What Chinese words are particularly difficult to translate into English?

I like to read 武侠小说, a category of Chinese novels that does not have an equivalent counterpart in the West. The closest I can think of are action novels like The Three Musketeers or the Count of Monte Cristo. The character, 武, means martial arts; and the character, 侠, means chivalry. A large part of these novels are violent interactions between people in Jianghu.

Jianghu, or 江湖 literally means “river-lake”. The meaning of 江湖 has changed over the time. Place it in the ancient times, 江湖 is usually used to denote a sub-society that is sandwiched between the government and normal civilian life. To most readers, 江湖 is seen as the fascinating world composed of swordsmen, bandits, kungfu masters, monks, and other people bearing martial arts.

Another class of modern Chinese would be regional dialect slangs, but for the sake of conciseness I will leave it to the readers to explore by themselves. DMing me about Cantonese phrases and idioms would be welcome.

  1. 欲擒故縱, to capture something give it the illusion of freedom. Can also mean playing hard to get in dating.
  2. 祖國, patriotic but gender neutral term “motherland”/ “fatherland”
  3. 飯桶, rice barrel, slang for someone useless
  4. 哭笑不得, the awkward moment when you cant decide whether to laugh or cry

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