Tag Archives: Mandarin

Chinese Proverb of “To Kill Two Birds with One Stone”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Chinese/ french
Age: 23
Occupation: Accountant
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/21/2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin/ French

Main Story: 

“There is a common saying in Chinese (Mandarin) : 箭双雕” 

Original Script : 箭双雕 

Phonetic: Yi (Yee) Jian Shuang Diao

Transliteration: Complete two tasks with one job 

Full translation: to shoot two birds with one arrow

This saying is also present in English, it is the same concept as “to kill two birds with one stone”. The theory being you can complete two separate tasks with one action. For example: say a person has to go get a test done at the doctor’s office and also a check up with a different doctor. But both doctors happen to operate out of the same medical office building. By scheduling the appointments back to back, the person is able to complete two tasks (the doctors’ appointments) with one action (driving to the medical office building). 

Background: 

The informant of this info is my friend and she is Chinese and used to live in Shanghai. She always found it interesting that this phrase exists in both English and in Chinese in an almost synonymous context. She can’t find anywhere as to which phrase came first and who got it from who or if the similarity is purely coincidental, and if it is a coincidental likeness then she wanders what does that say about human nature? 

Context:

The informant is a friend of mine and we were video calling over the phone during quarantine and just chatting about life and funny coincidences across cultures.

My thoughts: 

I kind of agree with my friend on how she feels about the odd coincidence between the two languages and the same phrase. It is interesting that they are so similar in literally every aspect of their meaning. 

Clock and Watch

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 25
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: April 13th, 2013
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin

Informant Background: The informant was born in rural parts of China called Hainan. She lived there with her grandparents where she attended elementary school. She moved to the United States when she was thirteen. She speaks both Chinese and English. She lives in Los Angeles with her mother but travels back to visit her relatives in Beijing and Hainan every year. She and her mother still practice a lot of Chinese traditions and celebrate Chinese holidays through special meals.

 

In Chinese you can’t say the word clock because in Chinese the word clock sounds the same as death. People usually point at the clock instead of saying it or called it “big watch,” “time,” “the time thing,” etc. If you end up saying the word then you have to apologize to the people around them for giving them bad luck.

The informant lives in the United States but still speak Chinese. She was taught about this ever since she can speak the language. It was emphasizing in the family and she found out it is practiced among her relatives and her friend’s family as well.

 

I think this is similar practice to the reason Chinese people avoid saying the word four because it sounds like they are saying death. Death, which is the unknown, is feared and avoided in everyday life. The idea of death is only mentioned and emphasized at funeral. The clock, in this case, has a nickname to avoid saying the actual word. Certain words that have overlapping sound are then muted for everyday life. The same way funeral rituals occur as a special event, words surrounding that particular event are prohibited to occur at any other time otherwise bad luck will enter your life. It is also similar to Western culture’s belief around the number thirteen where in a tall building floor 13 are eliminated.

I always find it peculiar that many everyday word and objects can have bad luck connotation through the way it sounds; also having to apologize for saying those words by mistake. This reinforces the idea of belief and how the truth value of it is irrelevant to whether or not it is practiced. Saying the word “four” or “clock” in Chinese would not bring bad luck but it would bring the belief of bad luck. I think that these traditions are carried through as accepted practice rather than the actual fear of the consequences.

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Singaporean Chinese
Age:
Occupation: Teacher
Residence: Singapore
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2007
Primary Language: Chinese
Other Language(s): Hinghwa, Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese, English

Zhao

Shine

一个日本人,

yi ge ri ben ren

One Japanese Man

站在门口,

zhan zai men kou

Standing at the doorway

拿着一把刀,

na zhe yi ba dao

Holding a knife

杀了四个人。

sha le si ge ren

He kills four people

 

This was learned by my informant when she was growing up in Singapore in school, when she was about ten or eleven years of age. While she can’t quite recall who she learnt it from, she said it was rather useful for learning characters in Chinese.  It is in essence a word riddle, in which the bottom four lines would be told to the other person and the other person would try to guess what the word was.

Even though there is supposedly nothing meant by the content (morbid as it is), it is just there because it fits the word. However, when my informant was growing up during the 1950s and 60s in Singapore there was a great deal of resentment against the Japanese for WWII. The words of this riddle could originate as a subtle form of anti-Japanese rebellion or statement for the brutal acts that they performed in Singapore and most of South East and East Asia.

During World War II, it was very common for Japanese soldiers to enter houses indiscriminately and slaughter whole families for numerous trumped up charges, like being Chinese, or having a wife that the soldier found mildly attractive or even looking at them wrong. Therefore this might be a reflection of not only this anti-Japanese sentiment but also oppositional culture.