Archive for ‘phrasebook’

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Phrasebook: yǐ gǔ wéi jìng


唐太宗 (李世民, 598年-649年)

Using bronze as a mirror, you can wear your clothes and your hat properly; using the ancient times as a mirror, you know rise and fall; by using people as a mirror, you understand success and failure.

Emperor Taizong of Tang

Aka 以史为鉴 (yǐ shǐ wéi jiàn).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Phrasebook: fàng nǐ yī mǎ

Commenting on a People’s Daily article on individual income tax (个人所得税, or shorter, 个税) changes, Chinese blogger Huo Long (活龙)  objects to the use of 免交 (tax exemption) in the context. The news is about a raise of the individual-income-tax threshold (个税起征点) which came into effect on Thursday.

Now, Huo Long’s objection is that the threshold had been clearly defined, by the NPC’s standing committee which had written the change into the personal income tax law (个人所得税法). Roughly, Huo Long seems to point out that tax exemption (免交)  isn’t the appropriate nomenclature when it comes to some 60 million taxpayers’ right (权利) to earn any amount below 3,500 Yuan RMB per month without having to pay taxes, or

The journalist with the People’s Daily doesn’t seem to understand that, if the standing committee of NPC writes the income tax threshold into law, it means the taxpayers automatically don’t have the responsibility to pay income tax if their monthly income is below that threshold. If there is no responsibility in the first place, mian [] is not the right word because it only applies to existing responsibility.

Just as an exempt from punishment (免予刑事处分) wouldn’t spell a lucky offender’s innocence, a tax exempt (免税) wouldn’t mean that the tax payer actually doesn’t owe the state the money he may keep as an exempt, he argues. The right to earn a certain amount of money without being taxable anyway, on the other hand, was more comparable to a situation where a culprit wasn’t found guilty at all – quite naturally, an acquittal can’t warrant punishment.

To discretionary spare someone punishment, tax payments, etc. (these are two of the many situations where you might use the word 免 ), even if punishment or tax payment would be due,  may also be stated by the phrase in question here:

放你一马 (fàng nǐ yī mǎ)



That’s the phrase that makes me write this post. I’m no tax expert – but both the use of the phrase, and its origins, are piquing my curiosity.

Yes, you could levy that tax, but on your own discretion choose not to do so, or you could put the drunken driver into jail, or you could kill off Cao Cao and his men or take them prisoners of war – but you decide to 放他们一马, to let them go – this time, that is. All those people, or that flea that bit you, thus saving your life.

An urban legend online suggests that  the 放你一马 saying stems from 三国演义 (The Romance of the Three Kingdoms) by Luo Guanzhong (罗贯中) – more precisely, from the Battle of the Red Cliff (赤壁之战) chapter. But then, people in China are easily inclined to turn to venerable old stories when trying to explain things, and fàng nǐ yī mǎ sounds unusually casual for a novel written during the late Yuan or early Ming period.

This is what Huolong found when he checked his 三国演义 copy. 四散摆开 doesn’t really look like 放你一马.

So, what is it in your book? You might take this thread into account, too, while making your guesses.



» A simplified account of the actual Battle of the Red Cliff, posting date unknown
» More Phrasebook entries


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

China Blogs Review / Phrasebook: Political Reform and Righteousness

No stuff of my own today, but two other blogs’ issues instead…

Blog Review

In May this year, Wukailong discussed Political Reform in China, and provided a review of a number of Chinese scholars’ views in short. After that first installment, he discussed another number of scholars’ and journalists’ views this month, from a more foreign perspective, plus some opinion of his own. Part three appears to be in the pipeline.

Bremen-Hemelingen, July 2011

Bremen-Hemelingen, July 2011


Meantime, Foarp quotes from Huanqiu Shibao‘s (Global Times) commenter threads – responses to the bombing and shootings in Norway last Friday.

