Chinese Language Blog

Chinese Idioms Vol. 2 Posted by on Jun 24, 2011 in Culture, Vocabulary

It’s time for another edition of Transparent Language Chinese Idioms! By learning Chinese idioms, we can learn something about the language, culture, and history of China all at the same time…

半面之交 – bàn miàn zhī jiāo – “A nodding acquantaince”

"Remember me?! We met that one time..."

The story behind this idiom says that there was once a man named Ying Feng, who lived during the Eastern Han period. His memory was spot-on, and one time he went to visit an official named Yuan He. However, at the time of his visit, Yuan He was not at home. Instead, a worker opened the jar, only slightly, revealing half of his face. He told Ying Feng that Yuan He was not at home, and quickly went back to work. Well, years later, Ying Feng ran into the worker again while strolling the streets, and he instantly remembered the man. These days, this idiom is used to describe people who have only caught a short glimpse of each other, and it also describes shallow interpersonal relationships. Just think of that girl from your high school math class who you never talked to or hung out with, who finds you years later and greets you with, “Oh my God! It’s Sarah, from math class! 10th grade! You sat in the back and I sat in the front, and that teacher was totally boring!” You can use this Chinese idiom to describe her…

大公无私 – dà gōng wú sī – “Be impartial and unselfish”

"But he is your enemy! Is he not?"

During the Spring and Autumn Period, there lived a man named Qi Huangyang. One day, he was asked to recommend a person for the important job of magistrate of Nanyang. When Qi named Xie Hu as his choice, the king was quite surprised to hear that Qi had chosen Xie Hu, his political enemy, as the right man for the job. The king asked him why he made such a choice, and Qi responed,”You asked me who was suitable for this post, not who my political enemy is.” Some time later, Qi recommended his song, Qi Wu, for the post of a judge. Once again, he was questioned about his decision, as others might view his decision as simply giving the position to his son. However, Qi responded, “You asked me who is qualified for the job, not who my son is.” Since Qi was a very impartial and unselfish man when it came to recommending talents, he was praised by Confucius. Of course, you can use this idiom to describe a person who is also impartial and unselfish in handling important matters.

孤注一掷 – gū zhù yī zhì – “To concentrate one’s strength and resources on one thing”

Everyone knows the English idiom, “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Well, this is the Chinese equivalent. Here is an example of this idiom in action:

现在他们不敢再次孤注一掷了- xiàn zài tā men bù gǎn zài cì gū zhù yī zhì le – Now they are afraid of putting all their eggs in one basket again.


Save at least a few for an omelette tomorrow morning.



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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. Steven:

    Wonderful examples!

  2. Shannon Fabry:


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