Year of the Rat and Chinese idioms associated with rats and mice

Year of the Rat Greeting Card

Year 2020 – Chinese Year of the Rat Greeting Card

Yikes! I’m scared of rats and mice. However, as a Chinese zodiac sign, rats represent wealth and abundance, and the ones pictured on the greeting card here do look kind of cute. If you wish to read up on the rats zodiac information, please click on this link.

Let’s take a closer look at the greeting card design. Notice how the various disks have a square hole in the center? Those represent the ancient Chinese coins. People used to string them together and carry the strings of cash coins around. Also, there are one or more occurrences of the following auspicious phrases on the card image. Are you able to find them all?

迎新年 (yíng xīnnián) Welcome the New year.

迎春纳福 (yíng chūn nàfú) Welocme spring and enjoy a life of ease and comfort.

迎春接福 (yíng chūn jiē fú) Welocme spring and enjoy a life of ease and comfort.

富贵有余 (fùguì yǒuyú) Have ample riches and prestige.

一路发财 (yīlù fācái) Make a fortune throughout the journey of life.

招财进宝 (zhāo cái jìn bǎo) May riches and treasures pour in.

财源滚滚 (cái yuán gǔn gǔn) May the source of wealth keep surging.

大吉大利 (dà jí dà lì) Very good fortune and great profit to you.

吉祥平安 (jíxiáng píng’ān) Auspiciousness and wellness be with you.

事事如意 (shìshìrúyì) Smooth going for everything.

In the above, (yíng) is an abbreviation for 欢迎 (huānyíng), which means to welcome or to greet.

Following are a few other popular New Year greetings:

恭喜发财 (gōng xǐ fā cái) Wish you happiness and prosperity.

心想事成 (xīn xiǎng shì chéng) May all your wishes come true.

万事如意 (wàn shì rú yì) May everything go as you wish.

年年有余 (nián nián yǒu yú) May you have abundance and surplus each year.

年年高升 (nián nián gāo shēng) May you get a promotion year after year.

岁岁平安 (suì suì píng ān) May you enjoy peace year after year.

(yú surplus) is a homonym for (yú fish). This is why many Chinese families include a dish of fish for the last dinner of the year but make sure to save part of the fish for consumption in the new year.

(gāo high, tall) is a homonym for (gāo cakes). 年糕 (niángāo), a very sweet cake, is usually served around Chinese New year because it connotes 年年高升. Instead of that sugary cake, I serve my family the wholesome Daikon radish cake, or 萝卜糕 (luóbogāo), the recipe of which can be found in “Tame Migraine the Delicious Way“.

The Chinese word for rats or mice is (shǔ) or 老鼠 (lǎoshǔ). In some dialects, rats and mice are called 耗子 (hàozi). The Chinese word for rats or mice is (shǔ) or 老鼠 (lǎoshǔ). In some dialects, rats and mice are called 耗子 (hàozi). 田鼠 (tiánshǔ) is a vole, 松鼠 (sōngshǔ) is a squirrel, 花鼠 (huāshǔ) is a chipmunk, and 飛鼠 (fēishǔ) is a flying squirrel. Get this: Kangaroos are called 袋鼠 (dàishǔ).

Here are a few popular Chinese idioms related to rats or mice.

抱头鼠窜 (bàotóushǔcuàn) to scurry off like a rat
胆小如鼠 (dǎnxiǎo rú shǔ) timid or faint-hearted like a mouse
过街老鼠 (guò jiē lǎoshǔ) a mouse crossing the street, despised by everyone who sees it
投鼠忌器 (tóushǔjìqì) to hesitate to throw something at a rat for fear of breaking some precious item, i.e. to have scruples about doing something
狗咬耗子 (gǒu yǎo hàozi) dog biting a rat, i.e. to be a busybody
猫哭老鼠 (māokūlǎoshǔ) a cat crying over a dead mouse; to shed crocodile tears
蛇头鼠眼 (shé tóu shǔ yǎn) with a snakes head and rat’s eyes, i.e. hideous and harboring evil intentions

For fun, we could add a couple expressions that make use of the characters (shǔ to count) and (shǔ to belong to), which sound the same as (shǔ).

好运鼠于你 (好运属于你 hǎoyùn shǔyú nǐ) Good luck be yours!

