Fear in Chinese

Dark clouds have gathered overhead, heavy with moisture, ready for Halloween, or 万圣节 (Wàn Shèng Jié). It’s time again to talk about words that relate to terror and fear.

As a noun 恐怖 (kǒngbù) means horror or terror. This word also serves as an adjective. 恐怖片 (kǒngbù piàn) is a horror movie.

我不喜欢听恐怖故事.
Wǒ bù xǐhuān tīng kǒngbù gùshi.
I don’t like to listen to horror tales.

恐惧 (kǒngjù) and 惧怕 (jùpà) both mean fear or dread. (gǎn) is a feeling. Therefore, 恐惧感 (kǒngjù gǎn) is the feeling of fear.

他对于考试有很大的恐惧感.
Tā duìyú kǎosh yǒu hěn dà de kǒngjù gǎn.
He has an immense dread of taking exams.

(pà), or 害怕 (hàipà), means to fear, to dread, or to be worried about something. What radicals make up the (pà) character? Yes, one could get so scared that even the heart turns pale and white.

我最怕蛇.
Wǒ zuì pà shé.
I’m scared of snakes the most.

我不怕他.
Wǒ bù pà tā.
I’m not afraid of him.

To the Chinese, as to many other people, (heaven, sky) and (earth) are both very sacred and powerful. When one wants to exaggerate the dread for something, one would often use the expression: 天不怕, 地不怕, 只怕 . . (Tiān bùpà, dì bùpà zhǐ pà . . ), i.e. “More than heaven and earth, I dread . . “.

In fact, there is a saying that goes like this:

天不怕, 地不怕, 只怕老外说中国话.
Tiān bùpà, dì bùpà, zhǐ pà lǎo wài shuō Zhōngguó huà.
More than anything else, I dread listening to foreigners speak Chinese.

老外 (lǎo wài) is slang for a western foreigner. Also, foreigners are often referred to as 洋人 (yángrén). As these terms have some negative connotations, we do not use them in our family. We usually refer to foreigners by their countries, such as 美国人 (měiguórén Americans) or 澳洲人 (àozhōurén Australians). If the country is unknown, then we’d use 外国人 (wàiguórén).

Click on this link to listen to a humorous self-mockery delivered in perfect Mandarin pronunciation.

If you are still unsure about the five tones used in Mandarin, the video I posted recently on YouTube might help.

怕死 (pàsǐ) means to be afraid of dying. However, 怕生 (pàshēng) does not mean being scared of life. Here, (shēn) is the abbreviation of 生人 (shēngrén) or 陌生人 (mòshēngrén), which is a stranger. Therefore, 怕生 (pàshēng) means being shy of strangers.

Note also that 怕人 (pàrén) does not mean being afraid of people. Rather, it means horrible, or scary to people, same as 可怕 (kěpà).

Just like (ài love) often stands for “to like”, (pà fear) can be used in the sense of “to dislike”.

我怕吵闹.
Wǒ pà chǎonào.
I dislike noises.

只怕 (zhǐ pà) can also mean “I’m afraid that . . .”. In this case, it is used in a similar way as 恐怕 (kǒngpà perhaps, I’m afraid that . . .). The following three statements express the same idea

只怕他不会来.
Zhǐ pà tā bùhuì lái.
I’m afraid that he won’t be coming.

他恐怕不会来.
Tā kǒngpà bùhuì lái.
He will probably not be coming.

我担心他不会来.
Wǒ dānxīn tā bù huì lái.
I’m afraid (worried) that he won’t come.

The following sentence illustrates yet another usage of 只怕 (zhǐ pà). In this instance, this expression translates to “as long as”.

天下无难事, 只怕有心人.
Tiānxià wú nánshì, zhǐ pà yǒuxīnrén.
No task is difficult when there is a determined person.
(Where there is a will, there is a way.)

Taboos, 忌讳 (jìhuì) often arise from people’s fear of death, misfortune and unknown factors. It will be worth your while to search the Internet for and read up on some of the common Chinese taboos, particularly with respect to gifting.

