Chinese promise gesture and accompaning phrase


“Here is a gesture that might be interesting. The gesture is for making a promise. I think the U.S.’ is very similar. You hook your pinky finger with your friend and touch your friend’s thumb.”

“But what’s different in China is that at the same time, you need to say ‘la gou shang diao yi bai nian bu xu bian.'”

“The two thumb touching is what we say like putting a stamp on the promise.”


FG is a student studying history and economics at USC. He is currently in a program in Ireland. He performed this folk gesture and folk speech to me through a zoom call. This piece of folklore is something that is performed many times by the informant when he was young.


This is a combination of folk speech and folk gesture. The folk speech has to go in combination with the gesture to make any sense. As a matter of fact, because this folk speech has been around for too long, part of the content doesn’t make sense anymore. “La gou shang diao yi bai nian bu xu bian,” or “拉勾上吊一百年不许变,” translate directly to “hook, hang, a hundred years no change. ” The “hang” part doesn’t make sense because as this piece of folklore spread in China, the original word for “shang diao”, or “上吊”, or hang, actually is a transformation from the homophone “上调,” which also is “shang diao,” but the meaning is very different. “上调” means the thumbs pull up and meet to put a red stamp on the things we want to promise.

On the other hand, another explanation is formed for the transformed version of “shang diao,” or “上吊.” People start to say that it means we keep our promises til we die. Because “上吊” specifically means a method of suicide: hanging on a rope. Folklore rationalizes itself with different transformations. It intrigues me when I think of the transformation and the rationalization of this particular piece.