The Chinese Year of the Monkey is approaching. So let’s take a moment to learn some Chinese idioms to impress your Chinese friends.

1. 猴年马月 (hóu nián mǎ yuè)
This phrase is commonly used when a specific deadline for anything is unknown. It also indicates that something is unlikely to be accomplished.

2. 杀鸡儆猴 (shā jī Jǐng hóu)
The phrase literally means to slaughter chickens to warn the monkey. The metaphoric term describes how one person is punished to warn others.

Street performers used to kill chickens to compel their pet monkeys obey them. They thought that the cost of killing a chicken was much lower than killing a monkey. Rumor has it that monkeys are afraid of blood, therefore the performers used chicken blood to make the monkeys listen to them.

3. 猿猴取月(yuán hóu qǔ yuè)
This phrase describes little monkeys who thought the moon had fallen into a well, so they tried to save it, as told in a Tibetan folktale. They tried rescuing the moon from the well but the tree branch they hung onto broke plunging the monkeys in the well. Chinese people use the phrase to describe wasted efforts in achieving something unachievable.

4. 沐猴而冠 (mù hóu ér guàn)
The phrase literally means that even though a monkey wears a crown, it still remains a monkey, and doesn’t become human. The phrase is used mockingly, to say that fancy clothes or titles do not hide or change a person’s nature.

The phrase dates back to around 206 BC. It was apparently used by an official in the court of Xiang Yu, who had taken over the Qin Dynasty’s capital Xian Yang in Shaanxi Province.

Following the seizure, Xiang Yu went on a rampage destroying large parts of Xian Yang and desiring to relocate his new empire’s capital to Peng City (彭城), which was his hometown. However, one of his officials, Han Sheng, disagreed with that decision.

Han Sheng believed that Xiang Yu would be more successful by retaining Xian Yang as the capital of his dominion.

In the argument that ensued, an angry Han Sheng ended up referring to Xiang Yu as 沐猴而冠(mù hóu ér guàn), implying that he would remain a savage despite wearing the crown.

Things, however, went from bad to worse as far as Han Sheng was concerned, as an infuriated Xiang Yu ended up punishing him to death by boiling him alive.

5. 尖嘴猴腮(jiān zuǐ hóu sāi)
The phrase describes someone whose mouth sticks out and has a chin like an ape. It is a derogatory term used to portray someone with an unpleasant appearance.