The Mandarin Lingo: 落汤鸡

The Mandarin Lingo: 落汤鸡

I don’t know where you live, but it’s monsoon season here in Singapore and it’s been raining cats and dogs for days now. With that comes a steady stream of flood memes and unfortunate stories of people getting stuck in the rain. The Mandarin phrase “落汤鸡” is the most appropriate for the season.

What a cute little birdy.


Literally translated, 落汤鸡 means “drop soup chicken,” or “a chicken who falls into soup”. It is often used to refer to people who have been drenched by the rain.


As funny as the GIFs are, it got me wondering why the Chinese would describe anyone caught in the rain, as chicken dropped into soup.

Here’s a speculative origin story:

There once lived a rich land-owning lord called 罗堂吉 (luō táng jí) — yes it does sound very similar to the phrase 落汤鸡 (luò tāng jī), but the similarity in the pronunciation isn’t the real origin. The landlord has a servant who was overworked and mistreated. One day, when the landlord was on the way out to collect rent from throughout his land, he called upon his servant to pack his luggage. Now, the landlord was no light traveller – the servant had to pack and later carry almost a hundred pounds of baggage.

To make matters worse, the landlord’s wife was just as unscrupulous. She gave the servant some very specific instructions that he had to obey, or face punishment upon his return.

She went on to say, “First, you must carry all these heavy bags for the master. He should never have to carry a single item! Second, no matter where you go, the master must always walk ahead of you. Don’t you dare to cut in front of him! Third, don’t even think about speaking up when you’re with the master. It doesn’t matter who stops to greet him, you keep your mouth shut. Take good care of him or you will receive a whipping when you come back.”

The disgruntled servant was boiling with rage, but chose to bite his tongue and keep silent. He accompanied his master on his trip and chose to be an obedient servant.

Within the first hour of their travel, it started pouring. The landlord called out to his servant saying, “Fetch me the umbrella before I’m drenched!”. The servant could only reply, “Oh that’s not possible. The mistress specifically instructed that you are not to hold anything. It is very unbecoming of you, she said.” No matter how hard the landlord pleaded for his servant to take out the umbrella, the servant simply would not budge, for fear of punishment from the mistress.

While frantically looking for shelter from the rain, the landlord and his servant ran into a ravenous stray dog. The dog charged towards the landlord, ready to sink his teeth into the landlord’s chubby thighs. He screamed for his servant to chase the dog away but the servant stood helplessly and replied, “…but the mistress told me that no matter who (or what) came towards to greet you, I can never butt in. I am to remain silent and inconspicuous to protect your reputation.”

After fending off the stray dog with his own bare hands, the poor landlord was in terrible shape and they then decide to return home. But when they were about to reach the landlord’s residence, they were met with a small flood. The rain had blocked off a street and the water levels rose to knee-deep. He told his servant, “go ahead of me and make sure that it’s safe to cross.” The servant sheepishly whimpered, “Master, you should go on ahead.” Exasperated, the landlord asked, “Did the mistress forbid this too??”. His fearful servant replied, “Yes master. I dare not go ahead of you.”

The landlord saw no other choice but to take off his shoes and head into the water himself. But 5 minutes in and he slipped and fell. The servant rescued him with a rope and pulled him back to ground. Shivering from the cold and feeling absolutely dejected, he sent his servant home via another route to fetch a canoe and more help while he found a place to sit down and wait.

As the servant trudged up to the landlord’s residence, his wife said, “Ah! Is the master back?”

“Yes he will be back very soon. The other servants are going to fetch him.” He answered.

The mistress pressed, “I trust you obeyed my instructions?”

“Every word of it, my lady!” The servant declared.

When the landlord finally arrived home, his wife hurried out to greet him, only to be completely shocked by how horrid he looked. She exclaimed, “You look like a live chicken that’s been dropped into hot soup (落汤鸡)! What happened?”

“Don’t you dare ask me what happened! It was all your fault!”

We hope this origin story gave you some laughs while you learn how to use the phrase落汤鸡.

It’s always raining somewhere in the world, so remember to bring your umbrella and avoid becoming a 落汤鸡!


If you want to read the story in Mandarin:

“怎么怪起我来了呢 ?”
罗堂吉的外号—“落汤鸡 ”就这样传开了。后来,“落汤鸡”变成了一句俗语。



电子邮件地址不会被公开。 必填项已用*标注