If you are interested in Chinese Idioms, you’ve got to learn this one. It’s a phrase you may hear in reality TV shows or even in everyday-conversation between friends. The origin of this particular idiom began in times where emperors still ruled while living extremely lavish lifestyles. Our idiom for today is:
The Chinese idiom means beautiful dresses and nice food, living an extravagant life or swimming in luxury.
锦衣玉食 (Jǐnyīyùshí) literally means “clothes made of 锦 (jǐn) and food made of 玉 (yù)”. Although it was used to describe the luxurious lifestyle of royalty and nobles, in modern times it usually applies to the extravagant lifestyle of the rich or wealthy second generation.
Like most idioms, if you take it literally you won’t get the meaning behind it. So let’s break it down to its segments：
“锦 (Jǐn)” is a type of Chinese silk fabric which usually has beautifully intricate patterns. It’s easy to see how it is correlated with extravagance.
“锦衣 (Jǐnyī)” refers to beautiful and expensive clothing.
“玉 (Yù)” means jade. Jade has been a status symbol in Chinese culture and has been revered as an imperial stone oftentimes found in the tombs of royalty. Apart from that, for jade, it compounds the implication of indulgence.
“玉食 (Yùshí)” refers to delicious food. If you notice, it also contains the character
Both “锦衣 (jǐnyī)” and “玉食 (yùshí)” describe expensive and luxurious things, so we use the expression “锦衣玉食 (jǐnyīyùshí)” to describe a life of luxury.
Wǒmen de shēnghuó suīrán búshì jǐnyīyùshí, yě suànshì yīshíwúyōu.
We don’t live in the lap of luxury, but we’re comfortable.
Note: “衣食无忧 (Yīshíwúyōu)” is a Chinese idiom, means being well provided with food and clothing.
Tā zài jǐnyīyùshí de huánjìng zhōng zhǎngdà.
She was brought up in an atmosphere of luxury and wealth.
As you can see from the examples, knowing this idiom is useful when describing people or celebrities and their over-the-top spending habits. It can also be applied to talking about what you don’t have as well. Take the quiz below and see how thoroughly you understand the idiom as used in the dialogue. Then try to use it in a sentence in the comments below!
1. Read the conversation below and choose the best answer to fill in the blank.
Mary: Lì Li de bàba shì yījiā dà gōngsī de lǎobǎn, suǒyǐ tāmen jiā hěn yǒuqián, Lì Li xiǎng mǎi shénme jiù néng mǎi shénme.
Lucy: Tā zhēnshì guò zhe yìzhǒng jǐnyīyùshí bān de shēnghuó.
Which of the following statements is true according to the dialogue? ▁▁
A: Lily leads a life of luxury.
B: Lucy has a luxurious life.
C: Lily likes colorful clothes and jade.