Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China



Recommended Posts

1 hour ago, EnergyReaper said:

Personally, I think 人事 here means more special, not the knowledge of the ways of the world, but the knowledge of sexual activity.

Yes, that sounds likely - "the ways of the world" sort of works the same in English though, it doesn't necessarily mean sexual relations but can strongly imply them (ETA I should add, in this context of them being sold into a brothel).

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

  • 2 weeks later...

Deyun has been delivered to Heavenly Fragrance Pavillion, a brothel, where she will be deflowered this evening. The man who has paid for the privilege  is arranging a dinner party to celebrate the event.









1. What is a 漂染大王?- probably not a bleached and dyed big king, which is all I can come up with.


2. I would translate the couplet as:

This flowered footpath, no guest has ever swept,

This overgrown gate, a gentleman now commences to open.

Please criticize this translation.


3. The following sentence:  To the strains of music accompanied by drumbeats the guests are being welcomed. Prostitutes from this brothel,  vying with one another for beauty, have been turned out in force. Beautiful Flower according to standard practice is “出毛巾.”

Does 出毛巾 mean handing out towels to the guests?


4. Continuing:  Distributing gifts to the arriving guests (whom have come to) congratulate (the host),  漂染大王 takes (接过)golden silk, silver threaded towels, ...

So now who is giving towels to whom? What is going on here?


5. What does the last clause mean?  “How could he have ever expected to see this day arrive?”

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1, It sounds like he's a businessman in the dyeing trade, so it will likely be The Dye King IMO, bit like the Snow Plow King in that Simpsons' episode. Possibly because the author wants him to be a bit of crude bourgeois to show the sort of person who patronised brothels in this way. A quick search discovered people offering hairdressing tips online using the same name now with that meaning.


2. In literary Chinese 始为...开 means opened for the first time though it can also mean "in the beginning" or "started off as" - here's a search of Qing texts at C Text where you can see it in other contexts: https://ctext.org/qing?searchu=始为 I think that e.g. that result 云云,是從古之始為政者 shows it used in the same way.


3. It does look to be handing out towels/kerchiefs to guests, you can see from what follows that the Dye King gets a particularly fancy one (which is your number 4) embroidered with gold and silver threads/brocade


5. 怎么也没想到有今天 He never imagined he'd live to see a day like this/ be part of something like this happening. Maybe he started out poor so the luxury and expense still comes as a surprise.

  • Helpful 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Deyun has been sold to the owner of Heavenly Fragrance House, a brothel where she is being taken in a sedan chair, and where she will be deflowered tonight. She has been witnessing through the window of the cedan chair the prostitutes on the street observing a Buddhist festival of departed souls. They pray that in their next life they will not have to go through the suffering that they have in this life as prostitutes. It’s a dark scene of suffering.


Inside Heavenly Fragrance House there is a different scene. The house is an open pavillion divided into four stories. Shouts of gambling come from every direction. The majong players are good and drunk. Hua’jian, the barroom girl, is being summoned. The sing-song girls holding pipas show off their singing. In suave, low tones, they sing song after song with intense romantic lyrics, incessantly provoking the drunken guests’ feelings with stories about the moral dept incurred by those who engage in illicit love affairs.



As Deyun was stepping down from the sedan chair, in the east banquet room of Heavenly Frangrance House, Hawker  was waiting to host an evening banquet. The prostitutes whom Fei’jian had summoned came streaming in. The various prostitutes took seats opportunely placed behind the particular guest for whom they were called to be this evening’s mistress. Each one, considering herself to be hostess of that man, stood in attendance to serve  him the feast. When the shark fin would be served, she personally would lift a portion of it with her chop sticks to urge her guest to partake of it. Awhile later, the red sleeves (women) would shallowly pour (some wine),  for  the drinking guests (to coax them) to accept another glass.



In the west banquet hall the bleach and dye king is opening the elaborately decorated room. Tonight, he and Beautiful flower, the (virgin) sing-song girl, will have their  “engagement” night. Inside the hall is splendidly lit and festooned with lanterns and banners. All kinds of fresh flowers embelish two banners displaying a rhyming couplet:






The flowered path by fate hasn’t yet had any visitor to sweep it,

The overgrown gate, now a gentleman starts to open  it.



