Hebei University (Baoding, China)
THE DIFFERENCE AND SIMILARITIES BETWEEN CHINESE AND FOREIGN
LANGUAGES ON THE USE OF LITERATURE ALLUSION.
Summary. The allusion is a kind of common but important language phenomenon in
Chinese and foreign languages, and they have some generality in producing the origin, function,
meaning in allusion etc. At the same time, because of the differences in such aspects as historical
origin, cultural tradition, faith, geographical environment between China and foreign countries,
Chinese and foreign allusions demonstrate much differences from the perspectives of historical
source, meaning and form.
Keyword: Chinese and foreign allusions Difference and similarity Vehicle
The allusion is a bright pearl in the palace of literature. No matter it is in the literary or
history works of Qin, Han, Tang and Song Dynasty of China, or in those of Confucius, Mencius,
Li Po and Tu Fu, or in the works of Homer and Shakespeare, we can find the traces of the use of
allusion. The allusion is a kind of common but important language phenomenon in Chinese and
foreign languages, which have some generalities in the origin, function and meaning in allusion
etc. At the same time, because of the differences between China and foreign countries in such
aspects as historical origin, cultural tradition, faith, geographical environment, Chinese and
foreign allusions demonstrate more differences in source, meaning and form.
1、 the similarities between Chinese and Foreign Allusions.
(1) The objective reason for the sources of similarity is that allusion is the inheritance of its own national
cultural tradition and history of the whole literary creation. The subjective one is that, in the course of
employing literary allusion, it acquires a kind of permanence through a convergence of different emotions into
the historical stories and a creative application to endow them with a new meaning.
(2) Similarities in Function. Many Chinese and Foreign writers favor the technique of Allusion. This is
because allusion, which possesses a function of performing, narrating and placing extra feelings, can make
language connotative and elegant. To give two examples: (1) I do not mean to torment you with the hideous
associations and recollections of Thornfield Hall-this accursed place—this tent of Achan. (2) Eternal rivers and
mountains/ But it’s hard for us to find where heroes like Sun Zhongmou goes. / Entertaining palaces, worn by
the rain and wind./ The green grass and the setting sun, the ordinary lane,/ Emperor Liu had once lived
there./Reminiscent of the past, the iron spear and horse/ Gallant like a tiger. In the first example, Rochester
compares Thornfield Hall manor as “tent of Achan”, expressing implicitly but deeply, his extreme detestation
to Thornfield Hall. According to Bible, Joshua, when Israel was besieging Jericho, Achan stole many treasures
and that “accursed thing” so that he irritated God and was regarded by God as sinful and greedy man. In the
second example, Sun Zhong-mou also named Sun Quan, who was the king and hero of Wu, when three
kingdoms, namely, Wei, Shu and Wu, shared the domination of ancient China. Emperor Liu, who is mentioned
in the poem, was Emperor Liu Yu of Southern Song Dynasty. Both of them have done some great
achievements in a place named Jin Kou. When the poet, Xin Qi-ji, visited the place which reminded him of
these two heroes, he couldn’t help lamenting their achievements and expressed his own ambition of fighting
against the invasion of Jin Dynasty through the allusion to the ancient heroes like Sun Quan and Liu Yu.
(3) The similarities in vehicle. Both Chinese and English allusions use some certain characters, things or
events to reveal or illustrate an idea or phenomenon. 1. Employing ancient characters as metaphor: English
allusions use Shylock to refer to usurer, Scrooge to miser etc.; "Jiang Tai-gong", "Yu Gong", "Zhu Ge-liang",
"Hua Tuo" in Chinese allusions to symbolize good qualities, such as perseverance, wisdom and high skill in
medicine separately. 2. Employing things or events as metaphor. For example, “Sphinx's riddle” and
“crying-for-the-moon” (having a fantastic idea) have been well known in the English allusion. Among the
Chinese, there are stories like Liu Bei’s three visits to Zhu Ge-ling, and the mother of Mencius moved three
times for a better educational surroundings for her son. 3.Employing names of places, the animals and plants.
The name of a place, Waterloo, refers to military fiasco. An althea’s horn (fertile sheep horn) uses the name of
an animal as a metaphor. In Chinese allusion, such kind of metaphor includes “bob up like a cork”, “sinking
the fish and falling the swallow”, “like a peach blossom”. Not only English has this phenomenon but also the
Russian. The Russian idiom, “MamaeboIIOOOHIIIe”, means “a tangled warfare” or “in a mess” in English.
This idiom can involve a famous historical event. In September 8th, 1380, Mamais, the leader of Mongolia
kingdom, leading a military force of 300000 soldiers, fought with a joint army of 150,000 under the leadership
of a Moscow archduke near the upper reaches of Don River on the plain of Kubo Keuo. At last MaMais’ troop
(4) The similarities in meaning. Allusion is one of the fixed idioms in language, which forms gradually in
history. It is a unity, which cannot be separated semantically, and it can’t be understood according to its literal
meanings. For Example, the literary meaning of “having a well-though-out plan” in Chinese is that one’s chest
is full of bamboo, but actually, it suggests a well considered plan in one’s mind before doing things. To take
another example, “sinking the fish and falling the swallow” does not describe the fish falling down or swallow
sinking, but the phrase is used to describe the amazing beauty of women. So does the English allusion. It can't
be understood literally; the user has to realize the particularity and habituation on the whole. For example,
“paint the lily” does not mean to paint the flower, but means it is utterly unnecessary to do something. Another
example is the word “Waterloo”. From the surface, it refers to one of the places on the south of Belgium, but
its actual meaning refers to “a decisive fiasco”.
