Accidental Obscenity

I was teaching some kindergarteners today, holding up a picture of a frog:

Me: What’s this?

Kids: ÇàÍÜ!

Me: Say “frog.”

Kids: Flock!

Me: ffffff…rrrrrrr…ahhhhhhh…g!

Kids: ffffff…rrrrrrr…ahhhhhhh…g!

Me: Frog!

Kids: FROG!

[5 minutes pass]

Me: What’s this?

Kids: FUCK!

Hmmm… close?


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Word.

  2. rofl!

  3. I got a story just like that: I was teaching these little kids, and the book showed a picture of a teacher wagging their index finger and the words “come here”. I demonstrated… and at least three 7 year old students stick out their middle fingers and shout “fuck you!” followed by lots of giggling. Heh, kids.

  4. No wonder your parents don’t comment on your weblog anymore!

  5. john, your change from a philosopher to a funster is too fast for me to follow!

  6. Da Xiangchang Says: November 23, 2004 at 5:21 pm

    I get edited for writing “goddamned” and now you’re writing “fuck”! The hypocrisy, dude, the hypocrisy!

  7. hahaha~~
    u’r more like a joke composer rather than a teacher=)

  8. Da Xiangchang,

    Hypocrisy? I think of myself more as a benevolent dictator with a limited tolerance for assholery, and superior taste (at least compared to some) on when profanity is appropriate.

    But feel free to start your own website where you reign supreme, pilgrim.

  9. Using kid’s mouth for your own political views? (ref. this, and Political Kid)

  10. john, and other humor-lovers, i will re-post a series humor stories about Beijing in my weblog, they are in chinese but very short, you guys might want to take a look …

  11. None of my Chinese friends can be pronounce the word ‘unique’, they always say ‘eunuch’. After lots of giggles and corrections, one said “Come on, we have an accent, we don’t have to say it perfectly!” So I finally told them what a Eunuch was. They were suitably embarassed, and now totally avoid the word unique.

    I took a group of 6 students for lunch at my parents’ house in my hometown, where we have a really big dog. One of the students asked if the dog had fathered any puppies. I said no, because he’d been “done”.

    Confused Looks.

    “Uh, like, he’s been fixed-up” I said, knowing they probably still wouldn’t understand that.

    Finally it dawns on one guy… he says:
    “Ahh, I know! Your dog is a Eunuch right?”

    Got it.

  12. Gin, I don’t see how this funny anecdote is expressing political views…

  13. Kaili, Haha! In the future, you could also say the dog has been “si maqian”ed — referring to the Chinese historian that was castrated for giving bad advice to Emporer Wudi in the Han dynasty. I think most Chinese know his story, but I ain’t sure. My prof certainly likes to make that joke though.

  14. Wulong,

    The hidden political view was “frogs are capable of being horny” and Kaili added “dogs too, less they’re done.” J-o-k-ing.

    Sima Qian did not give bad advice to Han Wudi, the way he gave advice was too outspoken, too close to the truth, too stubborn, and apparently too “manly.”

    I ain’t sure, either, if the students would get it. Unless well read, most kids today would only know Sima Qian as the author of an old book. That’s not bad. During the cultural revolution, a Japanese visitor was received by then Vice Party Chairman Wang Hong-wen (one of the “Gang of Four”). When the foreign guest reflected on his deep respect for Sima Qian as a great historian and a Chinese man of integrity, Wang immediately said into his aide’s ear: “locate this Comrade Si Ma Qian!”

  15. John,
    Happy Thanksgiving, how are you spending your Thanksgiving day in China?

  16. Not to pick any bones, but Sima Qian was ordered to be castrated not for giving advice, but for angering Han Wudi by defending another official on the court, I think it was a military general. Besides, as the Grand Historian who was mainly responsible for maintaining records and organizing loyal calendars, advising the emperor probably was not his primary duty. Anyway, he wrote a piece explaining why he didn¡¯t commit suicide after such a shameful punishment, and that¡¯s where we got the famous saying: ¡°Every man has one death. It could be as weighty as Mountain Tai, or as light as a goose feather¡±. Just a note.

