Mon, Oct 23, 2017 - Page 9 News List


Ukiyo-e of Wu Zixu’s escape, by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese Practice


(shui3 xie4 bu4 tong1)

not one drop can trickle through





在英文中,若是一個房間或空間很擁擠,例如在酒吧或地鐵,擠到幾乎不可能穿過人群,我們可以形容這個地方「packed」,甚至是「jam-packed」。我們也可以說人群「packed like sardines」(像沙丁魚一樣擠滿),就像是密實裝在罐頭裡的魚一樣。



(The singer’s fans queued through the night, packing the place out, just so they could get a glimpse of their idol.)


(We thought we’d make use of the long weekend to stroll around, but the streets were packed, and we couldn’t go a step in any direction.)


packed like sardines; jam-packed

The literary form bianwen (“transformation texts”), popular during the Tang Dynasty but in serious decline by the Song, were perhaps some of the earliest examples of vernacular narratives in Chinese literature, and were believed to have been developed by Buddhist monks wanting to spread their teachings in a literature understandable by the masses. The existence of bianwen as a literary form in its own right was unknown until examples were discovered among manuscripts in the Mogao Caves at Dunhuang in China’s Gansu Province in the early 20th century. Generally themed on Buddhist teachings, the bianwen texts also used figures and stories from Chinese history, often adding flourishes and embellishing characters and events for dramatic effect.

The Wu Zixu bianwen, discovered as part of the Dunhuang cache, relates the story of the official Wu Zixu avoiding a trap set by the king of Chu state in the Spring and Autumn period.

The king had imprisoned Wu She on suspicion of plotting rebellion, and forced him to call his two sons to his side in his hour of need. Both suspected a trap: One went, and was executed with his father; the second, Wu Zixu, decided to flee. The king issued an order offering a reward for Wu’s capture, adding that anyone sheltering Wu or helping him escape would be executed, and their entire family put to death. The order was distributed throughout the state and security at the border passes was so impenetrable it was described as 水楔不通, meaning “so tight even water cannot pass.”

The character 楔 (xie4) is homophonic with 洩 and 泄, and it is thought this story may be the origin of the idiom 水洩不通 (or 水泄不通), literally “not one drop can trickle through,“ and meaning impenetrable.

In English, when a room or space is so crowded it is almost impossible to get through the throng of people, such as in a bar or on a subway, we can say the place is packed, or even jam-packed. We can also say the people are “packed like sardines,” as with canned fish tightly packed into a tin.

(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)

It’s difficult to breathe in here. It’s jam-packed.


Let’s not go to Taipei City Hall Plaza for the New Year countdown. We’ll be packed like sardines, and won’t be able to move.


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