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Blowing Into the Cow Hide j

The Chinese expression "blowing into the cow hide" (chui niu pi) has two unusual stories behind it.

When crossing the river, people of the Yellow River Bend would use cow or sheep hid e to make a raft. To make the hide floatable required air to be blown into it, which was a very demanding task. The local people would ridicule those who boast and brag by saying, "If you have so much time to brag, you'd better spend the day more constructively by inflating the cow hide. How big you talk! You could blow up a cow hide with all of that air!" "Blowing into the cow hide" ahs thus become the expression for bragging. The equivalent expression in English is "being full of hot air."

The people of Jiangsu Province do not inflate cow hides but they also use this expression the same way. The story goes that a landlord by the name of Xie Jinyu lived in Wuxian County, Jiangsu Province, toward the end of the Ming Dynasty. he rode roughshod in the county, committed numerous atrocities as an official in the capital. His father-in-law was about to retire from the official hierarchy so Xie Jinyu wanted to build a garden for him. Xie wanted to use the three mu of land belonging to his neighbor, a widow by the name of Xu. Although the widow was poor, she was very proud and refused to sell the land to Xie. The landlord was enraged and bitter about the widow. In revenge, he cut the water supply from her land during planting season. The widow had to use a waterwheel to water her land. When the rice was ready for harvest, Xie let loose a flock of ducks and chickens to pick the rice seeds. Then during harvest time,he sent his underlings to trespass the and tramp on her rice field. The widow found this out the following day and knew very well that this was the work of her troublesome neighbor. She took the landlord to the local official to file her complaint. Su, the magistrate to be a corrupt official, nicknamed "one to whom none could make his case clear." Widow Xu told the magistrate of her complaint, Xie, however, said that it was the rats that had eaten her crops. The widow refuted this, saying that there was no rat big enough to eat so many crops in one night. Xie replied, "This rat must be as big as a cow." Alas, the widow lost her case. She told many people of her case. The story spread far and wide. The people of Wuxian County began to call those who told tall tales "shu niu bi (comparing a rat with a cow)."

As "shu niu bi" and "chui niu pi" are not only same in meaning but also similar in pronunciation in the Jiangsu dialect, the former has gradually been replaced by the latter in people's everyday speech.

(Compiled by Shen Jun and Ma Hanmin)


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