The Chinese way to describe a jealous lover: The vinegar jar (2 min read)

If you have watched some of the episodes after Bai Jinxi/Su Mian and Han Chen got together, you are likely to remember the few times when our Detective Han flew into a fit of jealousy especially when Jinxi gets a little too friendly with Dr Xu. As a result, Jinxi couldn’t help but tease him by calling Vinegar Pot/Jar Han.

In fact, if you have seen any chinese dramas where a character displays some jealousy over their lover, the other characters will start teasing them by saying that they could smell vinegar.

So why vinegar? Actually, this comes from a supposedly true story from Ancient China during the Tang Dynasty.

During the rule of the Emperor Taizhong, Li Shiming (the name of the emperor. Taizhong is a term designated to the 2nd Emperor of most chinese dynasties), one of his chancellors (a court minister who holds the most power and usually a favourite advisor to the Emperor) called Fang Xuanling had a wife who was famous for being extremely fierce and for getting jealous if her husband even looked at another woman. As a result, Fang Changing was famous for being scared of his wife.

One day, at a banquet, the Emperor gave two beautiful young maidens to him so that he could have two concubines. As Fang Changing was drunk by that time, he agreed. The next day, he regretted his decision, but his friends told him that his wife is likely to accept the situation as she would have to disobey the Emperor’s orders to send them away. Because at the time, disobeying the Emperor’s orders was a sign of rebellion and was punishable by death. Fang Xuanling then cautiously brought them home with him.

However just as he had feared, his wife not caring that they were gifts from the Emperor kicked them out of their home. When the Emperor Taizhong heard this, he was furious and wanting to test the determination of Fang Xuanling’s wife, ordered the couple to have an audience with him at the palace.

After they greeted the Emperor, Taizhong ordered the Palace Eunuchs to bring a jar of “poisonous wine” and the 2 beautiful maidens into the Hall. He then told Xuanling’s wife that she now had 2 choices. 1st she could take the 2 maidens home and accept them as her husband’s new concubines. The 2nd choice was to drink the “poisonous wine”. Xuanling’s wife knew that she was growing old and losing her beauty, fearing that her husband would eventually fall in love with the beautiful women if she agreed to bring them home, she didn’t hesitate to choose the wine and drank it there and then.

It shocked the Emperor but he knew that Fang Xuanling’s wife would never let her husband have any other women as long as she was alive. He then told her the truth and that the “poisonous wine” was not actually poisonous but harmless vinegar.

Later, it became a term to describe a jealous lover and is a term that has been used ever since.

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