Feb 11 2010

身在曹营心在汉 – shen zai cao ying xin zai han

身在曹营心在汉 – shen1 zai4 cao2 ying2 xin1 zai4 han4

Literal translation = body – at – Cao (name) – camp – heart – at – Han (name)

Idiomatic translation = Your body is in the camp of Cao but your heart is in Han’s camp.

This is a very nice Ancient Chinese Proverb.  If you can use it correctly it will really touch the hearts of Chinese people and they will be highly impressed with your Chinese.

Cao was a famous war general and appears in the famous book The Three Kingdoms.  I haven’t read the book myself but I know the other famous general in there is Zhu Ge Liang and I assume there is one named “Han” as well.

I am not sure if there is a specific story about a certain soldier whom this idiom applies to or not, but it basically comes the history of Caocao and his wars at the time of the The 3 Kindgoms.

The usage and meaning of this is quite specific.  I used to think it just meant someone who is there in body but not in spirit (perhaps day dreaming) but the real meaning is about where someone’s loyalty lies.

For example, a company is bought out by a bigger company and maybe fires the managers and a new manager comes in.  You still have the same job but now you have a new boss, however you still love the old boss and have devotion to him or her.  So although your body is working for the new company and new management, you miss the old company and management and still have loyalty to them even begrudgingly continuing your job.

Therefore, there aren’t many opportunities to use this idiom as it’s meaning is quite specific.

3 Responses to “身在曹营心在汉 – shen zai cao ying xin zai han”

  1. kabutali says:

    Hello, I’m currently studying mandarin chinese, I am a beginner with only 2 years of study though. I feel confident in my translating writing abilities. Unfortunately, I’m extremely shy, so I physically cannot converse in chinese, although I know the proper dialogue and mannerisms (I’m working on this ^^;)

    I’ve just discovered your site today and find its very useful and clear, I will most definitely refer it to my class.

    In short, I feel this proverb best describes me. :3

    Although I know this is not particularly good feature to have, I still would like to introduce my self, or describe myself as so.
    I was wondering how I would pull off using this properly in a sentence describing myself. Would it be “I’m best described as …” and if yes, How would I say this in chinese? Thank you very much if you are willing to respond and keep up the good work!

  2. kitto says:

    I could think of two people that this apply to:
    * Guan Yu (whom worked for Cao Cao to repay his debt, and later return to Liu Bei),
    * Liu Bei (whom reside temporary with Cao Cao; Liu Bei has always support Han dynasty),
    * It could also be others who secretly support Han

  3. says:

    No this proverb is more about loyalty to some other regime. It’s usually used in politics but may be used in some other similar situations.

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