Chinese idioms involving goats and monkeys

Prosperous New YearAs the Year of the Ram is transitioning into the Year of the Monkey, I thought it would be good for us to look at some of the Chinese idioms involving these animals.

(yáng) means sheep, ram or goat. Specifically, 綿羊 (miányáng) is the Chinese word for sheep, and 山羊 (shānyáng) are goats. Did you notice the two horns at the top of the Chinese character (yáng)?

A Chinese calligraphy or painting brush made of goat’s hair usually has the word 羊毫 (yángháo) marked on it. They are softer than 狼毫(lángháo), which is made of weasel’s hair.

羊毛(yángmáo) is fleece. The idiom 羊毛出在羊身上(yángmáochūzàiyángshēnshang) describes a situation in which a benefit actually came from one’s own contribution or expenditure. If a sheep receives a fleece blanket as a gift, it will behoove it to remember that the wool came from its own back. In other words, there is no free lunch.

A narrow meandering path is often referred to as 羊腸小道(yángchángxiǎodào). 羊腸(yángcháng) are a goat’s intestines.

掛羊頭賣狗肉(guàyángtóumàigǒuròu) means to display a goat’s head but sell dog meat instead, i.e. to bait and switch.

順手牽羊 (shùnshǒuqiānyáng) means to walk off with someone else’s belonging that is lying around.

亡羊補牢(wángyángbǔláo) means to repair the fence after a sheep is killed (such as by a cayote). This idiom could be used both ways – to say that it’s too late for the lost sheep, or to say that it’s not too late to try to save the other sheep.

Then there is the scapegoat, or 替罪羊 (tìzuìyáng) or 代罪羔羊 (dàizuìgāoyáng). 羔羊 (gāoyáng) is a lamb.

The Chinese character for monkeys is rather interesting in that on the right side is (hóu), which stands for a high official. On the left side is the radical for animals – (hóu). And an idiom comes naturally to mind. 沐猴而冠 (mùhóuérguàn) describes a worthless person who makes himself look impressive, like a monkey that was bathed and dressed in imposing attire. The man in the above image is shown in ancient Chinese government costume, indicating status and power. Now picture a monkey in this outfit.

Compared to 老虎(lǎohǔ tigers), 猴子 (hóuzi monkeys) are weak and powerless. However, when there are no tigers in the mountains, then a monkey could claim to be the king. Therefore the following saying makes fun of people whose abilities do not match the high position they hold.

山上無老虎,猴子稱大王.
Shān shàng wú lǎohǔ, hóuzi chēng dàwáng.

(tóu) is the head, and (nǎo) are the brains. 猴頭猴腦 (hóu tóu hóu nǎo) is an expression used to describe a youngster who is hyperactive, flighty and careless.

A futile attempt to save a situation is often likened to a monky that tries to scoop the moon out of the water but drowns in the process. (jiù) means to rescue, to save or to help.

這就像猴子救月.
Zhè jiù xiàng hóuzi jiù yuè.
This is tantamount to a monkey trying to rescue the moon.

殺雞儆猴 (shājījǐnghóu) or 殺雞給猴看 (shājīgěihóukàn) means to ‘kill a chicken in front of a monkey’, i.e to make an example out of someone. Punishing someone often serves the purpose of frightening others who have a similar plot in mind.

I came across an interesting flower that has an eerie resemblance to a monkey’s face. You can click on this link to see what a 猴蘭 (hóulán monkey orchid) looks like.

The greeting card above shows the following couplet:

財源廣進年年進;
Cáiyuán guǎng jìn niánnián jìn
Financial resources pour in abundantly year after year;

利路亨通日日通.
Lì lù hēngtōng rì rì tōng
Road to profits and riches goes smoothly day after day.

The Chinese believe that the Year of the Monkey brings vitality. Take the “k” out of “monkey”, and you’ll get “money”. May you have all the energy and $ you need to accomplish everything you want in this coming Chinese lunar year.

恭禧发财!
Gōngxǐ fācái!
Have a happy and prosperous New Year!

Sing “America the Beautiful” in Chinese

Blueberries ripening

Blueberries ripening

July 4th, 七月四日 (qīyuè sì rì), is the birthday of the United States of America. (zhù) is to express good wishes. 祝福 (zhùfú) is to give blessing to someone. This word can also be used as a noun. 庆祝 (qìngzhù) is to celebrate. There are a number of patriot songs to help us express our feelings while celebrating the national day, or 国庆日 (guóqìng rì), notably the one with lyrics written by Katharine Lee Bates and music composed by Samuel A. Ward – “America the Beautiful”. The Chinese word for America is 美国 (Měiguó). 美丽 (měilì) means beautiful.

忠贞 (zhōngzhēn) means being loyal and steadfast. 爱国 (àiguó) means being patriotic. So, 忠贞爱国 (zhōngzhēn àiguó) describes a person who is loyal to his country and loves it dearly, and patriotic songs are called 爱国歌曲 (àiguó gēqǔ).

At this link is a nice rendition of “America the Beautiful”. If you would like to sing this song in Chinese, here is my translated version:

啊, 多美丽! 蓝天辽阔,
Ā, duō měilì! Lán tiān liáokuò,
Oh, how beautiful – the spacious blue skies

麦田里漾金波.
màitián li yàng jīn bō.
and the golden waves rippling in the wheat fields.

高山峻岭, 气势磅礴,
Gāoshān jùn lǐng, qìshìpángbó,
High mountains and mountain ranges, so powerful and majestic,

遍地布满花果.
biàn dì bùmǎn huā guǒ.
and the land covered with flowers and fruits.