  17. As the Grand Historian/Librarian, the young and outspoken Sima Qian, in fact, was the court’s important official and learned advisor, and a respected thinker. He argued against death punishment for the family esp. the Hon. old General Li Guan, grandfather of General Li Ling who was POWed by enemy and married the enemy’s princess. His argument was that Li Ling may have accepted the marriage against his will or out of a longer view which should not constitute betrayal until proven so. It was roughly so. This can be termed as either giving hard to swallow advice or protecting the politically disgraced. Anyway he spoke his mind and was wise beyond his time. Certainly his point of view was beyond the emperor’s comprehension. He was sentenced not to death but to castration. One can only guess whether Han Wudi wanted his humiliation or grudged his talent.

  18. Wow, yeah, I kind of missed the irony in your post Gin. Sorry…

    As for Sima Qian.. I now realize how clumsy my memory is when it comes to history. What I said is how I remembered it; this has to change… I’ve got an exam soon 🙂 Good thing my prof doesn’t “do the blog thing.”

  19. Since you all seem so knowledgeable about Chinese history, can someone answer a question for me? I just saw Hero last night (Zhang Yimou’s movie, finally released in NZ two years after China), and my husband told me that Chinese people have told him they don’t like it because it portrays the Qin king as the first emperor. My theory is that Chinese people prefer to see the Han dynasty as the first unification of China… is this true? I always thought Qin was the first dynasty, but I’ve heard that the Qin were also considered barbarians. I’ve just finished writing a post on it, and got all confused about my history…

  20. Da Xiangchang Says: November 24, 2004 at 8:46 am

    I don’t know who was the first emperor of CHina, but I do know this: HERO sucks!!! Zhang Yimou needs to stop making kung-fu movies; he should give up his quixotic dream of making a martial-arts masterpiece on par with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I haven’t seen his House of Flying Daggers yet, but I’ll bet you anything, it’s going to suck too! Okay, sorry for my ranting, but Hero was truly a bad movie.

  21. xiangchang, you have to admit that zhang’s kong-fu movies have a lot of black humors. talking about House of flying Daggers, you are correct, it sucks. i think the desire for big fortune drives zhang crazy and makes his recent movies stupid

  22. Da Xiangchang, explain to me in more detail why it sucks… I’ve given 3 reasons why I think Chinese people think it sucks, but I’m not sure if they’re correct…

    (Possibly its better to do that on my blog rather than Johns…

  23. Da Xiangchang Says: November 24, 2004 at 9:53 am

    I don’t have the time to articulate ALL the reasons why Hero sucks so much, but the biggest problem is the characters. The people in Hero are types, not real characters. Nobody smiled, and everyone spoke in a dreadful monotone. I don’t care if this movie takes place 2000 years ago; NOBODY acts like the people in this movie. They’re the most 2D, artificial characters I’ve ever seen; all their actions are COMPLETELY dependent on the requirements of the plot. It’s like Zhang said, “Let’s have romantic tragedy: Cheung, kill Leung! Now look heavenward and scream in angst and then kill yourself!” “Let’s have a heroic resolution: Jet Li, let the arrows kill you so I can have a cheesy shot of you being carried away in a coffin! Let’s teach the Chinese about self-sacrifice!” Only gullible Westerners could buy this piece of dogcrap.

    Contrast these paper-thin bores with CTHD’s wonderfully complex characters, especially the proto-feminist Jade Fox, the coolest villain in recent cinematic history. The strength of CTHD isn’t the martial-arts scenes but rather how incredibly fleshed-out the people are, and how the entire plot is driven by the desires of these characters. It’s the five characters that make CTHD a masterpiece and one of the greatest movies of all time.

  24. Da Xiangchang Says: November 24, 2004 at 10:02 am


    Yes, I think the Chinese idea that Hero is too “exaggerated” to be absolutely correct. It’s exaggerated, overblown, contrived, self-important, etc., etc. I can’t say it’s too “Western,” though. To me, it’s too Chinese, especially in its silly triple suicide in the end. Crappy movies always end in overblown suicides. Subtlety is something that’s not very Chinese.