The guests were welcomed with music accompanied by drums. The prostitutes of the house vying with one another for who would be seen as most beautiful and glamorous, turned out in full strength. Beautiful-flower (琼花) according to custom brought out “rolled-up towel” cakes and distributed them as an honorary gift to the guests. The bleach and dye king receiving one of the “rolled-up towel” cakes, as beautiful as a gold and silver filigree (金丝银缕), thinking how could I ever have imagined this day. When the port of Hong Kong opened to foreign trade, he had brought his family, young and old, from Shang Hai, to this adventurer’s paradise. In the beginning they used the family bathtub for the bleaching and dying operation. He entered the Hong Kong market with only twenty yuan to start up the business. His wife soaked the dyes in those days, and to this day, the dyes have not completely faded from her cracked and stained hands. Today, he has exchanged her for this creamy-pink virgin standing before his eyes, as beautiful as a flower. The bleach and dye king stroked his recently whitened beard and gave a chuckle, and muttering something unintelligible. Without having to be urged, he downed a whole glass of wine, half of which spilled out of the corners of his mouth, onto his brand new long gown.



In an analagous story, under the corner of a wall, a blind gentleman played a pipa. “Yiya yiya,” he played, endlessly.



The brothel guest who will be deflowering Deyun, even moreso treated money as though it were dirt. This man contracts to collect taxes and duties for the government; it’s a rough-style tax business. He employs a pair of thugs to collect revenue from the sea. Not looking directly at their methods, he sends his lackey’s to roam the harbor, and using both persuasion and coercion, they take a share of the goods that have been seized at sea by the pirates.


To arrange the house for (his night with) Deyun,  he considered the entire Heavenly Fragrance House from top to bottom open for him to adorn. You couldn’t  name all the different types of foreign ornaments which were skillfullly though obscenely and excessively on display. In the bridal chamber, there was a pile of hand towels, with a foreign gold coin hanging from the fringe of each one. The madame of the house tested each coin with her teeth. They were all pure gold.



The brothel having arrived at a level of extravagence to this extent,  (outside) in the corner of the wall, the blind gentleman’s pipa string was silent. His head drooped down over his curled up body, like a pile of discarded junk. When he was finally discovered, he had been dead for two days.


1. 豪客: Does this perhaps mean “street vender,” “robber or bandit,”  “an important (grand) guest)?”


2. 所召:What is the function of 所 here?


3. Am I correct in thinking that 毛巾 is an abreviation of 毛巾面,and means icing-filled pastry that is rolled up resembling a rolled-up towel?


4. Could 一对吃人的斜眼 also mean “a pair of oppressive crossed-eyes?” Which is correct?


5. My reading of this blind street musician dying in the corner of what I would presume to be the city wall, is that he is meant to be a contrast to the fake and obscene gaiety of the events in the brothel. Similarly to the sorrow and pity of the old prostitutes making ritual offering to their ancestors on the street as the beautifully adorned Deyun is passing in a sedan chair, the street musician is an image of the reality which all of the drinking and gaiety hide. So, the reality of the events of that night will be that the music will die tonight in Deyun’s soul, and no one will notice. Is this a correct reading? In particular, what is the meaning of 类似的故事?  What is the similar/analagous tale. Is this a literary reference, or does it mean, this is a metaphorical representation of what is to follow? It is really not a gay and colorful event, but a pathetic death.


6. Finally, please improve and correct my translation where needed.


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

1. I think it will be your last, the more grand guest, "wealthy patron"; that was my first reaction on reading it anyway.

2. 所 is "that which" or "those", so "those prostitutes that he had hired". There is a reason why it's used as opposed to just the verb but I'm struggling to express it, sorry. I'm awful at explaining grammar. To make up another example at random, 你所説的那番話 "those things that you said"

3. It reads to me as if they are indeed just ordinary towels albeit very fancy, not sure if it's mimicking a wedding custom or if it's a brothel tradition where a towel would have practical applications. Also maybe it' about wiping your hands at a banquet. I'd try looking up wedding customs.

4. It's about him having a pair of eyes (not thugs!) that look like they'd kill you soon as look at you if it made him ten bucks, not sure if he's literally wall-eyed (which it does mean) or it's alluding to the sidelong poison in his glance which it can imply, I'd tend to the latter given the rest of the description but not certain.

5. Not quite sure what's going on there either. "Likewise a tale of life in the city..." maybe, but obviously as you say in complete contrast.

6. One thing I just noticed checking the last context was 漂染大王抚著将白胡须 which I think is a beard that's on its way to turning white rather than just turned.

