Does something shock you? Are you absolutely appalled? Quick, just say this phrase.
Today we'll learn the phrase "hai ren ting wen" which literally means “appalling.” It is often used to describe an unusually shocking situation which leaves most people speechless. Now you know what to say. Here is the story behind it.
Over one thousand years ago in the Sui Dynasty of ancient China, there lived a person named Wang Shao. Wang Shao gained his reputation as a learned scholar at a young age when people first remarked his infallible memory for ancient scripts. His extensive knowledge was soon brought to the attention of the Emperor, who immediately granted him an official position in the palace.
However time soon revealed Wang Shao's true talent to be flattery. Thanks to his official position he knew the Emperor well, and he knew exactly what he liked to hear. Once the Emperor dreamed that he was climbing a very high mountain, struggling desperately to reach the summit, until finally one of his attendants lifted him to the peak. Wang Shao told the Emperor it was a lucky dream: the mountain symbolized the ruler's solid and majestic crown, while it was no coincidence that his attendant was named after the legendary figure of longevity. So the Emperor was sure to enjoy a solid rule for the rest of his long life. And of course the Emperor was quite pleased with this interpretation.
Wang Shao later abused the Emperor's faith in mysticism and superstition. Once he told the emperor that a supernatural tortoise had appeared, and carved into its shell were four Chinese characters promising everlasting prosperity to the Sui Dynasty. When the Queen died, he told the Emperor that she was the reincarnation of a Buddhist idol who must resume her divine role in the heavens.
After hearing of Wang Shao's immoral flattery, the people were appalled.
From their speechless disgust comes the idiom hai ren ting wen which is now often used to express a situation that is simply too shocking for words.