It’s in Foarp’s commenter thread in turn where I found another line for my phrasebook collection: 善有善报,恶有恶报 (shàn yǒu shàn bào, è yǒu è bào) – what goes around, comes around, or righteousness earns righteousness, evil earns evil.



The way we view our own violence…,, July 22, 2011


Monday, July 11, 2011

Phrasebook: xiāng tí bìng lùn

1. China Daily Translation

The Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway and Japan’s Shinkansen line cannot be mentioned in the same breath, as many of the technological indicators used by China’s high-speed railways are far better than those used in Japan’s Shinkansen.

Wang Yongping (王勇平), Chinese ministry of railways spokesman, in a Xinhua interview (quoted by China Daily and Xinhua‘s English website), reacting to Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. threatening to take action if China files for patents on high-speed trains made using Japanese technologies.

Translator's Choice

Translator's Choice

2. JR’s Translation (Xinhua-based)

What would spell “pirating” Japan’s Shinkansen? This is somewhat showy. One can say that you can’t put the Shinkansen and the Beijing-Shanghai bullet train on a par*). No matter if speed or the degree of convenience is the issue, no matter if the technology above or underneath the rails is the issue, all the differences are big.

*) Both Baidu‘s dictionary and the Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary, by A. P. Cowie, Zhu Yuan et al, Beijing 1986, 1997, leave the English choice for xiāng tí bìng lùn (相提并论) to the translator: “to mention (or be mentioned) in the same breath”, and “to put (or place) on a par”. Google Translate suggests “not on comparable levels”.

In the Shinkansen context, I find “on a par” somewhat less offensive than “in the same breath”.


China masters German Train Technology, Deutsche Welle, April 28, 2006


Xinhua introduces Wang Yongping as the ministry of railways’ deputy director of the political department, and director of the propaganda (or publicity) department, as well as a ministry spokesman.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Searchword of the Week: TNND

what does tnnd stand for?

TNND stands for 他奶奶的 (tā nǎinai de), which is foul language (粗口, cūkǒu) and should be used with caution (特别慎用, tèbié shèn yòng).

Literally: “his (paternal) grandmother’s”.

TNND, 这个真是反咬一口啊。(zhège rén zhēnshi fǎnyǎo yīkǒu a.)
Bullshit, this is really trumping up a countercharge.

TNND should not be confused with TMD (他妈的, tā mā de), which might be literally translated as “his mother’s”.

TMD is a more universal kind of foul language, to be used – also with caution – when something has gone wrong.

TMD, 又中了共军的奸计! (yòu zhōng le gòng jūn de jiānjì!)
F*ck, (we) have been caught in another of the Red Army’s traps!

jiānjì may also be translated as a “treacherous plot”.


How to make a Good Plan, December 6, 2008

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Dalai Tree and its Scattered Monkeys

Beijing-based China Tibet News (中国西藏网), known as the “China Tibet Information Center Net” until July 2010, explained in an article of April 1 why it views the Dalai Lama‘s (referred to as “Dalai”) retirement as a farce (literally: a noisy or rampant opera, 闹剧)*).

The second Tibetan national general meeting would be held at Dharamshala from May 21 to 23 to deliberate on Dalai Lama’s formal proposal to retire from political duties, the Times of India reported, also on April 1. The 14th Tibetan parliament would then have to approve amendments to the Tibetan Charter, i. e. the Tibetan-in-exiles’ constitution.

[Main link:; links within blockquotes inserted during translation – JR]

“The issue of the Dalai’s ‘retirement’ immediately became the focus of the small clique’s and Western supporters’ speculation”, writes China Tibet News. On March 18, the “illegal” (伪, wěi) parliament had requested that the Dalai should remain the supreme political leader, but had changed its tone immediately after the Dalai had made up his mind to resign, and announced a working group that would implement the Dalai Lama’s wishes. The working group then suggested that with separate powers, the cabinet (i. e. the government in exile), the parliament and the supreme court (all three cited within quotation marks) should exercise the Dalai Lama’s powers, but that on major issues, the Dalai Lama should guide the government in exile.

