Post-Pause Expression: Please Join us.


                   Read the Article, and Think out the Best English Post-Pause Expression.

( Note: This is one of our efforts that make this website more in line with the Taoist way of life, pure enjoyment without any utilitarian consideration from our secondary society. You-Sheng Li)


From 1966 to 1976, China isolated herself from the world in order to concentrate all her energy on the so-called Great Cultural Revolution, a radical political campaign alien to the rest of the world.  In 1970, the famous American writer and journalist, Edgar Snow (1905-1972) visited China again. His last visit was in 1964 before the Cultural Revolution.


When he was with Mao Zedong, the founder of Communist China, on the balcony of Tian An Men on the Chinese national day, they both watched millions of Mao's worshipers marching in front of Mao, shouting, “Ten thousand years to Chairman Mao!” Mao was worshiped as a living God during the Cultural Revolution.


Snow asked Mao, “Isn't that a personality cult? Isn't that a superstition?”


Mao was silent for a long time, and then said, “If there is no God, people will create one. If you call it a personality cult, a superstition, it is everywhere in world including the West.” Mao apparently lacked knowledge of the West and thought the Western people are the same as Chinese people.


In his book, Mao, A Biography, Ross Terrill gives vivid descriptions of this Chinese living God, Mao's bitter life in his later years, lonely, being worshiped but deserted. Terrill concludes, the time of the hero is over, and people live their life without a hero. Unfortunately, Terrill isn't right yet. In a recent trip to China, I noticed a little Mao's statue dangling on a colourful pendant in front of the taxi driver seat. The driver, a young man, said, Mao's statue has the magic power to protect people from any tragic events such as traffic accidents. The driver is apparently one of those Chinese who are unhappy, because their present national leaders are not Godlike enough. There is apparently a cultural gap between the Chinese and the West. Mao called Edgar Snow the old friend of Chinese people, since he visited Mao’s China many times since the 1930s and was the first Western writer who introduced Mao to the West. Edgar Snow’s special experience with China was apparently not enough to bridge the cultural gap. The following is one of their misunderstandings, which will be fun for us to learn.


Once the Chinese Communist leader, Mao told Snow: I am a monk holding an umbrella. The next day all newspapers of the Western world carried Mao's remarks but not a single reader understood what Mao really meant by those words. Most people thought Mao was an elderly lonely man holding an umbrella in a gloomy rain. In the Western mind, absolute power brings the incurable disorder: loneliness, and Mao got them both. But a Chinese school boy would understand that Mao's message through those words was to tell the world: I am the guy who respects neither law nor God 无法()无天.


Here Mao used a Chinese expression named post-pause expression 歇后语. Such expression is popular in walks of low class such as peasants, urban labourers, and even gangsters. Foreigners who study Chinese may never come cross such expression except for they read certain modern novels rich of local dialects. In a conversation, the speaker wants to use a well known idiomatic phrase to illustrate his point. In stead of saying this phrase directly, the speaker gives a clue like a riddle with the phrase as the answer. After a pause to see the listener's reaction, he may and may not speak out the answer. Generally speaking, the speaker will not give out the answer phrase if he thinks the listener knows it already from his clue. The speaker can also improvise new ones during conversation when in such case the speaker has certainly to provide the answer after the pause. It is still a popular game among certain youngsters who speak such expression as a contest. Two to four players standing in a circle facing each other, in turn each speaks a post-pause expression for an ongoing conversation with the latter as a reply to the former one. In such a game the players often have to improvise, making new post-pause expressions. When they do they have to give the answer not like Chairman Mao who left his Western audience puzzled for decades.


Mao only told Snow the riddle part and thought he was clever enough to know the answer from his clue. I am certain that the translator understood the expression but did not dare to further interpret except literally translated this living God’s words. In China a monk means a Buddhist like Dalai Lama who shaved this head of its hair. In Chinese hair () and law () share the same pronunciation, and therefore they are the same in colloquial language only different in written forms, which were foreign to those low class labourers in Mao's time.  Like many ancient culture the Chinese worship the Sky () as the major God. When a monk holds an umbrella there is neither hair nor sky, which coincides with the Chinese idiomatic expression: neither law nor Sky (God) 无法()无天.


Post-pause expression is a way to stress part of the speech by a riddle and answer form. Therefore, it can apply to any language though it may sound funny when you first come cross such an expression. It will certain enrich our conversation and make a dialogue more energetically interesting. It will also enrich English as a language.  The following is my effort to introduce such expression into English. Can you think some more to add? Please leave it in the Guest Book, and I will transfer it here later. On behalf of this website and its visitors, I appreciate your help, and good luck.


1. What time has my shoelace gone into your hands? ...... You are pulling my leg.

2. I am afraid your buttocks catch fire. ...... You are on the back burner.

3. Salmon jumps into the oven...... It smells fishy.

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