Feeling Like A Hot Mess? Use 一锅粥 (yīguōzhōu)

General Chinese hot mess

A perk of being a Chinese learner, is knowing such a hard language and being impressive to others without trying. I am not tooting my own horn here, you have probably been getting the positive reactions already! To many, especially native English speakers, Chinese characters look like little pictures or scribbles. Yet, for a Chinese learner, one day you crack the code and suddenly characters are filled with meaning and its just like reading English!

Let’s get back to impressing people. I have been learning Chinese for 4 years now and will be taking the HSK 5 soon. Aside from just knowing Chinese, something I found that always impresses my Chinese friends and coworkers is knowing new internet slang and colloquial words. Once I said the word “心塞(xīnsāi) crushed” to my coworkers and one told me she was “感动 (gǎndòng) moved” that my Chinese was so developed. I told her I just read online blogs like this one to learn fun, new words!

You are probably already aware of the phrase “a hot mess,” which is a person who is spectacularly disordered. In Chinese there is a similar phrase that means something along the same lines, and carries the added uniqueness of making what you say sound more interesting: 一锅粥 (yīguōzhōu).

一锅粥 (yīguōzhōu): literally means “a pot of porridge.”

Nowadays, this is a common saying that means “a complete mess” or refers to a situation that has become chaotic, or in other words, a hot mess. So, how did the meaning of this word evolve? Well, Chinese people love metaphors—one of the reasons the language is so beautiful—and it is common in Chinese to use material objects to describe an abstract idea, such as calling something chaotic “a pot of porridge”. For example, if there is a ridiculous amount of people at the bus stop and everyone is packed together in a chaotic fashion where you can’t make sense of what is happening, you can call it 一锅粥 (yīguōzhōu). The way that cooked porridge looks, especially 八宝粥 (bābǎozhōu) mixed porridge or “eight-treasures congee,” is a complete mess with random items mixed together. So, by calling something “a pot of porridge” instead of simply saying “it’s chaotic” it brings a clearer, more interesting image to one’s mind.

Once you add this term to your vocabulary you will find many opportunities to use it! Due to China’s large population you will be in many situations that has crowds of people. In the subway station at rush hour or at the train station during holidays, you will find that it becomes “一锅粥 (yīguōzhōu) a complete mess!”


Place word + 乱成了一锅粥 ( luàn chéng le yīguōzhōu );
乱成 (luàn chéng) chaotically becomes;乱 (luàn) can be switched out with some other terms such as 吵 (chǎo) argue/noisy;
了(le) sentence particle that denotes change.


Chēzhàn rén tài duō le, luàn chéng le yīguōzhōu.
车站       人  太   多  了,乱     成   了    一锅粥。
There was too many people in the station. It was an absolute mess.

Yuànzi lǐ de rén chǎo chéng le yīguōzhōu.
院子   里 的 人    吵    成    了    一锅粥。
The people in the courtyard caused a ruckus with their arguing.

Zhèlǐ luàn chéng le yīguōzhōu.
这里   乱   成      了  一锅粥。
Everything is chaos here.

HSK 3 quiz

1. Which sentence does not have the correct usage of “一锅粥?”

Huǒchēzhàn tài yōngjǐ, luàn chéng le yīguōzhōu.
A. 火车站         太   拥挤,乱    成     了  一锅粥。

Māma dào lǎowáng jiā de shíhòu, nàlǐ yǐjīng luàn chéng le yīguōzhōu.
B. 妈妈   到     老王     家 的 时候,那里  已经  乱     成    了  一锅粥。

Yuànzi lǐ de xuéshēng chǎo chéng le yīguōzhōu.
C. 院子 里 的      学生     吵    成      了  一锅粥。

Tā de shēnghuó shì yīguōzhōu.
D. 她 的     生活    是    一锅粥。

—Written by Elizabeth Brown—

Elizabeth Brown works in China and have studied Chinese for 4 years. I have been a student at eChineseLearning for 2 years and am preparing to take the HSK 5. A special thanks to my teacher Jennifer Zhu for teaching me this word and how to use it.

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Show humility and learn “自黑 (zìhēi)” for “self-mockery”
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