Chinese Language

Proverbs | 7

Zui weng zhi yi bu zai jiu : The drinker's heart is not in the drop

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Zhong wen


This is a saying deriving from the writings of a well-known poet of the Song dynasty Qu Yang Xiu whose nickname was Zui Weng (the drinker). To quote the saying in full, 'The drinker's heart is not in the drop, it lies between the mountains and the rivers'.

What the poet had in mind was that the drink was merely a means of heightening the poetic sensibility to the beauty of nature, and not an end in itself. This quotation has now come to be used as a wisecrack meaning to have an ulterior motive. The nearest English equivalent to this that I can think of is 'Many kiss the child for the nurse's sake', an obsolete proverb dating back to the 13th century. I am inclined to rule out 'to have an axe to grind' as another synonymous expression because this sounds far too humourless to echo the jocular tone of the Chinese original.

The Singles Bars today, for instance, are chock-a-block with people whose hearts are not in the drop.

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 reprinted from SACU's China Now 119, Page 40, December 1989

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