There is a Chinese character that is used in many phrases. To me it is particularly beautiful, and Chinese it is particularly popular to use. And that character is ”虎 (hǔ) tiger.” (What does “母老虎” mean in China?)
There are many phrases that use this character, but one that is the most interesting of them all that we use here in China is used to describe someone who may appear to be a very nice person, but who is actually ready to strike, attack or threaten you, just like a tiger, at any moment.
This phrase is “笑面虎 (xiàomiànhǔ) a smiling tiger.” It means smiling tiger face. It represents a person you really need to be careful of hanging around because you never know when he or she is going to threaten you. Yes, he or she may appear to be sweet and safe. But that is not the truth!
Let’s break this phrase down character by character so you can grasp its full meaning:
笑 (Xiào): v. smile; laugh; giggle; snicker. (Try a Chinese mini test about “笑”)
面 (Miàn): n. face; surface; plane; side; dimension.
虎 (Hǔ): n. tiger; brave; fierce.
笑面虎 (Xiàomiànhǔ): smiling tiger; tiger with smiling face; wolf in sheep’s clothing.
A smiling tiger is someone who is both cunning and sly. It is a person you need to be wary of. Do you know anyone who acts super nice, has a smiling face, but you can never really be sure of what they are thinking, or their exact intentions? That is a smiling tiger personality right there.
Let’s use this phrase in a sentence so you can see exactly how to structure it.
Tā shì yígè xiàomiànhǔ.
He has the face of a smiling tiger.
Wáng lǎoshī shì gè xiàomiànhǔ, tóngxué men dōu pà tā.
Teacher Wang has a smiling tiger face, and the students are afraid of him.
Xiàomiànhǔ shì bǐjiào nán duìfù de.
Smiling tiger faces are more difficult to deal with.
The thing about a smiling tiger face is that the person may not actually be cruel. He or she just may be hiding genuine feelings or intentions from you. Even if the intention is not negative, what you see isn’t what you get, and so these people are generally avoided in social situations.
There are other Chinese phrases that are similar to this one. They include:
1. 笑里藏刀 (Xiàolǐcángdāo) Hide a dagger in a smile
It describes someone who actually has a murderous intent. It is based on a story from Chinese history of a man named Li Yifu who covered up his evil plans with a smile.
2. 伪君子 (Wěijūnzǐ) Hypocrite (What is the synonym of “伪君子”?)
In English this refers to a person who pretends to have virtues or morals that he doesn’t actually have.
3. 假善人 (Jiǎshànrén) Bleeding heart
This phrase describes a person who does have sympathy for others. It is the opposite of a smiling tiger face.
Are you ready to take a quiz on all you’ve learned?
1. Read the following sentence and answer the question.
Although he always looks very nice, he hides a dagger in his smile and has a vicious heart.
Which of the following is not appropriate to describe him in Chinese?
A. 伪君子 (Wěijūnzǐ)
B. 老好人 (Lǎohǎorén)
C. 笑面虎 (Xiàomiànhǔ)
Learn More Popular Chinese Words:
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“驴友 (lǘyŏu)” – What It Means and Why They Are Popular
Chinese Popular Words
General Chinese (Beginner Level)
General Chinese (Intermediate Level)