Chinese Idioms about urgency – burning eyebrows (火烧眉毛 – huǒ shāo méi máo )2 min readReading Time: < 1 minute
If you get things done in China, you are not just a “do-er”, you are a “take action-ist” (行动派 – xíng dòng pài) – a member of an entire movement of people across China that make things happen.
Just as in English we have -ists and -isms, in China there are take action-ists.
A successful entrepreneur in China is normally a xíng dòng pài. To be part of this movement is to seize opportunity.
In President Xi’s 2017 New Year speech, he coined a phrase:
撸起袖子加油干 (lū qǐ xiù zǐ jiā yóu gàn) – “roll-up your sleeves, and get to it”
There is nothing like starting a business presentation with wise words from the President.
There are also some ‘must-have idioms to say when something is urgent.
Not sure why, but eyebrows (?) and fire figure heavily in the visuals of Chinese idioms about urgent-ness. I suppose there is nothing like the threat of of burning eyebrows as a motivation to get something done!
The following seven idioms all mean URGENT with a different visual attached to them. All are commonly used.
迫在眉睫 (pò zài méi jié ) – in-the-eyebrows-and-eyelashes URGENT
火烧眉毛 (huǒ shāo méi máo ) – fire-burning-eyebrows URGENT
燃眉之急 (rán méi zhī jí ) – igniting-eyebrows URGENT
当务之急 (dāng wù zhī jí) – most-urgent-task-at-the-moment URGENT
迫不及待 (pò bù jí dài) – pressing-and-cannot-wait URGENT
刻不容缓 (kè bù róng huǎn ) – cannot-forgive-any-delay URGENT
急如星火 (jí rú xīng huǒ) – like-the-fire-of-the-sun URGENT
When something is REALLY urgent, you could reel off a mix of these – something can be as urgent burning eye brows.
Chinese language creates a sense of movement, and a tendency towards taking action, quickly. There is a push (burning eye brows), and a pull (the attraction of joining China’s ‘taking action-ist’ movement).