Stop here with a cup of tea, read what I think, sip some Chinese culture knowledge, perhaps…makes your life change.
-by Hsiao-Yu Liao
Chinese Proverb reflects cultural aspects and values in Chinese society. Chinese language is enriched with proverbs including animal comparison. The animal characters in the proverbs are highly associated with Chinese tradition. Therefore, through understanding the usage of dog and pig, the two common animals, in Chinese proverbs for example, it might help you understand Chinese people in conversation.
How Ancient Chinese See a Dog
Patting and talking to your dog for hours is consider to be very general. We often think that dogs are lovely, understandable, smart and obedient. However, ancient Chinese didn’t see it in the same way. From a Chinese perspective, dogs are far more negative than positive. They see dogs as dirty, savage with no actual productive value, thus you might hear狼心狗肺(láng xīn gǒu fèi) which describes a person who is cruel, brutal and cold-blooded. 狼(láng )means wolf and狗(gǒu )means dog, 心(xīn) and 肺(fèi )means the two important organs in our body – heart and lungs. Let’s see another example, 狗嘴吐不出象牙(Gǒu zuǐ tǔ bù chū xiàngyá) was used with 象牙(xiàngyá )ivory to compare with a dog. From a Chinese point of view, ivory is much more valuable and precious than the狗嘴(Gǒu zuǐ )dog’s mouth. With吐-spit and不-nothing being put together, it means ivory would not be spat from a dog’s mouth, which means one would not expect a person to say something good. This is very similar to the English saying, “what can you expect from a pig but a grunt.”
How ancient Chinese see a pig
It is not difficult to find that pigs(猪- Zhū) are frequently mentioned in both Chinese and English proverbs. The perspective of the description is normally negative, such as, “make a pig of yourself”, or “eat like a pig”. In Chinese culture, there are so many proverbs describing pigs, including pig’s movement, characteristics and appearance, etc. The interesting thing is, sometimes pig and dogs are being put together in a proverb, for example: 猪不肥，肥到狗(Zhū bù féi, féi dào gǒu). 肥(féi )fat, is to describe the unexpected and ironic situation that even one tends to feed the pigs, the pigs are not growing fat but the dogs. In a Chinese saying, 人怕出名猪怕肥(Rén pà chūmíng zhū pà féi), by using人(rén) people, 怕(pà)fear and 出名(chūmíng )become famous, it shows how people fear to become popular just like how pigs fear to get fat.
No matter how you see dogs or pigs, it is interesting to see how different cultures treat the animals in their proverbs. Proverbs are highly used in communication. They are a functional tool when creating a humorous atmosphere or a switch while doing the social interaction. Learn to think like a Chinese and catch as many proverbs as you can. You will soon enjoy talking like a native Chinese!