Know What the Meaning of “Drink Ink” in Chinese
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“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.

Example:

Hē guò mòshuǐ de rén shuōhuà jiùshì yǒu dàolǐ.
喝过墨水的人说话就是有道理。
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

Example:

Hē guò yáng mòshuǐ de rén yǒu fēngfù de zhīshì.
喝过洋墨水的人有丰富的知识。
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.

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