers put up a blog entitled “Foreign Companies Act Up now…” in the China Daily setting out the substantial sums allegedly given out by China corporations, but at the same time noting the conspicuous absence of some of the big names such as Nokia, HSBC, McDonald’s, KFC and etc.. or the sums they were donating were disproportionate to their substantial profits from their businesses with China. China’s ministry in the announcement said that such accusations were totally unfounded.

Most people would have paid little attention to such unconstructive comments from these irresponsible web surfers, whose motives, I believe, were none other than to draw readers to their blogs. However, they had almost killed the goodwill that the leaders of the country had built and the respect they gained from overseas in respect of their handling of the Sichuan disaster.  Credits must, once again, be given to the China authority in making the above announcement, which lessened the damages that those web surfers have done and in so doing it salvaged the already fragile relationship between foreign corporations and  Chinese citizens, as a result of the recent Carrefour’s incident and similar incidents with Japanese companies last years.

Nonetheless, foreign corporations should not feel embarrassed for being criticised as “misers”. The reason is that China’s own favourite son, Yao Ming, the famous National Basketball Association player, was likewise criticised for donating a paltry sum of US$50,000. This sum certainly is dwarfed by the huge sums of money donated by some of the celebrities and tycoons in Hong Kong, who have their own agendas

What these surfers have done, I believe, stems from an ugly tradition of the Chinese of judging one’s characters or wealth by the size of 人情 (gift money) he gives at dinner parties on big occasions. Unlike the western traditions of giving physical gifts, Chinese like to give moneys to marrying couples at their wedding parties or to the hosts at birthday dinner parties on the spot. A host often times uses the size of the gift money of a guest as a yardstick of his guest’s sincerity or actually the wealth. It is also good for gossiping. Those who are generous as well those who are mean are on the top of the lists of gossips.

I would like to cite a personal experience. At one time I gave a HK$200 gift money to one of my causal friends for his wedding, which I considered was a fair sum in light of my relationship with him. However, it came back to haunt me when later I asked him for a small favour, he turned me down, I did not know the reason why. Later, I found out from another friend, who heard it from another friend,that the friend in question was mad at me because of the HK$200 gift money, which he thought I was being a miser.

This tradition went away during the great Chairman Mao’s era, as everyone was considered equal at that time. Now in China it is said “to be rich is a glory”. The tradition is coming back, at least, to big cities. I was told by a friend in Guangzhou that it is now a common practice that the amount of the gift money one gives to the hosts at a dinner party is announced openly at the party. My poor friend who is a worker and is not making a lot of money is so afraid for being invited to these kinds of parties.

Returning to the earthquake donations, I cannot help but remind people that it is not the moneys that count, it is the heart. Also, I call upon those web surfers in question to learn the famous Chinese sayings or proverbs that “多多益善小小无俱 (more or less is welcome just the same”), which is often used when inviting others to make donations.

Sleep On Brushwood and Taste Gall 卧薪尝胆


卧薪尝胆 (wò xīn cháng dǎn) litrally means “Sleep On Brushwood and Taste Gall”

During the Spring and Autumn period (770-476BC), the State of Wu launched an attack against the State of Yue. The King of Wu was seriously wounded and soon died. His son Fu Chai became the new King. Fu was determined to get revenge. He drilled his army rigidly until it was a perfect fighting force. Three years later, he led his army against the State of Yue and caught its king Gou Jian. Fu took him to the State of Wu.

In order to avenge his father’s death, Fu let him live in a shabby stone house by his father’s tomb and ordered him to raise horses for him. Gou pretended to be loyal to Fu but he never forgot his humiliation. Many years later, he was set free. Gou secretly accumulated a military force after he went back to his own state. In order to make himself tougher he slept on firewood and ate a gall-bladder before having dinner and going to bed every night. At the same time he administered his state carefully, developing agriculture and educating the people. After a few years, his country became strong. Then Gou seized a favorable opportunity to wipe out the State of Wu.

Later, people use it to describe one who endures self-imposed hardships to strengthen one’s resolve to realize one’s ambition.


  • The Kuomintang of Taiwan lost its control of the Parliament of Taiwan, which it had retained until 2000, but in the meantime it laid low and worked to re-build the foundation of the party and regained control of the Parliament in the recent election in 2008.


