Toll Free - U.S.& Canada:  1-800-791-9386   Hong Kong:  800-930-623   Australia:  1-800-779-835
Free online Chinese learning support
  • Follow us on Facebook!
  • Watch Our YouTube Videos!
  • Follow us on Twitter!
  • Follow us on WeChat!
    Follow Us in WeChat by Scanning!
    Follow Us in "WeChat"
    by Scanning
  • Follow us on LinkedIn
  • Follow us on Google+!
  • Explore Our Instagram Videos & Photos!
United Kingdom:  0-800-086-8969   Germany:  0-800-180-0341   Singapore:  800-130-1652
France:  0-805-080-689   Spain:  900-838-906    

“喝墨水 (Hē Mòshuǐ) Drink Ink?” This Phrase Might Not Mean What You Think!

Aug. 10, 2018

HSK 3 quiz

In China primary education is tuition-free. According to the Ministry of Education, we have a 99% attendance rate. After graduating primary school students do pay a small tuition fee during middle and high school.

In China test scores are very important. Many, many years ago we used a phrase called: “喝墨水(hē mòshuǐ).” It meant that students who didn’t perform well on a test would need to undergo a punishment by their teachers, namely drinking ink. Yuck!

喝墨水 (Hē mòshuǐ): drink ink.

喝 (): v, to drink.

墨水 (Mòshuǐ): n, ink.

Obviously teachers in China do not do that anymore. But education is still valued in China, and students are encouraged to do their best. This phrase has taken on a new meaning in the 21st century. And that is: obtaining education, knowledge and learning; or more simply, to go to school. Isn’t it interesting how vocabulary can evolve like that?

Let’s break this phrase down more to fully understand it:

“喝 ()” means study and learning.
“墨水 (Mòshuǐ)” represents the knowledge that someone has.

We often use this phrase in daily life. One of the most common structures we use it in is the following:

Hē + guò + mòshuǐ
喝 + 过 + 墨水 : to be educated.


Hē guò mòshuǐ de rén shuōhuà jiùshì yǒu dàolǐ.
Educated people conversation makes sense.

China doesn’t just encourage education of students in China. It has more students studying abroad than any other country in the world. Additionally, many students come to study in China who are from other countries. This cultural exchange is encouraged and promoted in Chinese culture.

This phrase can also be used to describe this cultural aspect.

Hē yáng mòshuǐ
喝洋墨水 : to go abroad to study.

You can use this phrase in the following structure:

Hē + yáng mòshuǐ
喝 + 洋 墨 水


Hē guò yáng mòshuǐ de rén yǒu fēngfù de zhīshì.
People who have studied abroad have a wealth of knowledge.

Are you ready to test your knowledge? Take the quiz below!

HSK 3 quiz

1. Choose the correct word to fill in the blank.

Tā méi (    ) guò jǐ nián mòshuǐ.
他没 (    ) 过几年墨水。

A. 吃 (Chī)

B. 喝 ()

C. 咬 (Yǎo)

See Answer Analysis

—Written by Ronina Li—
Ronina Li lives in the Beijing and has been a Mandarin teacher for 6 years. She likes reading and delicious food. She hope she can help more people to learn Chinese language and know Chinese culture.

Interested In Chinese Polysemous Words? Learn More:
“二百五 (èrbǎiwǔ)” is not a compliment
汗 (hàn), Don’t sweat it
Do You Have Backstage Support? Learn This Chinese Word “后台 (Hòutái)”

Got questions? Take a free 1-to-1 lesson with one of our professional teachers by signing up below:
Name:  E-mail: 
Country:  Tel: 
By clicking Submit, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Write a comment

Your Name: 
Your Email:  Your email address will not be published.
Verification Code:  Verification Code Unclear? Try another one
By clicking Submit, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.
Email This Article
Recipients' email addresses:
(separate recipients with comma)
Your name:
Your e-mail address (optional):
Your message (optional):
Verification Code:
By clicking Send, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Sign up for a free trial now!
Get more information about our Chinese lessons through live chat
Get a FREE live 1-to-1 lesson and FREE e-books. Complete the form below:

By clicking Submit, you agree to our

Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Get 11 FREE Mandarin E-books