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Chicken soup? 鸡汤

中国日报网 2023-12-19 13:55


Reader question:

Please explain “chicken soup”, as in this quote: “You may call it chicken soup, but what he says is exactly what I need right now.”

My comments:

Someone gives the speaker some encouraging advice, and the speaker feels much better afterwards.

Maybe the advice is nothing but the proverbial chicken soup, the speaker says, but it’s what he or she needs right now.

Fair enough.

So, what’s chicken soup?

Originally chicken soup is, well, chicken soup, a soup made from boiling chicken.

Historically, in many rural places in China, chicken soup is what someone sick gets instead of medicine – or in addition to medicine if they have it.

In the countryside, in fact, the practice is still prevalent. Chicken soup is nutritious. In addition, contained in a warm bowl of chicken soup is also the love and care for the patient. When one is sick, one feels down. So a warm, comforting and specially prepared bowl of chicken soup helps to lift one’s spirits.

This comforting and uplifting quality brings us to the figurative meaning of chicken soup – representing warmth, comfort and encouragement, etc.

Really, anyone can use a little of that, be they sick or healthy. So, chicken soup is, understandably, a cure-all.

Chick soup in the metaphorical sense, by the way, is short for chicken soup for the soul, which is popularized by a series of books in the 1990s with the same title, Chick Soup for the Soul.

It’s a fitting title as the warmth emanating from a bowl of chicken soup may nurture one’s soul as well, as one’s body and soul tend to work hand in hand, so to speak.

Together, in other words.

Hence the speaker in our example says: All he tells me may be nothing more than words of encouragement, but right now, those words are what I need.

In other words, the speaker needs a lift in spirit. He or she needs to look up. They need to be motivated enough to not give up but give it another go.

All right?

All right, here are media examples of “chicken soup”:

1. If you were around during the 90s or early 2000s you likely recall the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series. Whether you read the text yourself, or rolled past the tomes in a grocery store, the series is likely to have touched you somehow. Today, the franchise is huge; they’ve sold more than 500 million copies worldwide, are doing television, and even make dog food.

Chicken Soup for the Soul was founded in 1993, “with a simple idea: that people could help each other by sharing stories about their lives,” their website states. The founders, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor, were motivational speakers who discovered that their audiences connected deeply with the personal stories they told on stage. More than anything, Chicken Soup for the Soul seems to want to make you cry, cathartically.

Offering palliative aid to the ailing human condition is an ambitious undertaking – and one with an obvious religious connotation, given the titular “soul” of the series. According to Slate’s brief history of the series, one of the founders attributed the unforgettable title to a special dream: “the words Chicken Soup appeared to him in a dream, in which the hand of God scrawled them across a chalkboard.”

Though many of the numerous Chicken Soup collections seem to radiate wholesome values that could be perceived as Christian – especially in the United States – Amy Newmark, the current editor-in-chief and publisher of the series, vehemently denies any specific religious agenda. “We don’t know how we ever got the reputation for being a Christian publishing company, as we have never been that,” she said. In an email to Broadly, Newmark explained that the company finds the terms “Christian values” and “Christian ideals” to be offensive, “as they imply that people who follow other religions or are atheists somehow do not have the same values as someone who practices Christianity.”

As Cynthia Gorney put it in a 2006 New Yorker profile of the company, “The books are not overtly Christian, except for the ones that are.” (There are specific Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul books, as well as Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul and Chicken Soup for the Latter-Day Saint Soul, among others.) Still, something about the series feels vaguely biblical: a series of parables meant to advance a relentlessly positive worldview, one in which adversity is a test to surmount, and hope can be drawn from any circumstance like water squeezed from a stone.

- The Church of Crying: Why Americans Are Devoted to ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’, Vice.com, April 29, 2017.

2. I used to have a Sunday morning routine I enjoyed very much before 2020 hit the fan. It involved going for an 8-kilometer jog around the UP Oval in the morning, followed by a quick breakfast of boiled corn on the cob and a small cup of taho. Sometimes we’d pop into a coffee shop for some caffeine before heading home, but usually it’s just corn and taho. It was like the ultimate simple pleasure after an exhausting week of work.

I have a special place for taho in my heart. I don’t know how to explain it properly, but taho kind of represents a constant in my life. I feel like after all these years, the world and I have changed so much, but taho is still taho. And compared to most things in my life I have changed my mind and heart about, I still like taho the same way I did as a child.

What is taho? For international readers, taho is a Philippine sweet treat made up of fresh silken tofu and brown sugar syrup or arnibal. To complete it, small translucent sago pearls are added in. For Filipino-Chinese, we call this tauhue, and according to Wikipedia it’s what the Thais and Indonesians call a similar treat in their countries. I think this term originates from the Hokkien dialect, but I could be wrong.

Each person has their own idea of the perfect taho proportion, but I personally love my taho with lots of tofu and sago and less arnibal than usual. Under normal circumstances, taho peddlers are impossible to miss on the streets. They carry their fresh piping hot taho in these huge aluminum buckets that hang on two ends of a long carrying pole. Once the booming shouts of ‘Tahoooooooo!’ echo down the street, there would always be people of all ages coming out of their houses and offices (yes!) for a cup.


The fact that I can write this much about taho is proof that it’s one of my favorite things ever. In truth, taho to me is like the proverbial chicken soup. It makes my soul happy, especially when I enjoy it warm. Which is why it was only a matter of time before I thought about paying homage to it. And now here we are with this No-Bake Taho Cheesecake recipe.

- I’m completely in love with this No-Bake Taho Cheesecake, by Clarisse, TheTummyTrain.com, September 26, 2020.

3. My name is Li Xiaoyun, I am 35 years old this year, and I am a post-90s girl. I am a relatively introverted person and have never been in a relationship since I was a child. After graduating from university, I successfully found a job as an editor, and although the income was not high, I felt that I could get by.

I’ve always believed in chicken soup texts like “hard work will lead to success” and “as long as you are positive and optimistic, you can catch up with love”. Especially after the age of 30, I often see topics such as “30 years old has just begun” and “love has no age limit” in my circle of friends. I also always cheer myself up in my heart, believing that as long as I am positive, I will definitely find my own happiness.

However, the inspiration of these so-called “chicken soups” is actually misleading me. They instilled in me an unrealistic optimism and blind self-confidence, and the result only made me more miserable and disappointed in reality. I also gradually realized that life is not as simple as it says in chicken soup, and I need to look at my situation more rationally.

I had a bleak year when I was 35 years old.

- The personal lesson of the 35-year-old leftover girl: stop believing in poisonous chicken soup, you have no one to chase at all, LaiTimes.com, December 18, 2023.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣   编辑:丹妮)


What’s the deal? 这是怎么回事?


Split your sides? 笑破肚皮


Off message? 偏离政治立场


Popular imagination? 大众想象


Freewheeling spirit? 无拘无束

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