"China has no intention to touch the cheese of any country"

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A tweet by Kelsey Munro:


Here's the article in which the Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs is quoted as making this profound declaration: "China says no country should try to obstruct its Pacific 'friendship'", by Kirsty Needham, The Sydney Morning Herald (11'14'18):

"No country should try to obstruct the friendship and cooperation… China has no intention to touch the cheese of any country, instead China is committed to make the pie of cooperation larger," said Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs Zheng Zeguang, when asked about the expansion of Australian aid in the Pacific.

Is this what he's referring to?

"Diary Of A Wimpy Kid Clip 'Cheese Touch'"

Or is it this immortal idiomatic expression?

chī dòufu 吃豆腐 (lit., "eat tofu", but use idiomatically to mean "take advantage of someone else; grope / take liberties with a woman")


"Vanity plates, writing systems, and the sexualization of tofu" (9/23/11)

[h.t. Geoff Wade]


  1. Jonathan Smith said,

    November 13, 2018 @ 10:54 pm

    Apparently this is now a Chinese saying and originates with the business/motivational book Who Moved My Cheese?, which became quite popular in China (titled 谁动了我的奶酪?; organized around a cheese-seeking fable of some sort.) So e.g. "不要动某人的奶酪" means "不要损害别人的利益,不要占别人的便宜、好处等" according to the interwebs.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    November 13, 2018 @ 10:54 pm

    From Bill Triplett:

    Tell that to the Tibetans.

  3. Mary Markley said,

    November 14, 2018 @ 12:13 am

    China's commitment to "make the pie of cooperation larger" reminds me of George W. Bush's 2000 declaration that "we ought to make the pie higher."

  4. Karl said,

    November 14, 2018 @ 2:54 am

    Yes, the reference must be to Who Moved my Cheese? But the Vice Minister's usage is not consistent with the central message of this seminal work: your cheese will be moved (i.e., changes occur in your environment) and rather than fret about that, adapt to the change. The Vice Minister is arguing for maintaining the status quo.

    It's one thing to react to the movement of cheese, and another to call for it to be moved, which is probably up to the Chairman, who has been credited with saying, "We've been trying to move the Americans' cheese and not tell them about it. But now they've caught on and we're going to have to deal with it." ;)


  5. Fionnbharr Ó Duinnín said,

    November 14, 2018 @ 3:47 am

    Brings to mind that appalling best seller from 1998 "Who Moved My Cheese?"


  6. Ross Collins said,

    November 14, 2018 @ 6:08 am

    Even if only because of the timing, I assumed this was a direct reference to China's "threat" to the UK's halloumi supply!


  7. Victor Mair said,

    November 14, 2018 @ 8:14 am

    @Fionnbharr Ó Duinnín:

    Unreal! — that a book of that nature did so well (I vaguely remember it from back in the day, and thought that it was ludicrous).

  8. Matt said,

    November 14, 2018 @ 9:29 am

    I was told that 吃豆腐 is also slang for oral sex performed on a woman. Are the kids still using that phrase?

  9. Matt said,

    November 14, 2018 @ 9:31 am

    Oops, never mind I see you cover that in the link!

  10. Yuval said,

    November 14, 2018 @ 9:57 am

    I second, or third or fourth, the book hypothesis. This same idiom is quite common in journalistic Hebrew (stuff like "The candidate wants to shake things up, and union leaders are afraid their cheese will get moved").

  11. Ben Zimmer said,

    November 14, 2018 @ 11:39 am

    The cheese-moving idiom has persisted in English too. On the American Dialect Society mailing list a few weeks ago, Jonathan Lighter noted this quote from Victor Blackwell on CNN: "The President was talking about an actual wall, so to move the cheese now seems a bit nefarious." (In that example, "move the cheese" seems to be getting conflated with "move the goalposts.")

  12. chris said,

    November 14, 2018 @ 6:43 pm

    your cheese will be moved (i.e., changes occur in your environment) and rather than fret about that, adapt to the change.
    Yes, but a central criticism of this idea going back to when the book was still current was that this is ignoring the distinction between *natural* cheese moves, and *intentional* cheese moving by other parties, possibly with hostile intent. Treating a hostile actor like they're part of the environment only increases your vulnerability to them.

    That's why the Chinese are trying to disclaim being the prime cheese-movers.

  13. Nancy Friedman said,

    November 15, 2018 @ 4:33 pm

    Speaking of China and cheese, the holiday drink in Chinese Starbucks is Snowy Cheese Flavored Latte.

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