Autumn sorrow

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Barbara Phillips Long sent in these remarks from the comments section in a post at Lawyers, Guns, and Money about the feminist revolutionary Qiū Jǐn 秋瑾, executed by the Qing dynasty imperial authorities in 1907 (the post is headed by a striking statue of Qiu Jin):

I like the statue a lot too, so I did a deeper dive into Qiu Jin's Wikipedia page. This is her death poem, using her name (Qiu = autumn), before being publicly beheaded in her village: "秋風秋雨愁煞人" ("Autumn wind, autumn rain — they make one die of sorrow") brb off to make this my email signature.

Edit: I looked up 愁煞 chou2sha1 because the syntax in Chinese is very different from the English translation. I'm definitely not fluent, let alone understand classical Chinese poetry, so would be happy to hear from anyone who actually knows something about this stuff. 愁 by itself is "to worry" (but a more intense version of worry, I assume, since 擔心 dan1xin1 is the usual term people use). 煞 is a variation of 殺 (to kill, terminate, cut short, put a stop to, etc.)

So actually, I'd say it's much more violent in the original. Hard to translate without ambiguity in English ("Autumn wind and autumn rain kill us with sorrow"???), so I can see why the translation ended up the way it did.

A couple of things that are missing both in the original comment and in the edit:

1. Qiū 秋 is the heroine's surname, not just her name.

2. The original comment and the edit both render chóu 愁 ("worry; be anxious; sadness") as "sorrow".  Fair enough, I suppose, but it's definitely worth pointing out that this chóu 愁 ("worry; be anxious; sadness") is cognate with qiū 秋 ("autumn").

qiū 秋

(BaxterSagart): /*tsʰiw/
(Zhengzhang): /*sʰɯw/


chóu 愁

(BaxterSagart): /*[dz]riw/
(Zhengzhang): /*zrɯw/


(source; source)

It is no wonder that autumn is a time of such immense sadness for Chinese.

Incidentally, Qiu Jin (1875-1907) was from the same town, Shaoxing, as the celebrated author, Lu Xun (1881-1936):

Perhaps her most notable critic was Lu Xun, one of China’s greatest 20th-century writers, who believed Qiu’s reckless behavior in Shaoxing was linked to the enormous adulation she received during her time in Japan. She was “clapped to death,” he told a friend.

"Qiu Jin, Beheaded by Imperial Forces, Was ‘China’s Joan of Arc’", Amy Qin, NYT (3/8/18)

The NYT article concludes with yet another translation of her death poem:  “Autumn wind, autumn rain, fill one’s heart with melancholy.”


[Thanks to Barbara Phillips Long]


  1. Philip Taylor said,

    December 6, 2020 @ 11:46 am

    Just an aside, really but what does "brb" mean in "brb off to make this my email signature" ?

  2. Terpomo said,

    December 6, 2020 @ 11:58 am

    Philip, you could have easily Googled this, but BRB is an abbreviation for 'be right back'.

  3. Haun Saussy said,

    December 6, 2020 @ 4:24 pm

    Since the poem is in classical language, the last three characters are to be taken as 愁 ADJ followed by 煞人 ADVERB PHRASE. "Sorrow / fit to kill people"– or more prosaically, "so sad it makes you want to die." 煞 has the connotation of "instantaneous" so a sudden demise rather than a slow withering away is suggested. Which, in light of her beheading, has a grisly postmortem poetic quality.

    Qiu Jin is an ambiguous case, one of many anti-Manchu activists who were later appropriated as martyrs for popular rule (as this was variously understood by different generations of the KMT and CCP). Many of her statements are more accurately tagged as pro-Han racism. Her Japanese interlocutors may have seen Qiu's eloquence as instrumental in the weakening of Qing rule, from which Japan stood to profit. So her anti-imperialism isn't to be taken at face value (or circulation value either). Nonetheless, she's a dramatic and powerful voice and as brave a woman as ever walked.

  4. Calvin said,

    December 6, 2020 @ 5:34 pm

    煞人 is also a common emphatic expression in Chinese. For example, 羡煞人, 氣煞人. You won't translate them as "make one die of envy/anger".

    FWIW, Google Translate gives these:
    愁煞人 – sorrowful
    羡煞人 – envy
    氣煞人 – angry

    "秋風秋雨愁煞人" was actually from a poem by Qing poet 陶宗亮 ( The full poem is:


    So it seems NYT's translation is spot-on: "Autumn wind, autumn rain, fill one’s heart with melancholy."

  5. Bathrobe said,

    December 6, 2020 @ 6:55 pm

    煞人 is also a common emphatic expression in Chinese. For example, … 氣煞人.

    Is this any different from colloquial 气死人了 or 气死我了? Which just mean 'angry as hell' or 'very angry', not 'die of anger'.

    饿死了 could, however, be translated as 'dying of hunger (starving)', the colloquial way of saying 'very hungry'.

  6. Chris Button said,

    December 6, 2020 @ 7:50 pm

    The original comment and the edit both render chóu 愁 ("worry; be anxious; sadness") as "sorrow". Fair enough, I suppose, but it's definitely worth pointing out that this chóu 愁 ("worry; be anxious; sadness") is cognate with qiū 秋 ("autumn")

    By "cognate", do you mean that this goes beyond a clever usage in poetry to reflect an actual etymological relationship between 秋 and 愁? The idea of "autumnal melancholy" seems to be something Shirakawa Shizuka suggests in his dictionary of Joyo characters. Is there any comparative etymological justification to support this idea elsewhere in the world's languages?

  7. Victor Mair said,

    December 6, 2020 @ 8:18 pm

    My wife always cautioned me not to use expressions like "lěng sǐle 冷死了" (lit., "so cold I could die"), "è sǐle 餓死了" (lit., "so hungry I could die") because they made me sound feminine.

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