That proposal wasn’t adopted either, according to the article; as some illegal parliament members considered it “absolutely contrary to the wishes of the people within and outside Tibet”, and others opposed the prime minister’s government-in-exile’s monopoly to power, which led to speculation by American media that in the end, the Dalai Lama might stay in power after all, “obeying to public opinion”. It was just an ostensible fuss (煞有介事), reasons China Tibet News.

The article then reiterates the position that the Dalai Lama could be no mere “respected religious leader” – i. e.  no normal religious figure -, as “the American and some Western countries’ governments who frequently meet with the Dalai cite as a high-sounding reason.”

The question arises: can there be any “political” or “administrative duties” for  a simple religious person, a Lama, to be transferred to other bodies? (现在问题来了:一个单纯的宗教人士,一个喇嘛,会有什么“政治或行政工作”需要交接?)


Not to mention that for decades, the Dalai’s separatist and violently terrorist behavior has highlighted his status as a political person living in exile, who has political power, more than all other political leaders of the world, in accordance with a charter who he himself formulated and signed. (且不说达赖几十年来分裂主义和暴力恐怖主义行为早就清楚标明他的政治流亡者身份,由其亲手制定、签署的“西藏流亡藏人宪章”所规定达赖所享有的政治权力,更远远超过当今世界所有政治领导人。)

The article refers to the Charter established in 1991, quotes from the its article 3, and suggests that its content prescribes that based on Tibet’s good tradition of a combination of politics and religion, future Tibet would be a country of combined politics and religion (基于“西藏特殊的政教合一之良好传统”,未来西藏是一个“政教结合的国家”), and from its article 19 that the highest political authority belonged to the Dalai (政府最高权力属于达赖所有).

The way the China Tibet News article quotes from the Charter’s article 1 does not correspond with an English version of the 1991 Charter as published at Tibet Justice Center. The uniqueness of Tibetan culture is stated in its preface, saying that

in order that the Tibetan people in exile be able to preserve their ancient traditions of spiritual and temporal life, unique to the Tibetans, based on the principles of peace and non-violence, aimed at providing political, social and economic rights as well as the attainment of justice and equality for all Tibetan people.

The Charter in its own words (English version as linked above) was, however, assented to by His Holiness the Dalai Lama (article 1), and article 19 states that

The executive power of the Tibetan Administration shall be vested in His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and shall be exercised by Him, either directly or through officers subordinate to Him, in accordance with the provisions of this Charter.

The China Tibet News article also highlights the Dalai Lama’s deciding role in appointing and removing government cabinets, according to article 29, in the appointment of the central election commission – article 97, the public service commission – articles 100 and 101, and the composition of the audit commission – article 107.

At this point, the China Tibet News article takes a short digression from the identity issue (Dalai Lama’s religious and/or political role) to the issue of democracy, and concludes from the quoted articles that the Dalai Clique‘s role is that of an unadulterated politico-religious totalitarian tyranny (极权专制), headed by the Dalai as its overall leader. The small clique continued its old Tibetan practices of feudal serfdom (从旧西藏封建农奴制). Statements by Tibetan-government-in-exile politicians and the Dalai Lama’s special envoy in Washington were suggesting that his retirement would have no changing impact on the leadership, and that there was no need to need to start to start writing black characters on white paper (白纸黑字, apparently suggesting that there was no dramatic, sad news).

China Tibet News then quotes Western media and scholars (but without naming any):

Western media and scholars generally believe that the Dalai “retires without retiring” (“退而不休”), they “don’t rule out that the Dalai Lama will continue to influence politics and the direction of the overseas Tibetans from behind the bamboo blinds”. “If the Dalai Lama says something, his leadership will still be absolute.” From this, we can see that the notion of the Dalai Lama as a “religious leader” is just an excuse for Western politicians who want to counter China’s opposition against their meetings with the Dalai, in which the Dalai Clique and its Western supporters themselves never believed.

