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How Do the Heart and Liver Represent Your “Darling?” Learn “心肝宝贝 (Xīngān bǎobèi)!”

Aug. 17, 2018

HSK 3 quiz

Can you imagine that your eye has an apple in it? And, can you imagine that this same apple in your eye represents a person you are extremely fond of? Well, sometimes expressions are a bit hard to understand, just like “the apple of my eye.” In Mandarin Chinese, that person, the dear apple, that you are extremely fond of is not represented in your eye, but rather in your heart and liver. Confused? Well, I will explain how this person moved to these body parts in today’s lesson about the Chinese expression “心肝宝贝 (xīngān bǎobèi).”

Let’s first look at the words that make up this expression:

心 (Xīn) = heart; mind, intelligence; soul.

肝 (Gān) = liver.

心肝 (Xīngān) = darling; conscience.

宝 (Bǎo) = treasure; preciousness.

贝 (Bèi) = sea shell; money; currency.

宝贝 (Bǎobèi) = darling; rare shell; treasure.

The origin of the expression “心肝宝贝 (xīngān bǎobèi)” actually comes from ancient Chinese medicine, or “中医情结 (zhōngyī qíngjié)”, something very mysterious to non-Chinese. In ancient Chinese medicine, each organ has a specific role, often with a metaphorical meaning such as “general”, “advisor”, “judge”, etc.

心 (Xīn) heart:

The heart is the official monarch of the body. The monarch is the king of a country, and the true son of heaven. A country cannot be without a king. The “心 (xīn) heart” is the first character of the expression “心肝宝贝 (xīngān bǎobèi)”, and it means that “you” are the king in my world. I am yours, my heart is yours.

肝 (Gān) liver:

The liver is the official general of the body. In the minds of the Chinese people, the general’s duty is to protect and defend the country, just like the liver protects the body. When the country is in trouble, it will step forward. The word “general” infers a strong desire to protect, and gives people a sense of security. The second word of the expression uses “肝 (gān) liver.” The use of “肝 (gān) liver” means to use powerful arms to shelter “you” from the wind and rain, and to be your most faithful protector.

Examples of “心肝宝贝 (Xīngān bǎobèi)” in use:

Nǐ shì wǒ de xīngān bǎobèi.
You are the apple of my eye.

Háizi shì bàba māma de xīngān bǎobèi.
The child is the darling of the father and mother.

So, now you know how to describe “the apple of your eye” using a Chinese expression which has a basis in Chinese medicine. It may seem a bit odd to bring the “liver” into such an endearing term, but now you know the metaphoric meaning behind that, too. Put “心肝宝贝 (xīngān bǎobèi)” to use as soon as you feel this way!

HSK 3 quiz

1. What word do people in China use to describe their very close friends?

A. 宝贝 (Bǎobèi)

B. 宝物 (Bǎowù)

C. 珍珠 (Zhēnzhū)

See Answer Analysis

―Written by Becky Zhang―
Becky Zhang is a teacher at She has over eight years of experience teaching Mandarin Chinese to foreign students and promoting Chinese culture. She lives in Beijing but loves traveling to ancient Chinese villages. One day she’d like to be a tour guide in China!

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