In the opening bit this line 饮厅花笺传唤 not sure 花笺 is a name, it could be fancy writing paper with drinks orders on it or something but again not really sure how the arrangements worked in such establishments. Or does a girl by this name feature again? 风流债 is a bit of a dead metaphor and probably should be translated just as romantic etc.


Again though overall you're doing brilliantly and admire the progress we've seen you make in these readings.


  • Like 1
  • Helpful 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites


6 hours ago, Jim said:

you're doing brilliantly and admire the progress we've seen you make in these readings.




And my thanks also for your questions, they often highlight the kind of ambiguities that I too find regularly in my readings, but I'm too lazy to work on solving them. 


  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

 In China, 毛巾 (máojīn), or towels, and 手帕 (shǒupà), or handkerchiefs, are strongly associated with funerals, or 葬礼 (zànglǐ). During funerals family members hand out handkerchiefs for visitors to wipe away their tears. 




Towels are gifts which are usually given out at funerals, so avoid giving this gift in other contexts.




So, is it possible that handing out towels to the guests and the host is meant ironically,  to suggest that here the bridal night is actually a funeral night? This fits with the odd story of the blind musician's unnoticed death. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 months later...

The Chinses residents of the district affected by plague have learned that dead rats are more dangerous with regard to transmitting plauge than live rats. When the people hear rats squirming around in the corners of their houses, they are relieved that the rats are still alive, so 悬在喉口的心放下一半. I read this as their hearts which have been hanging in their throats (due to the anxiety they are feeling) settle half way down into their chests . Is this a standard expression of some kind, as in English we say we have a lump in our throat, or that our heart are in our mouth?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm going to unhelpfully say it's a common expression phrased in a way I've not seen before but instantly understandable (for example, there's a similar expression 心悬到嗓子眼), and if you think about it more common ways of expressing the idea of worry like 担心 or 提心吊胆 work the same way but are dead metaphors now. If I was translating I'd probably not go as literally as "half way down in their chests" but something like "were now largely allayed" "gained a large measure of relief from the news" or the like.

  • Helpful 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

9 hours ago, Fred0 said:

She has a way of finding ideosyncratic ways of saying things. Thanks. 

I was thinking it may be a local variant, this sort of colloquial expression will often have as many variations as there are dialects.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Deyun has been stashing away some of the proceeds of her labors as a prostitute for  the day when she will escape her slave status. 她瞒住南唐馆鸨母向客人索取的「斩白水」私蓄,加上从头上、手腕摘下的珠花银簪玉镯,她可以为自己赎身从良。Can anyone tell me what 斩白水 means?


I found this on Baidu: 




So it is money demanded by women entertainers of the guests at an entertainment venue (for supplementary services?), maybe not just at a brothel? It is a gratuity- a tip. But I still don't get where it comes from linguistically. How does "chop plain water" convey this idea? Would this be the standard fee of the brothel, which Deyun would take a "cut," or would it be an extra token that she would extract from the guest?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not heard it before though I expect it parses 斩白 then 水 as one meaning of the latter is gratuity etc, see definition 5 here: 




I can imagine 斩白 as some euphemism for allowing access to one's pure person/flesh but that's a complete guess to be honest; doubt it's an allusion to the founder of the Han killing the white snake which is 斩白蛇 and the other place I've seen that combination of characters. That 开刀 suggested as a synonym looks like it might work in a similar way re. access.

  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This makes some sense of it. Something in addition to the regular payment. 白 also has the meaning of gratutious. So perhaps "something extra chopped off as a gratuity?"  The web page I found was a list of antiquated slang expressions from the old Guangdong society.  《旧广州人粤语口头禅,你唔识讲?畀人揾笨都唔知!》


Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 months later...

Dickenson, the head of the sanitation department of the colonial government of Hong Kong, who is soon to contract and die from the plague, has been bemoaning his placement in this god-forsaken Hong Kong when people who signed up with him for the colonial service were now stationed in cushy jobs in Calcutta and Shanghai, where they could expect to rise in their careers. He ends his litany of complaint by cursing the local Chinese.



Mr. Dickenson, regretting that in this life he had no hope of getting a promotion, always in the end never forgot to curse the local Chinese:


“These God-damned local natives, crawling in the dirt, filthy to the core, are no different from beasts!”


This last line could be read in other ways- e.g. 在地 can mean "local," and 入骨 could mean something like "in a way that has been etched into my heart." And what does "这般“ mean here?  I would appreciate criticism of my translation. What am I missing?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...