China Tibet News explains the Dalai Lama’s retirement as an attempt to handle contradictions (矛盾). As early as in in 1991, corruption and conflicts had arisen within the clique, the entire illegal cabinet had had to resign after acts of violence, and the illegal parliament had been desolved. Back then, the Dalai Lama had semi-retired, and left the daily business of government to the prime minister, but reserved major decisions to himself.

After his schemes to spread chaos in Tibet and to damage the Olympic Games had dismally failed in 2008 (2008年,达赖在搞乱西藏、破坏北京奥运会图谋遭到惨败后)**), the clique‘s infighting had once again intensified, which led to another announcement of semi-retirement by the Dalai Lama, and  his preparedness to retire completely.

The article comes back to calls on the Dalai Lama it had quoted earlier, which urged him not to retire. However, it also includes considerations about the Dalai Lama’s advanced age as factors in his announcement to retire. His future role could be to help the Tibetan separatist elements to stabilize their position, so as to avoid a situation where the monkeys scatter once the tree is falling (树倒猢狲散, shù dǎo húsūn sàn). An additional benefit would be that in the future, thanks to his “retired” status, the Dalai can avoid responsibility for violent incidents [such as 3-14, 2008], will not be liable, and the separatist extremists can play it big. China Tibet News quotes Duowei News (多维新闻):

The danger that the Tibet issue becomes terrorist is real. But given the Chinese government’s abilities and its position to speak in global affairs, this kind of change will only isolate Dharamsala’s political power further, and will put the American government and some other Western governments in a position of even less moral persuasion power. It can’t necessarily be believed that the Dalai Lama can keep out.

The danger of isolating itself even from Western governments in case of more radical forces gaining clout would keep the Dalai Lama within politics, China Tibet News suggests. The article ends with an biting reference to the Son of India and his thoughts about his remaining lifespan.



*) The article, originally published by China Tibet News on April 1, has since been republished by many more general websites whose coverage goes beyond Tibet issues, such as Enorth (Tianjin), but also for Uyghur or Hui readers such as China Muslim Youth Net (中国穆斯林青年网).

**) Chinese news articles sometimes attribute the 2008 uprising directly to the Dalai Lama, and on the Dalai Clique on other occasions. In the China Tibet News article, it is directly attributed to the Dalai Lama – an interpretation neither former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt (considered a friend of the Chinese people by the Chinese embassy in Berlin) nor sinologist Oskar Weggel agree with.



Melodious Plateau, Kristiana Henderson, March 19, 2011
The Dalai under the Bamboo Hedge, February 11, 2011
Quote: “Serf Emancipation Day”, March 28, 2009
NPC Tibetan Delegates, visit to U.S., March 20, 2009


Friday, November 5, 2010

JR’s Weekender: Odd Ducks and Strange Kings

其人其事 (qí rén qí shì) is no unusual way to introduce people into the biography of famous personalities. Richard Wagner, for example. The composer’s heros resemble the composer himself: unconscionable rebels (恣意妄为的叛逆者, zìyì wàngwéi de pànnì zhě), mad illusionists (幻想狂), slowly emerging “gods of freedom” (若隐若现的“自由之神”, ruòyǐnruòxiàn de zìyóu zhī shén), etc, according to a Chinese article, apparently of some years ago. That’s not too bad a report card to Wagner, a self-taught man of music (无师自通, wú shī zì tōng), and it isn’t meant in an unfriendly way by the unknown author, whose article was originally published on, and later republished on, as an answer to the question, “why is Wagner said to be great” (瓦格纳为什么说他伟大?). But that was during the 19th century, somewhere in Europe.

