Some Chinese expressions involving the moon

上弦月 shàngxián yuè First-quarter Moon

上弦月 (shàngxián yuè) First-quarter Moon

It is a Chinese tradition for family to gather together and enjoy the harvest of the year when the moon is at its fullest in the middle of autumn. After a scrumptious feast, it is customary for the party to move outdoors to observe the bright moon, chat, drink some tea and eat 月饼 (yuèbǐng moon cakes).

The moon is commonly referred to as 月亮 (yuèliang). In astronomical science, it is called 月球 (yuèqiú). In literature, one might speak of 月宫 (yuègōng), the palace on the moon where the moon fairly lives. In a moon-lit night, or 月夜 (yuèyè), you will likely see a half-moon shape, 半月形 (bànyuèxíng), or a crescent moon, 月牙 (yuèyá). A lunar eclipse is called 月蚀 (yuèshí).

The word (yuè) also represents the time period of one month. 正月 (zhēngyuè) is the first month of the lunar year. The Moon Festival takes place on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar year, i.e. 八月十五 (bāyuè shíwǔ).

岁月 (suìyuè) means years. 经年累月 (jīngniánlěiyuè) means year in year out.

他经年累月努力学习, 终于学会了中文.
Tā jīngniánlěiyuè nǔlì xuéxí, zhōngyú xuéhuì le zhōngwén.
After years of endeavoring in the study, he finally mastered the Chinese language.

蜜月 (mìyuè) is a honeymoon.

Tāmen yào qù nǎr dù mìyuè?
Where are they going for their honeymoon?

The word 满月 (mǎnyuè) can refer to a full moon, or it can refer to a baby’s completion of its first month of life, which calls for a joyous celebration. After giving birth to a baby, a woman in the traditional Chinese society would be confined at home for the entire first month and eat nutritious foods and drink herbal soups so as to recuperate quickly and produce ample milk for the newborn. This is called 坐月子 (zuòyuèzi).

When you see (yuè) in front of another word, it often refers to a monthly occurrence. Following are a few examples:

月历 (yuèlì) is a montly calendar.
月刊 (yuèkān) is a monthly magazine.
月票 (yuèpiào) is a monthly ticket.
月息 (yuéxī) is the monthly interest.
月薪 (yuèxīn) is the monthly salary.

Have you ever heard of 月下老人 (yuèxiàlǎorén)? An ancient Chinese story goes like this: One night, a traveling young man happened on an old man who was reading a book under the moonlight. Out of curiosity the young man ask the old what the book was about. The old man replied, “This is the book of marriages. See that woman who is peddling vegetables over there? Her daughter is only three now. In fourteen years, that girl will become your wife.” The young man did not take to the homeliness of that little girl. He paid a local to stab her to death. Fourteen years later, the young man got married. As was the custom at that time, one would see his bride for the first time on the wedding night. When the young man lifted the veil that covered the face of his bride, he saw a scar on her eyebrow. It turned out that girl was the same one he had previously attempted to get rid of. 月下老人 (yuèxiàlǎorén), the old man under the moon, is believed to be the god who unites persons in marriage. Consequently this term is often used to refer to a matchmaker. Chapter 10 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” discusses the song “Lift Your Veil”, which you can learn to sing by following the demo in the associated audio file.

累积 (lěijī) means to accumulate. 日积月累 (rìjīyuèlěi) means accumulated over a long period of time.

(xīn) means new. (yì) is the classical Chinese word for being different. Therefore 日新月异 (rìxīnyuèyì) means changing with each passing day (and month).

The phrase 风花雪月 (fēnghuāxuěyuè) contains the Chinese words for wind, flowers, snow and moon, which was the subject matter of certain types of feudal literature. Nowadays this idiom refers to shallow sentimental writing that is devoid of content. It is also used to describe decadence and indulgence in wine and women.

海底捞月 (hǎidǐlāoyuè) means to attempt to scoop up the moon from the bottom of the sea, i.e. striving in vain for the impossible or the illusory.

Zhè xiàng shì hǎidǐlāoyuè.
This is a hopeless illusion.

When people gather for the Moon Festival, some may play the game of mahjong, which involves completing a winning hand of tiles by forming sets of three tiles (melds). You could form a meld using a tile that you picked up or by using a tile discarded by another player. In the rare instance where no one has won when the tiles almost run out and you pick up the last available tile to complete a winning hand, you are said to have accomplished 海底捞月 (hǎidǐlāoyuè).

Zhōngqiūjié kuàilè!
Happy Moon Festival!

