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Interesting Chinese Side-knowledge(I)

Interesting Chinese Side-knowledge(I)


    “Tea” in English and “thé” in French both came from the dialect of Xiamen province.

Now “倒霉” (dǎo méi) means unlucky or having a bad time. However, it is a custom in ancient Jiangnan region. Before scholars took part in the imperial examination, they usually erected a flagpole in front of their door called “楣” (méi).

If they pass the examination, the flagpole would be kept. If they fail in the examination, the flagpole would be removed. This act of removing was called “倒霉” (dǎo méi). Later, the word was gradually spread as “unlucky”.

    Except the dragon, the other animals in the twelve zodiac animals are all common in our life. But why is the cat, another common animal, not included in the zodiac? You may have heard the story that the cat did not catch up with the ranking of 12 zodiac because the mouse did not wake up the cat.

    The story is just a legend. What is certain is that the system of the 12 zodiac animals was already established in the Xia dynasty. In the Xia Dynasty, we did not have a real domestic cat.

    The ancestors of domestic cats are Indian desert cats, and the time when Indian cats entered China was during Han and Ming emperors. It had been a thousand years since the Xia Dynasty. That’s why the cat is not included in the 12 zodiac.

    “Bowing” is now a particularly respectful etiquette. But initially, this came from animals.

    In the sacrificial activities of the Shang Dynasty, there was a procedure. The animals used for sacrificial activities were bent into end-to-end rings to show respect to the God. This procedure was called ”鞠躬” (jǖ gōng).

    Later, it gradually evolved into an act of showing respect to each other among people.

    “Drink ink for a few years” means knowledgeable now. but in ancient times, drinking ink was the way to punish the scholars with poor academic performance. According to Liang Wudi’s (emperor of Liang Dynasty) regulations, when scholars took examinations, those who have bad grades would be punished to drink 1L of ink. 

    This law followed several dynasties. Although it did not continue to circulate, the word “drink ink” passed down and became the opposite meaning.


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