A Chinese Story about Stinginess

The following is a guest post by Lydia Lin of Learn Chinese Weekly, she was kind enough to write up a story that her father used to tell her and share it with us:

Stories abound to make fun of stingy people. Here is one passed down by word of mouth from an earlier period in China. I like the oblique way the guest points out the stinginess of the host who did make an honest effort to try to please his guest.

Thinble and Glass

吝啬 (lìnsè) means stingy or miserly. Another commonly used Chinese word
for stinginess is 小气 (xiǎoqì) in Simplifed Chinese, or 小氣 (xiǎoqì) in
Traditional Chinese.

Simplified Chinese Version

有一个吝啬的人请朋友到家里吃饭.
Yŏu yī gè lìnsè de rén qĭng pényŏu dào jiā lĭ chīfàn.
A pennypinching man invited a friend to have dinner at his home.

主人把酒倒在一个极小的杯子里, 请客人喝.
Zhŭrén bă jiŭ dào zài yī gè jí xiăo de bēi zi lĭ, qĭng kèrén hē.
The host poured the wine into a tiny cup and urged the guest to drink.

客人瞧了那顶针似的小酒杯一眼, 说道:
Kèrén qiáo le nà dĭngzhēn sì de xiăo jiŭbēi yī yăn, shuō dào:
The guest glanced at the thimble-sized cup and remarked,

“我上有老母,下有幼儿,靠我赡养.
Wŏ shàng yŏu lăo mŭ, xià yŏu yòuér, kao wŏ zhānyăng.
“I have an old mother and a young son who depend on me.

如果我不留意, 让这小杯子卡在喉头, 那怎么办?”
Rúguŏ wŏ bù liúyì, ràng zhè xiăo bēizi kă zài hóutóu, nà zĕnme ban?”
What if I accidentally choke on this miniscule cup?”

主人说: “抱歉, 我去换个大杯子来.”
Zhŭrén shuō: “Boqiàn, wŏ qù huàn gè dà bēizi lái.”
The host said, “Sorry. I’ll go get a large cup instead.”

主人把酒从小杯子倒到大杯子里.
Zhŭrén bă jiŭ cóng xiăo bēizi dào dào dà bēizi lĭ.
The host poured the wine from the little cup into the large cup.

客人还是不喝.
Kèrén háishì bù hē.
Still, the guest would not drink.

主人问他原因. 他说:
Zhŭrén wèn tā yuányīn. Tā shuō:
When the host asked him why, he said,

“酒还没到嘴里, 早就干涸了. 那又何必喝呢?”
“Jiŭ hái méi dào zuĭlĭ zăo jiù gānhé le. Nà yòu hébì hē ne?”
“The wine will dry up long before it reaches my mouth. What’s the
point of drinking?”

Traditional Chinese Version

有一個吝嗇的人請朋友到家裡吃飯.
Yŏu yī gè lìnsè de rén qĭng pényŏu dào jiā lĭ chīfàn.
A pennypinching man invited a friend to have dinner at his home.

主人把酒倒在一個极小的杯子裡, 請客人喝.
Zhŭrén bă jiŭ dào zài yī gè jí xiăo de bēi zi lĭ, qĭng kèrén hē.
The host poured the wine into a tiny cup and urged the guest to drink.

客人瞧了那頂針似的小酒杯一眼, 說道:
Kèrén qiáo le nà dĭngzhēn sì de xiăo jiŭbēi yī yăn, shuō dào:
The guest glanced at the thimble-sized cup and remarked,

“我上有老母,下有幼兒,靠我贍養.
Wŏ shàng yŏu lăo mŭ, xià yŏu yòuér, kao wŏ zhānyăng.
“I have an old mother and a young son who depend on me.

如果我不留意, 讓這小杯子卡在喉頭, 那怎麼辦?”
Rúguŏ wŏ bù liúyì, ràng zhè xiăo bēizi kă zài hóutóu, nà zĕnme ban?”
What if I accidentally choke on this miniscule cup?”

主人說: “抱歉, 我去換個大杯子來.”
Zhŭrén shuō: “Boqiàn, wŏ qù huàn gè dà bēizi lái.”
The host said, “Sorry. I’ll go get a large cup instead.”

主人把酒從小杯子倒到大杯子裡.
Zhŭrén bă jiŭ cóng xiăo bēizi dào dào dà bēizi lĭ.
The host poured the wine from the little cup into the large cup.

客人還是不喝.
Kèrén háishì bù hē.
Still, the guest would not drink.

主人問他原因. 他說:
Zhŭrén wèn tā yuányīn. Tā shuō:
When the host asked him why, he said,

“酒還沒到嘴裡, 早就乾涸了. 那又何必喝呢?”
“Jiŭ hái méi dào zuĭlĭ zăo jiù gānhé le. Nà yòu hébì hē ne?”
“The wine will dry up long before it reaches my mouth. What’s the
point of drinking?”

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2 responses to “A Chinese Story about Stinginess

  1. I might add that when someone (e.g. your spouse) makes a gripe, sharpen your ears and listen for what he or she might be really complaining about. 🙂

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