3 minute read


横眉冷对千夫指俯首甘为孺子牛 héng méi lěng duì qiān fū zhǐ,fǔ shǒu gān wéi rú zǐ niú. This is the kind of Chinese Idioms that would make any language learner freak out. Its a really badass and when you break it down it starts to amaze the reader how such deep thought can be be summarized in such few words. Chinese idioms are the pinnacle of the lanuage, and if when speaking you drop one of the idioms there, you are gold.

Most idioms come in 4 character-sets and from the first glance one cannot really get the whole meaning, but careful study of the individual character will reveal the hidden treasure.

This week’s idiom is what I call an ice-berg idiom. This means that when I first came across it, it was mentioned to me by a colleague who used it in a conversation. After a quick search I learnt the whole part as 俯首甘为孺子牛。

I was impressed by the meaning and quickly memorised it hoping to use it later in my daily conversations. Later on I however realised that its part of a sentence which in full goes like 横眉冷对千夫指俯首甘为孺子牛。 This is where deep Chinese gets crazier. This sentence, according to 百度百科 means: Fierce-browed, I cooly defy a thousand pointing fingers, head bowed like a willing ox, I serve the children.

To make things more interesting, that sentence is from a poem by 鲁讯 Lu Xun which is a 自嘲 type of poem. This kind of poems are called self-mocking. The whole poem is shown below, but its for another post.

image Let us dissect the whole sentence: 横眉冷对千夫指俯首甘为孺子牛


  • 横眉 frown with anger; scrowl
  • 冷 cold; lonely
  • 对 particle (in regards to)
  • 千夫 numerous people
  • 指 finger; point at; point to

When you put the above characters in a sentence, it starts to make sense. To frown and be cold/lonely when many people point fingers at you.


  • 俯首 submit; bow one’s head in submission
  • 甘 willingly
  • 为 particle (so serve as; to become)
  • 孺子牛 herd boy’s willing ox - servant of the people

Once again lets put the sentance together to get the meaning. To bow one’s head willingly in submission so as to be a servant of the people.

When combined together, 横眉冷对千夫指俯首甘为孺子牛 means that, despite having many people pointing out to you, you should bow your head in submission and be a servant of the people. Its a manifestation of lofty morality and a spirit of dedication. Serve the people and be the people of the people.

I also got this good explanation that is worth reading. It however uses some deep Chinese which some might wanna run away from.

鲁迅先生遗留给我们的一个座右铭–“俯首甘为孺子牛”.鲁迅不仅是这么说,而且也是这么做的.他的夫人许广平在她所写的一书中说:鲁迅讲自己好像一头牛,吃的是草,挤出来的却是奶、 血.“俯首甘为孺子牛”是一种崇高品德的体现,是一种无私奉献的精神.对此,我们党有一个经典的解释,就是全心全意地为人民服务,做人民大众的牛,即”老黄牛”精神.

There you have it, try to make out another meaning while I work on the other part of the whole poem.


comments powered by Disqus