In Liang Qichao‘s 新民說 there is the chapter 公德,wherein he cauterizes the ostensible tendency of the Chinese to disregard collective virtue (公德) and only cultivate personal virtue (私德).


Rough meaning:

Those who only mind themselves, pondering how to be a good person emphasize that, whilst they have brought no merit to the collective, they also haven’t contributed to its detriment. What kind of talk is this? Because, that the collective can bring advantage to me, but I cannot bring gains to it, amounts to 我白沾集体的光,丝毫没对集体予以回报。

2 Answers 2


沾便宜 is a variant of 佔便宜, in this case, »take unfair advantage of someone«. In that sense, 沾光 means »to bask in the light of someone«. I'd read 白 as »free« or »for nothing« here. So the part of the sentence reads:

而我却不能给集体带来利益,这就等于是我白沾集体的光,丝毫没对集体予以回报。 So, if I can't give any advantage to the community, it means that I take its advantages for free, without giving anything back.

  • You are right. So the key is 沾光. This is is in HDC as 憑藉別人或某種事物而得到好處。Once that is clear, 白 is clear too.
    – Ludi
    Commented Apr 12, 2019 at 7:36

one possibility: "be gratuitously rewarded" (gratuitously benefit from) see bkrs:

副 (无代价; 无报偿) free of charge; gratis: 白吃 eat without pay 白给 give away free of charge; give for nothing 白看戏 see a free play

II(8) 受赏 [be rewarded]。 如: 沾赉(受赏赐; 赏赐); 沾赏(受赏赐); 沾丐(给人以利益); 沾锡(赏赐) cf。II(1) 假借为"霑"。 浸润; 浸湿 [moisten; soak] 沾, 一曰益也。 --《说文》

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