There is a popular saying: Money can make a ghost go away. But what if one is penniless? Here is the idiom to describe this sad situation.
Today we'll familiarize you with the phrase “bu ming yi qian”, which means penniless. In this idiom, the character “ming” means to have or possess. It is often used to refer to a person who is extremely poor or flat broke. Here is the story behind it.
During the Han Dynasty in ancient China, there lived a very good rower named Deng Tong. He was so good at it that he was selected to row a boat for Emperor Wendi of the time. One night, the emperor dreamed a dream in which he tried to go up to Heaven, but simply couldn't. At this moment, he felt some one give him a push, and up to Heaven he went. When he turned around, he saw that the person who had given him a hand had a yellow cap on his head and strip knots behind.
The next day, when he went to take a boat, he found that Deng Tong was the person he saw in his dream. He thought to himself: “Since Deng Tong could push me up to Heaven, he must be a very capable person. He offered him an official post in the palace and gave him a lot of money. Although honest and prudent, Deng Tong turned out to be good at nothing except rowing. One day, a fortune-teller came to the palace, and the emperor asked him to tell Deng Tong's fortune. After careful study of Deng Tong, the fortune-teller told the emperor that Deng Tong would die in poverty.
Emperor Wendi was very worried. He knew that he was the only person who could make Deng Tong rich. So he gave Deng Tong a copper mine and endowed him the right to mint money. Hence Deng Tong became very rich, and the coins made in his name were very popular. Naturally, Deng Tong was very grateful.
Later, Emperor Wendi had a very bad sore on his back, and the pus kept oozing out. When Deng Tong learned of this, he went to the palace every day to look after the emperor. He was so devoted, he even sucked the wound for the emperor. One day, the emperor asked Deng Tong who loved the emperor most. Deng Tong obediently said that it was the prince. Hearing this, the emperor wanted proof. When the prince came to see him, the emperor told him to suck the pus out for him. Seeing the running wound, the prince felt sick, but had to obey his father, and did it very reluctantly. Later, when he learned that Deng Tong often sucked the wound for his father, he felt very embarrassed, and also envied and hated him for it.
After Emperor Wendi died, the prince was crowned emperor. Soon after he came into power, he removed Deng Tong from his official post and later he made an excuse and confiscated all his property and money. Deng Tong was penniless, and he also had heavy debts. When the late emperor's sister learned this, she sent some money to Deng Tong, because she knew her brother once vowed never to let him go hungry. But her money didn't reach Deng Tong, for it was used to pay his debts. So she had to send food and clothes to Deng Tong instead. In this way, Deng Tong never again had a penny of his own. From Deng Tong's sad fate came the phrase “bu ming yi qian”. Now it is often used to describe a person in dire poverty.