STREET TALK

街头俚语

The World of Chinese - - FRONT PAGE - BY SUN JIAHUI (孙佳慧)

Luke Sky­walker might call it “the Force”, Galac­tus might say it’s the “Power Cos­mic”, Su­per­man might say it’s, well, him­self, but in Chi­nese the most pow­er­ful force is 洪荒之力( h5nghu`ng zh~ l#), lit­er­ally “the power of pre­his­toric times” or “pri­mor­dial power”. The Chi­nese word 洪荒 ( h5nghu`ng) refers to the be­gin­nings of the uni­verse, an era be­lieved to be chaotic, des­o­late, and bound­less. Ac­cord­ing to some Chi­nese mytho­log­i­cal ac­counts, the en­tire world was nearly de­stroyed in a mas­sive flood in pri­mor­dial times. Ac­cord­ingly, “pri­mor­dial power” is used to de­scribe a kind of great, su­per­nat­u­ral, apoc­a­lyp­tic force.

It’s not a new phrase, but it has been given new life by the TV show Hua Qiangu, or The Jour­ney of Flower. In this show about mys­ti­cal mar­tial arts, a de­monic force called “pri­mor­dial power” pos­sesses the fe­male lead.

As one might imag­ine, the phrase has lost its some­what de­struc­tive con­no­ta­tions over time. For ex­am­ple, one might con­vey “I tried my best” by say­ing, “我已经用了洪荒之力了。( W6 y@j~ng y7ng le h5nghu`ng zh~ l# le. I have al­ready used my pri­mor­dial power. )” The most well-known ex­am­ple oc­curred at the Rio Olympics, a year af­ter The Jour­ney of Flower was broad­cast, when Chi­nese swim­mer Fu Yuan­hui was in­ter­viewed by China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion af­ter her semi­fi­nal swim. She said, “I wasn’t re­serv­ing my en­ergy for the fi­nal, I al­ready used up my pri­mor­dial power.” Fu’s usage thrust this phrase into the lime­light.

These days, a stu­dent who stayed up all night study­ing but couldn’t fin­ish an as­sign­ment might say, “我已经用了洪荒之力了,老师会原谅我的。( W6 y@j~ng y7ng le h5nghu`ng zh~ l# le, l2osh~ hu# yu1n­li3ng w6 de. I have used up my pri­mor­dial power, so my teacher will for­give me.)” A climber look­ing up at the moun­tain­top might sigh, “我已经用了洪荒之力了,但是这座山真的太险峻了。( W6 y@j~ng y7ng le h5nghu`ng zh~ l# le, d3nsh# zh- zu7 sh`n zh8n de t3i xi2nj&n le. I have used my pri­mor­dial power, but this moun­tain is just too steep.)”

This phrase can also trans­form into a metaphor about im­pulses and feel­ings. Some­one might, while on a diet, see a ta­ble full of deli­cous food and ex­claim, “把它们都拿走!我要控制不住我体内的洪荒之力了! ( B2 t`men d4u n1 z6u! W6 y3o k7ngzh# b& zh& w6 t@n-i de h5nghu`ng zh~ l# le! Take it all away! I can’t con­trol the pri­mor­dial power in my body!)”

These im­pulses aren’t lim­ited to hunger, and they can even spill over into work. Some­one who had a fight with their boss might say, “他完全就是个暴君,我没能控制住自己的洪荒之力,跟他大吵了一架。( T` w1n­qu1n ji&sh# ge b3oj$n, w6 m9i n9ng k7ngzh# zh& z#j@ de h5nghu`ng zh~ l#, g8n t` d3 ch2ole y! ji3. He was such a tyrant that I couldn’t con­trol my pri­mor­dial power and had a big fight with him.)” On the flip­side, when you fall in love at first sight, you might de­scribe the feel­ing as, “我一看到她就控制不住我的洪荒之力了。( W6 y! k3nd3o t` ji& k7ngzh# b% zh& w6 de h5nghu`ng zh~ l# le. The mo­ment I saw her, I couldn’t con­trol my pri­mor­dial power.)”

So whether it’s a row with your boss, meet­ing the love of your life, or a trek up Kil­i­man­jaro, when­ever you feel that uni­ver­sal power bub­bling in your gut, you’ll know it’s the 洪荒之力.

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