The regain of power of the Kuomintang in Taiwan

Tuesday, 20th May 2008 marked the inauguration of Ma ying-jeou (Ma) as the President of Taiwan, or as Beijing called him the leader of Taiwan. The date also marked the return of power of the Kuomintang (KMT) of Taiwan, the founding party of Taiwan, which was founded by the famous Generlismimo Chiang Kai Shek, who fled Mainland China, when the Communist party took over China in 1949. KMT lost control of the Parliament of Taiwan for eight years (2000 to 2008), during which time, Taiwan was under the ruling of Chen Shui Bian (Chen) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). 

The change of helm also signifies that the people of Taiwan are against an adversary stance vis-a-vis Mainland China. Ma of KMT, in his inaugural speech, announced that he would resume the dialogue with Mainland China, which was put on hold due to the adversay stance taken by DPP. It is clear that the people of Taiwan, or should we say the businessmen of Taiwan, want to have a closer tie with the mainland as they stand to benefit therefrom economically. The attractions of Mainland China to Taiwan are the former’s huge domestic market and abundant supply of cheap, but productive, labour force. What Chen of DPP advocated in the past for an independent Taiwan did not work.

As a matter of fact the election won by Chen back in 2004 was quite a controversial one. On March 19, 2004, the day before the then presidential election, Chen and his running mate, Lu Hsiu-lien, were shot and wounded while riding in a jeep campaigning through the streets of downtown Tainan. Given the extremely close nature of the then election, the shooting was interpreted by some people as a political manipulation by DPP for the re-election. 

The KMT could have made a big issue out of such controversy, but it did not. Instead KMT had laid low and worked hard to re-build the foundation of the party for the eventual success in the latest election. One of the Hong Kong newspaper used the Chinese proverb “Sleep On Brushwood and Taste Gall 卧薪尝胆” to describe the hardship experienced by KMT during the period of its loss of power.

Venturing into the tiger’s den to catch cubs 不入虎穴,焉得虎子

This is an example of a borrowed metaphor by using an object, a tiger, to convey a message. This proverb applies to situations where one has to go into enemies’ territories to catch the ringleaders. Animal protectionists probably do not like this proverb, however, tigers in ancient China were symbols of tyrants or villains.


不入虎穴,焉得虎子  (bù rù hǔ xué, yān dé hǔ zǐ) literally means “If you don’t enter the tiger’s den, how will you get the tiger’s cub?”

When the general of Eastern Han dynasty, Chao Ban, opened diplomatic relations with the Western Territory, the kingdom Xionglu also sent an envoy to the Western Territory. General Ban decided to make the first move, and led his army to attack the heavily guarded residence of the Xionglu diplomat. Those who were with him thought that attacking the heavily guarded residence was too dangerous, but Ban said, “If you didn’t enter the tiger’s den, how could you get the tiger cub?  


1. No pain, no gain   2. Nothing ventured, nothing gained


  • In politics  (1.  Colombia’s armies crossed Ecuador’s border to capture the rebel commander, Raul Reyes 2. US sent troops to Iraq to capture Saddam Hussein)


A tyrannical government is more fierce than a tiger 苛政猛于虎

This is a borrowed metaphor, which uses the object, a tiger, to convey a message. This differs from the standard Chinese proverbs is that it is made up of five words.  This proverb is to criticise tyrannical politicians and leaders. It is a straight forward proverb. However, It was originated from the sayings of Confucius, (770-476 B.C.), who is the most respected philosopher of the China history, which makes it more important.

Background苛政猛于虎 (kē zhèng měng yú hǔ) which literal means a tyrannical government is more fierce than a tiger.

At the time known as Spring and Autumn Era, China was under the reign of a tyrannical government. The livelihood of the people was threatened by harsh taxations imposed by the government. Some of the families had to live in the mountain. There was one family, the grandfather, the father and the son were killed by tigers at different times while working or searching for foods in the mountain. One day, Confucius passed by the  cemetery while the mother of the family was weeping for the loss of her son. Confucius asked the woman why she was weeping and the woman told the whole story to Confucius who then asked her why did she not leave the mountain and found a safer place. The woman said the people in the area would rather face the threat of tigers than be suppressed by the tyrannical government. Confucius then turned to his students, who were with him, and taught them that “A tyrannical government is more fierce than a tiger”


A tyrannical government is more fierce  than a tiger


  • In politics (Some North Koreans, under the rule of the tyrant, Kim Chun il,  would rather risk their lives by sneaking into foreign consulates of other countries with a view to seeking asylums in foreign countries than living in their own country)
  • Again in politics (the Mynamar junta ruler’s consistent negliect of the livelihood of its people caused the loss of 20,000 lives to the killer cyclone in the beginning of May 2008)