AW is a 19 year old college student. She is an undergraduate computer science major and is from Los Angeles County. She is Chinese American and has lived in LA all of her life.
Context: AW is a good friend of mine, so we sat down after dinner to discuss folklore she picked up across her life.
AW: There is one saying that my parents say all the time. It goes:
Translation: Ren Shan Ren Hai
English Translation: People mountain people see
Literal Translation: There are so many people here.
AW: The words don’t make sense but when you say it it just means, “woah there is a crap ton of people here”. It can vary from place to place though, like how in the US there are phrases for heavy rain and such.
Collector: Is that a phrase you use personally?
AW: Only when I’m speaking Mandarin and am with my parents and family friends.
Thoughts/Analysis: This idiom is a form of folk speech that Chinese people use to reference large crowds. It is similar to “long time no see”. It shows how folklore is directly linked to language in which the structure is similar. It also shows how language is used to connect folklore in different countries like how language is used to link India and Europe. I typically do not notice how people in America use expressions with the same structure and did not realize it was a universal thing because language changes sentence structure. I have found however that it is universal that many expressions use the natural environment as an idiom or use an idiom to express the natural environment (like rain).
For other variations of Chinese Idioms regarding mountains or seas, see:
Rapatan, N. (2013, May 14). Yu gong yi shan idiom. USC Digital Folklore Archives. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from http://folklore.usc.edu/yu-gong-yi-shan-idiom/