It’s Communism Week at CRP. All this week, we’re learning Chinese through the lens of historical and modern CCP propaganda, speeches, stories, essays and songs.
Quick reminder: To maintain a polite, language learning-focused environment, political comments – positive, negative, or neutral – are not allowed, and will be deleted. Dinner table rules, please.
We’ve really made the rounds on Communist folk tales this week: we’ve had a story about Zhu De, founder of the Red Army, one about socialist boy scout Lei Feng, and now, we’re going to read one about the man himself, Chairman Mao (毛主席). I didn’t start out the week intending to illustrate a point, but a theme has definitely emerged. Taken as a whole, these stories underscore the friendly, paternalistic role that China’s founding fathers were painted into at the time, described in populist stories as approachable, proletarian helpers of the common folk. Today’s tale really drives that one home.
We also get a taste of the exaggeration that often surrounds autocratic leaders. The last bit of the story describes Mao as “tall and stalwart”. Mao Zedong was around 5’8″ (1.72-1.75m), not a short man, but not an exceptionally tall one either.
Some language stuff
The way characters are named in this story is quite Chinese: they’re mostly referred to by their title or place in society. First, the characters: we’ve got Auntie Yang (杨大娘). 大娘 means “wife of father’s elder brother”, but it can also just be used as a polite way to refer to an older woman, and it’s unclear which definition is being used here. We’ve also got Second Brother’s Wife (二婶), and same deal: 婶 means “wife of father’s younger brother”, but can also just be a polite form of address. The thing is, in Chinese societies, especially rural communities, the difference doesn’t really demand clarification.
We’ve also got 代耕队长 dài gēng duì zhǎng. When a farming family doesn’t have enough human labor to cultivate their fields, especially when a farmer has to go away to fight a war during harvest season, a 代耕 is a laborer that farms in their stead. 队, as you probably know means “team” and 长 means “captain” or “leader” or “chief”. So, 代耕队长 is the head of the team helping this family farm their land in the absence of the male head of household (in this case, the eldest son).
And of course, there’s Chairman Mao (毛泽东).
Some other points:
怎么回事? zěn me huí shì – Means “How can that be?” or “What’s going on here?”
下地 xià dì – To go down to the fields (usually to farm).
两竿 liáng gān – 竿 literally means “pole”, like a rod or staff. But it’s also used to describe how far the sun has risen or set. It’s not a standard measurement, it’s more of a generalized measure, so “两竿 from the mountains” means that the sun isn’t very far above the mountains (either rising or setting).
接着 jiē zhe – Means “after that…”, or “And then…”
丢了个眼色 diū le ge yǎn sè – To shoot someone a knowing look, or to give them a wink.
撞个满怀 zhuàng ge mǎn huái – 撞 means to “run into” or “bump up against”, 满 means “full” or “fully”, and 怀, in this case, means “(a person’s) chest”. Altogether, this means to “bump someone full in the chest”, or in better English, to “run smack into someone”.
非…不可 fēi … bù kě – This means “must”, “have no choice but to”, or “to insist on doing”, like “弟弟非要妈妈抱不可“, or “little brother insists on having mother hold him”. This sentence structure underpins a popular Chinese meme about Facebook. The English word “Facebook” sounds a lot like the Chinese phrase 非死不可: “insist on dropping dead”. So, Facebook is sometimes jokingly referred to this way within China.