  25. Hmm, I agree with the stereotype/ 2D characters. And they did speak in monotones, that was weird — almost like newsreaders. But I often find that Chinese movies have kind of an ‘ideal’ stereotype — modern movies are girls with high pitched giggly voices and the ‘cute/naughty’ kind of stereotype. I thought the characters were stereotypical possibly because they weren’t actually ‘there’ — the only ‘real’ scene was the king and Jet Li. All the rest was them telling the story, and story telling is prone to stereotypes. Each story portrayed the characters with different personalities. I liked the scene were Cheung kills Leung, I was just thinking ‘haha, that’s what happens when your a psychotic girlfriend!’

    But it was pretty, you must admit. And dramatic. Actually, I didnt have high expectations, I only went to see it because all my Jiuzhaigou friends kept telling me which scenes were filmed where around their villages.

  26. “everyone spoke in a dreadful monotone”

    I thought Da didn’t speak Chinese.

  27. go go tangents…

    Anyway John, you’re teaching the poor kids poor pronunciation – it should be ffff…rrr…oooo…..g!

    Then they might extend that to FOCK! and sound like cool Irish gangsters.

  28. regarding zhang’s movie, (i try to be not emotional), he is good at shooting beautiful pics, but the strength of his movies mainly come from the play book which are usually novels. for example, , this movie is from a great novel written by Yu Hua, who himself is a great writer and, the novel is among the best of his works. so in my view, if the play book is great, zhang’s movie will be great, otherwise, we have movies like .

    sorry to john about talking irrelevant topics

  29. the novel i mentioned in last post is called TO LIVE.

    strangely enough, it disappeared from the post, why?

  30. correction:

    ….otherwise, we have movies like HERO!

  31. bingfeng,

    You put the movie titles in pointy brackets, which makes the browser treat it like an HTML tag. That makes it disappear.

  32. Da Xiangchang Says: November 24, 2004 at 5:19 pm


    Good points, but not always true. Zhang Yimou’s Happy Times (Xingfu Shiguang) is an ABSOLUTE MASTERPIECE (haha), and I doubt it was based on a novel! I’m dying to see his Codename Cougar (Daihao Meizhoubao) too. Gong Li in a tight stewardess uniform–MMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm . . . But I can’t find that movie anywhere!


    a comment on the movie of Happy Times, a little bit cynic, a little bit true. btw, as i remembered, it is also from a novel.

    talking about kung-fu movies, i highly recommend a series called Guan Zhong Dao Ke(¹ØÖе¶¿Í), directed by WANG Shuo. i saw them in vcd stores.

  34. i see, thanks john

  35. sorry, that movie was directed by FENG xiaogang

  36. I watch Zhang Yimou movies for their cinimagraphic value only, and I have yet to see Hero now you guys make me think I should skip it. Beifeng, you got me jump up from my seat for a moment: “Wang Shuo directed a movie?” Did he write that one, Guan Zhong Dao Ke?

    Kaili, seeing that no one has answered your question about Han vs. Qin, let me give it a try but I am not good at this history stuff (have to be modest, you know). I laugh at someone objecting to Zhang’s Hero for such a lame reason as Qin shouldn’t be considered the first emperor. In fact, I’ve never heard of Han Gaozu (Liu Bang) ever regarded as the beginning of China. To that extend nobody regards Qin Shihuang as the beginning of China, either. He unified China, by winning over most/all the warring states. He unified the language, maybe by killing thousands of scholars and burning handreds of books. He was the first emperor (no longer kings or lords), that’s in his title and nobody disputes that. Qin marked the beginning of the Chinese feudalistic society, that one I have heard of. But China, the Chinese race, goes back much before it.

    Chinese have referred themselves as the descendants of the legendary sage kings (Yan2 Huang2 Zi3 Sun1), of the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties (Hua2 Xia4 Er2 Nu3), of Han of course, and of Tang Dynasty (Chinatown was translated as Tang2 Ren2 Jie1 – Tang people’s streets). The land of China has been referred to as Hua2 Xia4, but also occasionally as Qin Han Land.

    Why the Han name stuck with the ethnological nomenclature for Chinese, I don’t know. But I could think of several potential reasons why Chinese would associate themselve more with Han (and Tang) than with Qin. Qin was short (~15 years) and brutal. Who’d want the bad memories (of which even the Great Wall was one)? Han (>400 years counting both western and eastern Han) and Tang (289 years) were lasting and prosperous ones.

