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Photo: faungg

You know the saying about the Chinese and food? The one that goes, “They’ll eat anything that moves except for bicycles, anything that swims except for submarines, and anything that flies except for airplanes”? Well, here are 20 more things the Chinese eat, literally or otherwise.

1. 吃素 chi su: “eating plain” – or eating basically, without adornments. This means to be a vegetarian. If you’re a vegan, you eat quan su, “completely plain.”

2. 吃葷 chi hun: “eating flesh” – that goes without explanation, I think. Basically, not being a vegetarian.

3. 吃寡酒 chi gua jiu: “eating widowed wine” – drinking alcohol without any snacks to go with it. Never a great idea, in my experience…

4. 吃白飯 chi baifan: “eating white rice” – literally it means “to eat plain cooked rice.” But bai can also mean “in vain” or “futile” — thus, eating white rice can refer to eating without paying, or living off others.

5. 吃花酒 chi hua jiu: “eating flower wine” – almost every phrase including flowers in Chinese has something to do with debauchery. Drinking flower wine means partying with girls (and alcohol, of course).

6. 吃皇糧 chi huang liang: “eating imperial grain” – to live off the wages paid by the government, to be an official.

7. 吃豆腐 chi doufu: “eating tofu” – no, it doesn’t actually mean to eat tofu. It means to get fresh on someone, to flirt or even to harrass mildly (depending on the context and the part of China).

8. 吃膩 chi ni: “eating greasy” – to be sick of something, to be fed up with.

9. 吃苦 chi ku: “eating bitterness” – bearing hardships (usually in order to get something).

10. 吃醋 chi cu: “eating vinegar” – or eating sourness. It means being jealous.

11. 吃緊 chi jin: “eating tight” – jin can also mean hard up, tense, taut. So the phrase means either to be short of money or (when speaking of something to be dealt with) to be important (and thus a cause of stress).

12. 吃請 chi qing: “eating request” – to be invited, or to accept invitation, to a dinner (also a dinner that is meant as a bribe).

13. 吃軟 chi ruan: “eating softness” – to be prone to gentle persuasion (but resilient to force).

14. 吃心 chi xin: “eating heart” – to be oversensitive, take things personally, be wary of something.

15. 吃老本 chi lao ben: “eating old roots” – rest on one’s laurels and live off one’s old achievements (ben also means “capital” or “foundation”).

16. 吃驚 chi jing: “eating surprise” – to be startled, amazed, shocked.

17. 吃虧 chi kui: “eating a lack” – to treat or be treated unfairly, to suffer a loss.

18. 吃力 chi li: “eating strength” – strenuous, exhausting / to be exhausted.

19. 吃錢 chi qian: “eating money” – it doesn’t mean expensive. It means to take bribes or embezzle. You’d be surprised how many sayings for this exist in the language…

20. 吃罪 chi zui: “eating guilt” – to be blamed for something.

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About The Author

Agnieszka Walulik

A translator, interpreter and tour guide, but most of all an eternal student of languages and culture. Right now residing in Hangzhou, China, where she's studying art history, hiking in the hills, hanging out with crazy Chinese artists and blogging about her shenanigans and interests. Find her online at her blog.

  • Jenny Williams

    Fascinating! I love idioms. This is a great collection.

    • Agu Walulik

      thank you! Chinese is THE language for weird idioms :-)

  • Stephen Lioy

    Hmm, careful with number 7. I was taught that 吃豆腐 had a bit of an oral sex connotation as well.

    • Agu Walulik

      wow, that I didn’t know, but I’ll keep it in mouth (kind of makes sense when you think about it, ha ha)

  • Path To China

    Wonderful! Thanks for this….

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