A Traveler’s Song

As Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday, I thought we’d talk about a poem dedicated to mothers. 游子吟 (Yóuzǐ Yín), A Traveler’s Song, was written by 孟郊 (Mèng Jiāo), a poet from the Tang Dynasty. 游子 (yóuzǐ) is a formal word that refers to a traveler, a wanderer or one who lives far away from home. Therefore, this poem could as well be titled “Chant of an Absent Son”. As most Chinese know this peom by heart, you should commit it to memory, too.

慈母手中线,
Cí mŭ shŏu zhōng xiàn,
The thread in the loving mother’s hand

游子身上衣.
Yóuzǐ shēnshàng yī.
Makes the clothes for the traveling son.

临行密密缝,
Línxíng mì mì féng,
Stitch by stitch, tight and firm,

意恐迟迟归.
Yì kŏng chí chí guī.
She provides for his late return.

谁言寸草心,
Shéi yán cùn căo sīn,
Who says the heart of an inch of grass

报得三春晖.
Bào dé sān chun huī.
Can ever repay the sunshine that forever lasts?

Although the verses were written in classical Chinese, these lines are rather easy to understand, with the help of the following translation.
慈母 (címŭ) means the loving mother. In spoken language, it is 慈爱的母亲 (cíài de mǔqin).

手中 (shŏu zhōng) and 手里 (shŏu li) both mean “in one’s hand”.

他手里拿着一张照片.
Tā shŏu li ná zhe yī zhāng zhàopiàn.
He is holding a photo in his hand.

(yóu) means to wander, to rove around, to travel or to swim. (There are separate Traditional Chinese characters for wandering on land and swimming in water. This distinction is lost in the Simplified Chinese character system.)

身上衣 (shēnshàng yī) is abbreviated from 身上的衣服 (shēnshàng de yīfu clothes on one’s back)

临行 (línxíng) means just before leaving. (línxíng), in the sense of “to walk”, is the formal word for (zǒu). In Chinese, it is customary to add the word “ (shí)” or the phrase “的时候 (de shíhòu)” to an action or event to explicitly indicate a point in time. For example:

他临走时, 给了我五元小费.
Tā lín zǒu shí, gěi le wǒ wǔ yuán xiǎofèi.
Just before leaving, he gave me a $5 tip.

他临走的时候, 给了我五元小费.
Tā lín zǒu de shíhòu, gěi le wǒ wǔ yuán xiǎofèi.
Just before leaving, he gave me a $5 tip.

(mì) means dense, close, meticulous, intimate or secretive. It is used in this poem to describe the close spacing of the stiches.

(féng) means to sew.

(yì) means an idea, a meaning, an intention, to expect, to anticipate, or to intend. For example, 心意 means kind regards or intention. In the poem, this word stands for 意料 (yìliào anticipate, expect).

(kŏng) means dread, fear or being terrified. Here, it means 恐怕 (kǒngpà perhaps, I think that, I’m afraid that).

迟归 (chí guī) translates to 很晚回来 (hěn wǎn huílái). In the poem it refers to a long absence.

谁言 (shéi yán) means 谁说 (shéi shuō), or who says.

There is not a kind of heart that’s called 寸草心. This is a metaphor employed by the poet who likens a mother’s love to the grace of the sunshine in springtime, and the heart of an offspring to the grass that benefits from the sunshine.

Here, (bào)is the abbreviation for 报答 (bàodá to repay a favor).

(sān) means three or a lot of. (As they say, three is a crowd.)

(huī) refers to sunlight. It shows the sun radical on its left side. 春晖 is the sunshine in springtime.

游子吟 (Yóuzǐ Yín) is usually sung at a slow tempo to the tune of an old German folksong. It invokes reminiscence of our childhood and youth and reminds us how much our mothers love us. The song often brings tears to our eyes. The mood is much lighter, however, in this spirited animation. I hope you will be able to follow along.

To all you great mothers out there:

母亲节快乐!
Mǔqīnjié kuàilè!
Happy Mother’s Day!

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