    There was never the “Han was us Qin was them” thing. They were all Chinese, us. These dynasties were all just periodical players on a lasting stage called the continum of Chinese history. Even the Mongols (ruled 97 years) and Manchus (268 years) were not really considered so “them” which surprises me. The Chinese friend who gave that movie review based upon Qin not being Chinese was blowing smokes.

    I wonder if there is a different kind of allegiance (to the nation as well as to a single royal family) in countries such as England and Japan.

  37. Gin, your answer answers most of my questions! Actually, most of the stuff I have studied by Chinese scholars considers that being Chinese is not something necessarily related to dynasties or even ethnicity. I was just trying to figure out what this person was talking about!

    Thanks anyway

  38. One thing to note is that while the Qin dynasty was short lived, its contributions to government institutions and stability allowed the Han dynasty to be as “good” as it was. It’s funny that I find the Han dynasty to be one of my least favourite of dynasties.

    As to the film Hero. I think that the film was not meant to be seen as standard film in terms of plot, character development, etc. Yet, people judge it in that fashion. I simply took it as “cinematic poetry.” Poetry usually does not develop in plot or character, unless one is talking about epic poems. Now if Zhang was actually able to incorporate theories and concepts of Chinese poetry into the film, it would have been genius. Unfortunately, it came out as extremely pretty eye candy. Almost to the extent of a Takashi Miike film.

  39. Da Xiangchang – “Happy Times” is based in premise on a Mo Yan short story called “ʦ¸µÔ½À´Ô½ÓÄĬ,” translated woodenly into English by Howard Goldblatt as “Shifu, You’ll Do Anything For a Laugh!” in the collection of the same name. It diverges from the short story pretty early on, though.

  40. It’s quite possible that “frog” sounds a lot like the f-word to the kids, right? Maybe someone already said that and I missed it. But /fr/ could be filtered/reduced to /f/ because there is no such initial consonant cluster as /fr/ in Chinese. Then /g/ comes through as /k/ because of the lack of voiced stops in Chinese.

    As for Zhang Yimou, can anyone clarify descrepancies between the story of the Qin emperor and the assasin as it is portrayed in pre-Communistt historical ideologies and as it is portrayed by Zhangh Yiimou/current Chinese textbooks? Because I read somewhere that the story can be seen as a metaphor for the necessary sacrifice of the people to maintain national unity in modern times/at present. Also, isn’t the Qin emperor sometimes compared to the Great Helmsman? Just taking wild stabs here–I am not very well-acquainted with the subject.

  41. In the Hero movie, there were countless similarities that seemed to be intended by Zhang Yimou. Like — the Emperor’s sacrifice for unity/stability idea, the idea that individual cultures/ethnicities don’t matter as much as the unity/peace of the land, the way everyone misunderstands him, sometimes has to kill nice people for the greater good/make a point, the idea about standardising the whole language over the country etc. The problem was, I can’t tell if that’s from the real story and its a coincidence, or whether Zhang Yimou is trying to say something, or whether its just a Chinese leadership concept — actually, I guess the common way for Chinese people to criticise the present is to write about the past — is Zhang Yimou using this technique too? But it seems like he is not really criticising but supporting.

  42. Da Xiangchang Says: November 26, 2004 at 4:57 am

    I don’t care what Zhang Yimou intended with Hero, and I don’t think Hero says ANYTHING about China and the Chinese. It’s just a ripoff of a Japanese movie with a few cheesy kung-fu sequences thrown in. Trying to get anything meaningful about China from Hero is like trying to figure out America by watching Demolition Man or something.

    However, has anyone seen “Blind Shaft”? I think this is the MOST realistic depiction of modern China I’ve ever seen. Now, that’s a movie that we can endlessly analyze.

  43. XDDDDD what a great entry

  44. Yes, with Hero I think Zhang Yimou seems to be supporting/explaining the sacrifices necessary to have a strong, united and peaceful country. It seems a surprising position. Maybe it’s a way to settle a conflict he has in is soul between pursuing fame and pursuing _________.

    Da–I did see Blind Shaft (“ä¾®”). Li Yang. I also recommend it to everybody…not for what it isn’t (as with Hero), but for what it is. Has anyone else seen it?