鼠不尽的快乐 (数不尽的快乐 shǔ bù jìn de kuàilè) Countless happiness!

恭贺新禧!
Gōnghèxīnxǐ!
Happy New Year!

Plain rice or fried rice?

As you know, rice is the staple food in many parts of southeastern Asia. (mǐ) is uncooked rice. (This character is also used to represent the distance unit, “meters”.) Cooked rice is called (fàn), which sounds quite similar to “fun”. Plain cooked rice is 白饭 (báifàn), and stir-fried rice is 炒饭 (chǎo fàn). Please don’t go around announcing that you like to 吃白饭 (chī báifàn) as this expression can also be interpreted as the equivalent of 白吃 (bái chī), which means eating without paying, or bilking others. It is safe to say:

我喜欢吃白米饭.
Wǒ xǐhuān chī bái mǐfàn.
I like to eat plain rice.

Another expression to be careful about is 吃软饭 (chī ruǎn fàn eat soft rice), which means to sponge off women. It is safe to say:

我喜欢吃比较软的饭.
Wǒ xǐhuān chī bǐjiào ruǎn de fàn.
I like to eat rice that’s on the soft side.

Having thousands of years of history behind them, the Chinese, have taken the plain rice grains and turned them into a large variety of delectable food products. Rice porridge is called (zhōu congee) or 稀饭 (xīfàn). When the rice is cooked to a paste, then it’s called (hú). This word can also be used as a verb, i.e. “to glue with a paste”.

(fěn) is a powder. When rice is ground into powder and made into a vermicelli, it is called 米粉 (mǐ fěn rice flour noodles). On some restaurant menus, you may find 炒粉 (chǎofěn), which refers to stir-fried rice noodles.

Rice powder can also be used to make a variety of rice cakes, generally referred to as (gāo). As I mentioned before, the sticky rice cake, called 年糕 (niángāo), is customarily served for the Lunar New Year. On the other hand, 蛋糕 (dàngāo cakes) usually refer to cakes made from wheat flour. What happens when you’ve added too much sugar, or (táng), into the cake?

这个蛋糕太甜了!
Zhègè dàngāo tài tián le!
This cake is too sweet!

Please refer to the book,”Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”, for the names of other food items. There you will also find a song sung to the tune of “Hot Cross Buns”.

(lì) are grains or granules. It is also used as a unit of counting small round items.

(cū) means coarse, grainy, thick or wide.

(hé) refers to the rice plant. This character is a radical found in many other Chinese characters. For example, you’ve most likely seen the word (hé) used as the conjunctive “and”. As an adjective, this word means to be gentle or congenial. As a noun, it means the sum. As a verb, (huò), means to mix, and is pronounced in the fourth tone.

When you harvest the rice by cutting the pants, profit will be gained. So, when you add the刂(dāo knife) radical to (hé), you will get (lì), which means sharp, beneficial, a profit or an interest (from savings or investment).

连本带利一共三千六百元.
Lián běn dài lì yīgòng sān qiān liù bǎi yuán.
Including principal and interest, altogether it’s 3600 yuan.

便利 (biànlì) means convenient. 顺利 (shùnlì) means going smoothly or without a problem. 利用 (lìyòng) is a verb that means “to make good use of” or, in the negative sense, “to exploit”.

(dào) are the rice plants in the paddy.
(xiāng) means fragrant or savory. As a noun, it refers to incense.
(chèng) are scales. It can be used as the verb “to weigh”.
(shuì) are duty and taxes.
(jì) are the seasons.

一年有四季.
Yī nián yǒu sìjì.
There are four seasons in a year.

One sweltering day during the Tang Dynasty, a farmer was laboring in his rice field. A poet, named 李绅 (Lǐ shēn), happened by. He took sympathy on the farmer, and the inspiration resulted in this well-known poem:

锄禾日当午,
Chú hé rì dāng wǔ,
Hoeing in the rice field at midday,

汗滴禾下土.
Hàn dī hé xià tǔ.
Sweat dripping past the rice onto the soil.

谁知盘中餐
Shéi zhī pán zhōng cān
Who’d have known the food on the plate,

粒粒皆辛苦.
Lì lì jiē xīnkǔ.
Each and every grain means toil.

To hear a reading of this poem, please click here.

May you all see the fruit of your labor in the coming year.

新年快乐!
Xīnnián kuàilè!
Happy New Year!

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