What does 含饴弄孙 mean?

What's its origin, what sort of contexts is it usually used in and also how popular an idiom is it?

It does not seem to appear in any regular Chinese-English dictionary I've found, and the Chinese idiom guides seem pretty cryptic about this (to me anyway).

  • 3
    KEY: "play with grandchildren while holding candy in one's mouth"—spend one's remaining years happily in the company of grandchildren, enjoy a happy and leisurely old age, lead a carefree life in one's old age 语见 《东观汉记·明德马皇后传》:“吾但当含饴弄孙,不能复知政事。" As early as Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 CE)
    – Mou某
    Jul 6, 2015 at 8:22

1 Answer 1


It is a popular idiom that describes the leisure life of elderly people.

: keep something in mouth
: syrup / candy / suger
: play with
: grandson

So this idiom means to play with grandchildren with candy in mouth.

You can also check its Chinese explanations at 含饴弄孙:

hán yí nòng sūn



The links in my answer point to an online Chinese English dictionary, which has usage examples that extracted from China Central Television (CCTV) news. You can see the most fresh examples of the words you are looking for.

  • It's the "candy in mouth" that puzzles me. Are they consuming it freely (i.e. just enjoying material pleasures) or abstaining from consuming it and just keeping it in their mouth (so holding back and saving for the younger generation)? My understanding of the typical behaviour of Chinese elders is that they can often save and scrimp so that the younger generations can enjoy, so I thought it might be the latter interpretation. Which is it?
    – Alveoli
    Jul 8, 2015 at 8:35
  • Your thinking is reasonable, but I think the case here is not so complicated. In the original story, when the Emperor Zhang (57-88 AD)was young, his mother Empress Dowager Ma was in charge of the country. Then when Emperor Zhang grew up, Empress Dowager Ma said to him that she will not keep the power any longer. The expression "have candy in mouth" was a metaphor of enjoying life which indicated that she was not too ambitious. And in modern Chinese, we will use expressions like "享受含飴弄孫的生活", the key point is "enjoying". :) Jul 8, 2015 at 14:28

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