2、The differences between Chinese and Foreign allusions
(1) Different origins. China and foreign countries have a different customs, historical and cultural
background. This may lead to a different source of Chinese and foreign allusions. As everyone knows, the
European civilization originated mainly from civilization of ancient Greece and Rome in the Mediterranean,
and mythology is an important sign of their civilization. English, as a kind of important language of
Indo-European family languages, is influenced particularly by those myths. A lot of classical fairy tales and
ancient heroes enter the usage of English directly, and become the widely known allusion.
Athens teemed with owls. Even the guarding angel is symbolized with the image of an owl; therefore,
sending owls to Athens means unnecessary to do something.
The Maid of Orleans. It means female heroes. The Maid of Orleans refers to the national heroine of
France, Joan of Arc, during the Hundred Years War between Great Britain and France (1337-1453). The army
of Great Britain besieged Orleans of France in 1428, which is the door leading to the South of France. The
situation was extremely critical. For the survival of her motherland, the 17-year-old Joan joined the army
resolutely, she dressed herself as a man, and led the army to fight bravely in the battle, and broke through the
tight encirclement, which saved Orleans. The French people called her The Maid of Orleans. Later, she was
captured and killed. After the war, the French people built statues in memory of this heroine. The meaning of
“The Maid of Orleans” is amplified to indicate any female heroes.
Ancient China does not have a developed and systematic mythology of her own like Greece and Rome,
but China has a long tradition with a highly developed subject of history. All kinds of life experiences of our
ancestors and various cognition, assessment and aesthetic experience which have been acquired in life, and
those major events in social struggles and struggles against nature are recorded in the form of history. A lot of
Chinese allusions come from such historical classics such as “Zuo Biography”, “National Language”,
“Historical Records” etc.. For example, “press on to the finish without letup”, and “doing evils will kill
oneself” come from “Zuo Biography”. Meanwhile, such schools of thought as the Confucianism, Taoism, and
Buddhism have great influences on Chinese traditional culture too. They have become another important
source of the Chinese allusion. For example, “crossing the door three times but not enter” comes from
(2) Different meanings. Different countries have different origins of civilization, cultural tradition,
religious belief and different geographical environment. Therefore, the allusions bear the weight of different
cultural intension, expressing different cultural information. For example, “American Beauty” does not mean
American beautiful women, but means a kind of rose flowering in four seasons. “From China to Peru” means
the ends of the earth instead of “from China to Peru”. Spanish athlete means a boasting person. “Spin yarn”
means to make up strange stories about overseas people and customs. “Deep six” means being buried in the
sea. “Davy John's locker” indicates the meaning of being drowned.
Chinese culture has long been regarded to be lack of the ration and tension of western culture. But it has
more implicit charm. Before Han Dynasty, Chinese culture was greatly influenced by the Confucianism and
Taoism. After the introduction of Buddhism to China, Chinese literature has the traces of Buddhism. A lot of
famous sayings such as “borrowing something to make a gift”, “putting down the butcher's knife and become
Buddha”, and “the boundless sea of hardship turn from one's evil way” all have deep color of Buddhism. In
addition, China lies in the continent of Asia, whose land and agriculture plays a very important part in the
hearts of people. Therefore, the Chinese allusion has many relating to agriculture and land, for instance, “plant
melons and you get melons, sow beans and you get beans”, “try to help the shoot grow by pulling it upward”
(3) Differences of form. The structure of English allusion is more flexible, and it can be loose or compact,
short or long. The long one contains several words, or over ten words, and even becomes an intact sentence,
such as “Hair by hair, you will pull out the horse's tail”. While the short one is like the phrase, “cupboard love”
or “Eden”. By contrast, the structure of Chinese allusion is more regular, the majority of which is four word
structure, for example, “high mountains and great rivers”, “returning to its owner in good conditions”,
“stealing a bell by covering one’s own ears” etc. In addition, there are longs structures as an intact sentence, for
example, “Xiang Zhuang dances with sword, intending to kill Peigong”. But this kind of allusion is much less.
(4) Differences in the forming of new words. Most Chinese allusions have a long history, and are well
established, but very few come from the modern history. However, for English allusion, besides the origin of
the ancient mythology of Rome or Greece with a long history or “the Holy Bible”, a lot of immensely popular
new allusions have appeared in modern times. With the development of the politics, economy and culture in
U.S.A., these new allusions mostly relate to U.S.A.. For example, “Watergate” refers to the scandalous
Watergate Case; “Ostrich Policy” refers to American policy of refusing to admit Chinese government in the
In a word, Chinese and foreign allusions, as the common valuable cultural heritage of the whole mankind,
not only have some generality, but also have demonstrated its own national culture characteristics. The allusion
is a result of historical development, and the quintessence in the language. The allusions I enumerated are only
representatives of numerous allusions. I hope the revelers can see through the allusions like seeing a spot of the
lion. In our study and work, we should pay more attention to the allusions and master them, so that we can use
them freely, which can both improve our ability of language, and see through the development of the Chinese
and foreign languages from this, and even the history of the China and foreign countries.
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Shan Xi (Social Sciences Edition). 1998, (4).
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4. A Dictionary of Comprehensive English Idioms. Fu Jian People's Press, 1985.
5. Xie Jin-ling. Dictionary of Allusions In Western Culture. Zhan Wang Publishing House, 1986.
6. Zhou Ji-sheng, ed. Dictionary of Russian Idioms. Hu Bei People's Press.