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Chinese ti2-feng4. Literally "to inscribe phoenix". Now used to mean "to pay a visit", especially when the host is not at home.

This is a typical Chinese literary allusion. It refers to story of two Jin dynasty poets, Lü An and Ji Kang, who were close friends and at times couldn't bear to be apart. Lü An once visited Ji Kang when Ji Kang was out. His brother Ji Xi came out to welcome Lü, but Lü came no further than the doorway. He took out his brush-pen, wrote "phoenix" on the door, and left without a word. Ji Xi had no idea what that was supposed to mean and stood there stultified. When Ji Kang returned, he took one glance at the character "phoenix" and read it in its two component parts: fan2-niao3 "an ordinary bird" and paid no more attention.

Get it? Lü An refers to himself in a humble but cryptic way that seems exalted. His close friend and fellow poet sees through his code immediately, but his friend's brother is totally baffled.

Chinese literary allusions of this kind abound. In poetry one also sees the term "to inscribe 'ordinary bird' " used in the same sense "to pay a visit when the host is not home". This expression has come to mean the visit of a valued guest, although it is now used most often in the negative - you say "O, I was in the neighborhood but didn't dare to inscribe 'phoenix'." Your friend chuckles and pours you a tall glass of something strong.


Other Chinese literary allusions

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