横行霸道 (hénɡ xínɡ bà dào)
English translation here.
I love this Chinese idiom. Since Primary school when our Chinese 2nd language teacher taught us this Chinese four character idiom, I’ve been fascinated by it. I’ll try to explain on this entry its beauty and uniqueness with my limited Chinese.
横行 (hénɡ xínɡ) means to walk, move or travel sideway or horizontally instead of walking straight which we normally do.
霸道 (bà dào) – ‘Bà’ connotes tyrannical, unreasonable or despotic and ‘Dào’ refers to ‘Way’ as in Tao (Taoism). But Chinese language is so perplexing. Sometimes with EXACT pronunciation but it is written in a completely different manner giving rise to a completely different meaning. So ‘Bà’ can also mean the number eight. The character ‘Dào’ can also mean speech or saying as in 胡说八道 Hu Shu Bà Dào (talking nonsense or rubbish) English translation here.
Thus the entire idiom 横行霸道 (hénɡ xínɡ bà dào) collectively should be interpreted as being unreasonable tyrannical behavior. It usually refers to gangsters or mafia operating in an area. They are powerful and do what they like taking the law into their own hands. If I accuse you of 横行霸道 (hénɡ xínɡ bà dào), I’m referring to your unreasonable behavior. Apparently, that is the basic meaning.
If you look at the earlier explanation of each individual character the ‘横’ (hénɡ) is horizontal or sideway. ‘行’ (xínɡ) is to walk or move as explained earlier.
The only living thing that walks sideway or horizontally is the crab. Yes, only the crab walks in that manner. It will never never walk in a straight manner. Their innate nature is to move sideway on its eight legs.
In other words, the Chinese are of the opinion that the crab is unique and special. It personifies perfectly that Chinese idiom. The third character ‘霸’ (bà) has the exact pronounciation as the numerical number eight. It fits nicely with the crab having four legs on each side – total eight legs!
So it vividly illustrates a mighty little tyrannical crab having four legs on each side of its body with a pair of powerful menacing pincers walking horizontally terrorizing all the others on its territory!
Wow! The Chinese mafia and gangsters love those ink paintings of crabs especially those drawn with eight pieces of crawling crabs! Incidentally number eight in Cantonese pronounciation sounds like “Fatt” which is similar to “Fortune”. Oh! How the Hong Kong underworld mafia love that crab with fortune to boot!
Since ancient time, there has been many ink crab paintings. Some of those paintings can be found in Chinese homes. There are two samples uploaded here.
When you go to a Chinese home and come across ink crab painting hanging on the wall, chances are that either the owner is a gangster or a police officer. Both are actually the same – the Yin and Yang of the real world. Depends on which side you earn a living, it’s about taking the laws – legally or otherwise into your hands!
Recently, I saw my non Chinese colleagues eating some flower crabs (Ketam) during their meal break. I then expounded on this crab story. I could see their amazement on their faces and marvel at my rendition whilst enjoying their delicious chilli pedas ketam and I had missed mine when the one hour meal break was up. I didn’t buy my makan whilst taking pains to explain the crab legend! Really langgar!