Julie Curates China appears every Wednesday in Hoje Macau
Ten Chinese idioms that will teach you more about China than any expert you are reading
Dream of the Red Chamber is known as one of the best-selling books of all time. Written in the 18th century, it is considered a masterpiece and acknowledged to be the pinnacle of Chinese fiction. “Redology” is the field of study devoted exclusively to this work. For example, Chairman Mao was a renowned Redologist. I myself am not a redologist. Being an English language writer, I leaf through the classic work in order to keep the mark of the Chinese language in my DNA. Recently, I have collected ten idioms to share with my readers. This is literature but this is also (Chinese) politics. It may also serve as a business bible. Practise with care (like when you do yoga) 🙂
Be a fool among fools 入乡随俗
Story: When our young heroine Daiyu arrives at Jia family’s dynastic palace, she is welcomed by the matron who asks her if she can read. Daiyu then tells the matron that she has learnt reading through Four Confucian Classics. She asks if the Jia girls also have learnt reading. The matron answers that the girls might not as advanced but good enough to not be blind! In the following scene our young hero Baoyu enters and asks what kind of classic Daiyu has read. Daiyu has accepted the pecking order quickly and answers: “I cannot read. I can recognize a few words.”
Power is something you don’t (want to) change. So hide your talent.
Be an excellent occasionist 伺机而动
An occasionist is similar to an opportunist, though it bears less negative connotation in the Chinese context.
Story: Power lady Wang Xifeng waves to a female servant Hongyu on the hillside. Hongyu quickly leaves the crowd and runs to Wang Xifeng. She is all obedience and smiles: “Milady, please?” Wang Xifeng studies the girl from top to toe. She is clean and pretty and speaks well. She says: “My girl servant didn’t follow me today. I need someone to run an errand but I’m not sure if you are up for the job?” Hongyu replies: “Milady, I live for your orders. If I disappoint you, punish me as you wish!”
Opportunities are rare. Grab every chance presented to you with accuracy AND all your heart and claws.
When telling untruth is a desirable quality避实就虚
Story: Concubine Zhao arranges for her brother’s funeral and realises that one of the girl servants does not have the right clothes. Besides, the street she plans to visit is dirty. She goes to a high-ranked servant Xueyan to borrow some good clothes. Xueyan refuses her like this: “Of course it’s fine for your girl servant to wear my clothes, Auntie Zhao! But my clothes are kept by Zijuan (my superior), who also needs permission from my mistress. It’s not that I’m afraid of the trouble. You see my mistress is sick lying in bed and right now we shouldn’t bother her with these small things. Secondly, I’m afraid asking for permission back and forth will shelve your urgent dealing.”
Learn to refuse in a complicated way. Apparently, the Chinese give credit to those who know how to tell a good lie.
Be forever on the fence (and avoid collision) 不偏不倚
Power lady Wang Xifeng is ill. A young mistress is running the dynastic household in her place and she wants some reforms. Ping Er, who is Wang’s servant finds herself in a thorny position, for she does not want to offend the young mistress, but she does not want to be disloyal to her lady.
Her strategy is to praise the young mistress for her actions and mention at the same time that her lady has thought of the positive changes too but she had her qualms for very good reasons. In this way, she flatters the young mistress as well as praises her lady. Et voilà, she is on her way to her next promotion. When one day she becomes the leader, remember to not expect opinion from her because she got there by not expressing an opinion.
(To be continued)