Happy Moon Festival

It’s that time of the year again – to visit with your family for 中秋节 (Zhōngqiūjié the Mid-Autumn Festival) and savor the 月饼 (yuèbǐng moon cakes). Moon cakes are typically of two varieties, the firm baked pastry moon cakes and the pliable ones made from steamed glutinous rice dough. How to make them? Be forewarned that it’s a time-consuming process (even if you purchase most of the ingredients in packaged, canned or bottled form) then read Christine’s write-up on Traditional Mooncakes. As a bonus, take a look at her Chinese version of the same recipe and try to figure out the Chinese terms with the help of the English version. If you don’t have the special mold for making moon cakes, you could use your palm to pat down the filled moon cake balls so they’re about the size and shape of a typical moon cake. If you have a cookie stamp handy, you could use it to imprint some patterns on the moon cakes before baking.

For those who are far away from their family, the occasion of the Mid-Autumn Festival may deepen the feeling of homesickness and nostalgia. This sentiment is best captured in a composition by one of the most talented literary giants in ancient China, 苏轼 (Sū Shì) of the Sung Dynasty. Following is the line from this composition that has been quoted so often that it has become a cliché:

Dànyuàn rén chángjiǔ,
Hope you and I will stay alive and well,

qiānlǐ gòng chánjuān.
so we may continue to share this beautiful moon though we are far apart.

但愿 (dànyuàn) means “I only wish that …” or “I wish …”. You could also say 希望 (xīwàng I hope), or 只希望 (zhǐ xīwàng I only hope).

长久 (chángjiǔ) means for a long time.

千里 (qiānlǐ) indicates a very long distance. 千里眼 (qiānlǐyǎn) is clairvoyance.

(gòng) is to share or to do something together, or to have something in common. This word can also be used as an adverb that means “altogether”.

Tāmen liǎnggè gòng hē le wǔ píng píjiǔ.
The two drank five bottles of beer in all.

(chán) and (juān) both mean beautiful and graceful. 婵娟 (chánjuān) refers to the moon, or the beautiful fairy, 嫦娥 (Chángé), who is believed to live on the moon with her pet rabbit.

As a matter of fact, the expression 但愿人长久 (Dànyuàn rén chángjiǔ) is imbedded in the song titled 月满西楼 (Yuè mǎn xī lóu) – Click on this link to hear the song. The verses were written by the very popular romance writer 琼瑶 (Qióngyáo). The music was composed by 刘家昌 (Liú Jiāchāng). The performing artist is 甄妮 (Zhēn Nī). Click here for the lyrics in Simplified Chinese characters.

(mǎn) means full or to be filled with. It also means to be satisfied or conceited. 西 (xī) is the west side. (lóu) is a multi-storied building, or one of its stories. The (yuè moon) in the title of this song refers to the moonlight that shines on and fills the western pavilion.

正是 (zhèngshì) means “precisely”. The setting for this song is right at the time when the flowers are blooming and the moon is full and round.

(lù) is the dew, and 湿 (shī) means wet or to dampen.
胭脂 (yānzhi) is rouge. It refers to the reddish color of the flowers. (chū) means initial or initially. (tòu) means to seep through or penetrate. Therefore, the second line of the verses describes how the dew is moistening the flowers that are just starting to blush.

殷勤 (yīnqín) means to be attentive to someone. 相守 (xiāng shǒu) means to stay close together with someone. (mò) is the formal word for “don’t”. It means the same as 不要 (bùyào). (ràng) means to let, to allow, or to yield to. 消瘦 (xiāoshòu) is to waste away. So, if you love the flowers, then stay by their side and don’t let them wither away.

(yuán) means “round”.

(xī) is to cherish, as in 爱惜 (àixī), or to have pity on, as in 可惜 (kěxī). There is an error in the printed lyrics for the line: 惜月且殷勤相守 (Xī yuè qiě yīnqín xiāng shǒu). The sun is mentioned instead of the moon.

溜走 (liùzǒu) means to slip away.

(sì) is the formal word for “like”, “appear to be”, or “similar.” 这般 (zhèbān) means “such” or “like this”. 似这般 (sì zhèbān) translates to 像这样的 (xiàng zhèyàng de) in everyday speech. Some artists, like 甄妮 (Zhēn Nī), sing this line with 是这般 (shì zhèbān).

In the last line of the lyrics the second character is missing from 但愿 (dànyuàn).

良辰美景 (liángchénměijǐng) means a wonderful time in a beautiful setting. 蜜意绸缪 (mì yì chóumóu) describes how the lovers are sentimentally attached to each other. This brings us to the ending of the song:

“Oh! Such wonderful ambiance! Such sweet and tender feelings! May the flowers keep blooming, the moon stay full, and we be here forever to enjoy them!”

Zhōngqiūjié kuàilè.
Have a happy Moon Festival!

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