This is 2010, and the man in question now is Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波). Unlike Richard Wagner, he isn’t paid by a somewhat strange Bavarian king, but by foreigners. Those who are familiar with Liu know he is extreme and arrogant, suggests an article published by China Daily (in English on October 28, in Chinese two days earlier). The article is basically a piece of exorcism, from a CCP-operated mudslinging machine that gets fired up whenever China’s mother of the masses faces a more or less fundamental challenger. Joel Martinsen, in a post on Danwei, lists some more devils of Liu’s kind, also described as “men and their deeds” by Chinese books, translations, or articles in the past – Bernie Madoff, the Dalai Lama, or Li Hongzhi (the founder of Falun Gong), for example. In all these cases, the authors probably didn’t think of the persons in question as heros – even if some of the characteristics attributed to Wagner and his heros may apply in their cases, too.

Judging from a roundup of other biographies that employ “the man and his deeds” (其人其事) in the title, the formula appears to be intended to pull back the curtain on the wickedness of the man and the awful deeds he has done,

muses Martinsen.

That’s probably an accurate assessment. But qí rén qí shì comes into play whenever a person whose talents, courage, wickedness, or whatever kinds of an individual’s attributes “beyond comprehension” have to be described. So maybe there is a stylistic device within “Liu Xiaobo and his Deeds” which one wouldn’t usually expect from a CCP mouthpiece: irony.

That the Latin letters of qí rén qí shìcan be put into the Chinese characters 其人其事, but also into those of 奇人奇事 (meaning something like odd ducks and strange things) may or may not be coincidental.


Is the Internet the Enemy of the Intellectual, May 23, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony: please don’t go (there), Taipei Times, Nov. 5, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Phrasebook: as Different as Jing and Wei

Phonetic transcription: jīng wèi fēn míng

An encyclopedic explanation:

泾渭分明是一个成语,源自一大自然景观。渭河是黄河的最大支流,泾河又是渭河的最大支流,泾河和渭河在古城西安北郊交汇时,由于含沙量不同,呈现出一清一 浊,清水浊水同流一河互不相融的奇特景观,形成了一道非常明显的界限,成为关中八景之一而闻名天下。后人就用泾河之水流入渭河时清浊不混来比喻界限清楚或 是非分明,也用来比喻人品的清浊,比喻对待同一事物表现出来的两种截然不同的态度。

As clearly different as Jing and Wei is a proverb, based on a natural landscape. The Wei river is the Yellow River’s biggest tributary. The Jing river in turn is the Wei river’s biggest tributary. The place where the Jing and Wei river converge, at the northern suburbs of the ancient city of Xi’an, they are taking on both clear and muddy patches, because of the different quantities of sands they carry, the scene of their waters that don’t blend together, instead featuring obvious boundaries between each other, makes their junction one of the Eight Scenic Spots of the Guanzhong Plain, and known all over the world. Later generations applied the anology of the two rivers’ unmixing waters to (the ideas) of clear boundaries or on unclear distinctions, but also to the moral qualities of people, or to two sharply different behaviors in treatment of identical things.

Baidu Baike

An example of how As different as Jing and Wei is used as a referral to different moral qualities of people can be found in the following translation exercise. The translation is a fable, about the fisherman and the demon (or about Understanding the Devil / Giving the Devil his Due):

一位渔夫从大海里捞上来一只密封的瓶子, 他打开了瓶口,瓶子中冒出了魔鬼。魔鬼不但不思报恩,却扬言杀死渔夫……当然,聪明的渔夫并没有死,他机智地使魔鬼重新回到了瓶中,又将瓶子投回了大海。

A fisherman pulled a sealed bottle from the sea and when he opened it, a demon came out of it. The demon not only refused to repay the fisherman’s kindness, but instead threatened to kill him. Of course, the intelligent fisherman didn’t die, but ingeniously made the demon get back into the bottle, then throwing it back into the sea.
Same as most other fables, this one teaches  to abandon evil for the principle of goodness. The good fisherman with his cleverness, and the brutal demon in his stupidity are as clearly distinct in this story at one glance, as are Jing and Wei.

College English Translation Course, Heilongjiang People’s Publishing House, July 2006

Previous Phrasebook Entry: zhū bā jiè dào dǎ yī pá, June 17, 2010

Can you Speak Zhongwen, 活龍翻译博客, comments, September 2010

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