美丽家园, 美丽家园!
Měilì jiāyuán, měilì jiāyuán!
Beautiful homeland, beautiful homeland!

愿天父保佑你.
Yuàn tiānfù bǎoyòu nǐ.
May the Heavenly Father protect and bless you.

从南到北, 由西到东,
Cóng nán dào běi, yóu xī dào dōng,
From south to north, from west to east,

四海内皆兄弟.
sìhǎi nèi jiē xiōngdì.
within the four seas we are all brothers.

啊, 多美丽! 同心协力,
Ā, duō měilì! Tóngxīnxiélì,
Oh, how beautiful – the shared aspiration, the concerted effort

不断英勇建国.
bùduàn yīngyǒng jiànguó.
and the endless valor in founding the nation.

大城小镇亭亭玉立,
Dà chéng xiǎo zhèn tíngtíng yù lì,
Big cities and small towns now stand upright,

在泪光里闪烁.
zài lèi guāng li shǎnshuò.
shimmering in our tears.

美丽家园, 美丽家园!
Měilì jiāyuán, měilì jiāyuán!
Beautiful homeland, beautiful homeland!

愿天父保佑你.
Yuàn tiānfù bǎoyòu nǐ.
May the Heavenly Father protect and bless you.

从南到北, 由西到东,
Cóng nán dào běi, yóu xī dào dōng,
From south to north, from west to east,

四海内皆兄弟.
sìhǎi nèi jiē xiōngdì.
within the four seas we are all brothers.

辽阔 (liáokuò) means vast and expansive.

高山峻岭 (gāoshān jùn lǐng) is a popular phrase for describing high mountains.

气势磅礴 (qìshìpángbó) is a commonly used four-character idiom describing the power or momentum of someone or something.

英勇 (yīngyǒng) means heoric and courageous, as when speaking of the brave soldiers who help defend our country.

同心协力 (tóngxīnxiélì) is a commonly used four-character idiom describing two or more people working together with one heart and in full cooperation.

What are the things that you love the most or are most proud of about your own country? Would you like to share them with us in a comment either in English or Chinese?

美国国庆日快乐!
Měiguó guóqìng rì kuàilè!
Have a Happy July 4th!

Or,

美国国庆快乐!
Měiguó guóqìng kuàilè!
Have a Happy July 4th!

Sing Chinese Song of Tai-Hu Boat

Now that you know how to say (xíng), let’s sing a well-known Chinese song in which this word is prominently featured.

太湖船 (Tàihú Chuán Boat on Lake Tai) is a song about a large lake located near Shanghai, China. Some information about the lake is provided by Wikipedia.

The following link will take you to a video featuring this song.

When singing or listening to the short and sweet verses of this song, picture yourself sitting leisurely in a small boat gliding along on Lake Tai. When singing or listening to the short and sweet verses of this song, picture yourself sitting leisurely in a small boat gliding along on Lake Tai. I searched through Henry Li’s Chinese painting videos on YouTube and came upon one at this link that is related to a boat. About 12 minutes and 8 seconds into the demonstration, the fishing boat is finally introduced. In my opinion, it is this tiny speck that breathes life onto the landscape painting.

山青水明幽静静.
Shān qīng shuǐ míng yōu jìng jìng.
In the tranquility by the green mountains and the clear water,

湖心飘来风一阵呀.
Hú xīn piāo lái fēng yīzhèn ya.
a breeze wafts over from the center of the lake.

行呀行呀, 进呀进.
Xíng ya xíng ya, jìn ya jìn.
Going, going; moving on.

黄昏时候人行少.
Huánghūn shíhòu rén xíng shǎo.
In the twilight few people are around.

半空月影水面摇呀.
Bàn kòng yuè yǐng shuǐmiàn yáo ya.
The image of the half-risen moon shimmers on the surface of the water.

行呀行呀, 进呀进.
Xíng ya xíng ya, jìn ya jìn.
Going, going; moving on.

(shān) is a mountain of a hill. (qīng) can mean green or blue. It represents young crops and young people.

(shuǐ) is water or bodies of water. (míng) features both a sun and a moon. It represents brightness and clarity.

(jìng) means quiet, still or calm. 安靜 (ānjìng) means quiet and peaceful. 幽靜 (yōujìng) means quiet and secluded. 平静 (píngjìng) means calm and quiet. These words can also serve as nouns.

On the second line, some people sing 湖上 (hú shàng on the lake) instead of 湖心 (hú xīn center of the lake).

We’ve encountered 飘来 (piāo lái wafting towards you) in the Laura Lee song we sang a couple weeks ago.

Normally you would say 一阵风 (yīzhèn fēng) for a waft of wind or a gust of wind. Sometimes the order is reversed to create a special effect.

黄昏 (huánghūn) is dusk or twilight.

In the third tone, (shǎo) means few or little.

半空 (bàn kòng) means half way in the sky, or mid-air.

(yǐng) is a shadow or a reflection. 月影 (yuè yǐng) is the image of the moon.

Now here is a Chinese saying that involves a boat moving not so smoothly but against the currents:

学如逆水行舟, 不进则退.
Xué rú nìshnì shuǐ xíngzhōu, bùjìnzétuì.
Studying is like rowing a boat upstream – If you don’t forge ahead, you will drop back.

Indeed, learning Chinese could feel like a Sisyphean task. You will need to keep up the effort so as not to regress.

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