English slang – I Heard it through the grapevine 道听途说. 以蛾传蛾

Hi everybody, I have posted an article entitled “English slang- I heard it through the grapevine“. Find out the meaning of the slang and part of the lyrics of the popular American pop song of the same title and the Spanish and Chinese translations thereof.

Please click here.

Google is “covering one’s ears to steal a bell 掩耳盗铃”

On 24th of March I posted an article written by a Bloomberg correspondent entitled “Google Faces No Hong Kong Censors After China Retreat”. It seems that Google has upheld its stance on internet freedom. The fact is that Google only passes the ball to China’s court. It is now the China authorities who are doing the censorship. It is confirmed that China has screened Google’s contents and blocked those topics which they do not like. The Chinese netizens (net users) still do not have access to such sensitive topics on Tiananmen Massacre, Tibet,, Dalai Lama, Falun Gong etc. I am a big Google fan and I am all for Google’s intent and purpose. However,  I have reservation the way they handle the matter.  What Google doing is akin to an ancient Chinese metaphor, 掩耳盗铃. More on this below.

The metaphor

掩耳盗铃 (yan er dao ling) literally means “covering one’s ears to steal a bell” in English or “Taperse los oídos al robar una campanilla” in Spanish. It actually means “deceiving oneself” or “engañarse a sí mismo“. It has similar meaning to “bury one’s head in the sand” or “esconder la cabeza debajo del ala

The origin of the metaphor can be traced back to the ancient China’s Spring and Autumn Period (476BC to 770BC). History had it that a thief at the time tried to steal a big and heavy copper bell from a house. He could not move it so he had to break it into pieces. The thief found a big hammer and tried to do so. He realized that it would produce a very loud noise and would draw others’ attention.  To avoid that he stuck some fabrics into his ears. He thought others, like him, could not hear it when he hit the bell with the hammer. Needless to say that was not the case and he got caught.

Do you agree what Google doing is 掩耳盗铃? Please take a vote:

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.

Adversity allows one to see true feelings 患难见真情

The Chinese metaphor

患难见真情 huànnàn jiàn zhēnqíng


Literally means “Adversity allows one to see the true feelings of the others”

similar to the English idiom “a friend in need is a friend indeed”


  • Japan donating money and sending a rescue team to help victims of the Sichuan earthquake 



Fight between a snipe and a clam 鹬蚌相争

It is an example of a borrowed metaphor, which uses objects, in this case, of a snipe and a clam, to convey a subtle message. You may be asking yourself how could a bird and  a clam fight with each other.  The history of this proverb was little known, but it is a story learned by almost every Chinese at a very young age.

This proverb is followed by by another set of four words phrase 渔人得利 (the fisherman benefits), whch is known as 歇后语 (literally means words after a pause) and is understood without saying it .


鹬蚌相争 渔人得利 (yù bàng xiāng zhēng,yú rén dé lì) literally means a snipe and a clam fought with each other, but the fisherman benefitted.

A clam was sitting out in the sun when suddenly a snipe flew down to peck at the clam. Suddenly the clam slammed the shell shut, gripping the snipe’s beak in between. The snipe said, “If it doesn’t rain today, and it doesn’t rain tomorrow, I shall see a dead clam on the beach.” The clam said, “If I don’t open today, and I don’t open up tomorrow, I shall see a dead snipe on the beach.” While they were still grappling with each other, a fisherman passed by and netted them both.


This proverb is about the loggerhead competition between two parties, both end up as losers and a third party becomes a winner.


  • In business (Microsoft’s bid for the shares of Yahoo!, which was expected to be turn hostile. Analysts expected that both ended up losers, if Yahoo! fell into the hands of Google at a lower price (but it was announced today that Microsoft withdrew the bid))
  • In current affairs (the fight between the drug kingpins in Colombia, the Munera twins. and the killing of one brother of the other led to the police arresting the surviving brother and breaking up of the drug cartel ran by the brothers)