  45. believe it or not, to many people Zhang’s Hero seems trying to find excuse for US’s domination of the world through wars. but US government doesn’t have a propaganda dept and even it has, it will fund Zhang.

    zhang is playing a very traditonal chinese concept ÍõÕßÖ®ÈÊ vs ¸¾ÈËÖ®ÈÊ, anyone know the story of Cao Cao for this concept?

  46. I have a very simple question about the movie “Hero.”

    Who, in fact, was the true “hero” of the movie?

    Was it the emperor? Or was it the would-be assassin who voluntarily gave up his mission for the sake of “all under heaven?”

    I would be more inclined to think the would-be assassin is the true hero.

    Since the emperor decides that the “hero” needs to be executed, it poses an interesting question about Chinese culture and society. To be a true hero, one must be willing to risk toeing the dangerous line between criticism of the state and tearing the state down, even if that entails certain death.

    In this respect, I feel that Big Sausage is very wrong when he says the movie teaches us nothing about China or the Chinese.

  47. Da Xiangchang Says: November 27, 2004 at 1:29 pm

    Oh, God, I just House of Flying Daggers. If Zhang Yimou deserved to be flogged for making Hero, he should be partially lobotomized for making HOFD! Kindergarten-level plot, vomitously overblown melodrama, and characters with all the depth, complexity, and charm of soiled toilet paper. Zhang Yimou’s ambition to make CTHD is like syphilis–it’s eating up his brain!

  48. Bingfeng, I (and I suspect some others) haven’t gotten far enough in Sanguo to understand the concepts you referenced: “ÍõÕßÖ®ÈÊ vs ¸¾ÈËÖ®ÈÊ”

    If you have time, it would be very interesting to hear what they are and how they relate to Hero.

  49. Laska, i forget where and when i heard this stroy, briefly it is like this: one year in the 3-kingdoms period, Cao2 Cao1’s troops were defeated and surrounded by the enemy, with several thousand soilders wounded, Cao Cao decided to break through the surrounding enemy troops and abandon those wounded, because if he brings these wounded soilders together, more people will die in the battle, so Cao Cao face a tough decision to make – to let 5000 die (with a 90% certainty) or to let 50000 die (with a 50% certainty). Cao Cao chose the first one, but many of his generals strongly oppose his decision. cao cao replied: you guys have the MERCY OF WOMAN, and I have the MERCY OF A KING (ÄãÃÇÊǸ¾ÈËÖ®ÈÊ£¬ÎÒÊÇÍõÕßÖ®ÈÊ)¡£

    i personaly like to cite this story because it vividly revels how tranditional chinese mind react when facing the choice between long-term vs short-term, groups vs individuals, etc.

    in the movie of Hero, zhang is trying to tell us that it’s worth it to sacrifice some lives now to earn a longer-term peace, those who understand it and willing to make the sacrifice are real heros. i’m sure zhang has a common language with cao cao and they will become good friends.

    i have to say this MERCY OF KING contains some truth, but it is such a concept that will be so easily misinterpreted and misused, it’s better for us (the chinese) to be careful for its bad sides than its good sides.

  50. thanks bingfeng!

  51. Da Xiangchang Says: December 1, 2004 at 6:05 pm

    For the love of God, forget Hero!!! All sinophiles should see “2046,” one of the two best movies this year. (The other is “Spider-Man 2.”)

  52. please forgive me, xiangchang, i just can’t understand 2046, what does the movie talk about!!!

    i just C-A-N N-O-T U-N-D-E-R-S-T-A-N-D!

  53. Da Xiangchang Says: December 2, 2004 at 3:51 am

    Don’t make “2046” more complicated than it is. It’s just about a horny guy who likes to have sex with lots of women. That’s all. 😉 But it has something that’s woefully lacking in Zhang Yimou’s recent movies: fully developed characters. From Leung’s charming bastard to Wong Faye’s pulp-fiction-obsessed clerk, each character is clearly delineated. Marvelous acting and what gorgeous cinematography! The fact that the movie’s sometimes pretentious and completely plotless are minor problems. Everyone should see “2046.”

  54. Hey, do you have coke?

  55. Xiao Tao Says: May 27, 2012 at 10:06 pm

    Looks like it’s difficult for young native speakers too!

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