I'm looking at a dictionary entry of the proverb "揚眉吐氣". They give this example sentence:


Honestly don't really understand what's being said, especially the "何惜階前盈尺之地" part or why they say "不使白" before 揚眉吐氣.

If anyone can help break the sentence down for me, that would be very helpful. From my understanding, the proverb literally refers to someone lifting their brows and exhaling, signifying that the person is expressing themselves in a more carefree and prideful manner. Don't really understand the rest of the sentence in the example given.


  • 1
    It's classical Chinese (与韩荆州书), Li Bai is asking for Han Jingzhou to recommend him to the imperial court. 白 here is Li Bai for short. It's roughly, "why value the space before your stairs so much (why do you not let me visit you), so that 白 (Li Bai) can 扬眉吐气 and 激昂青云?" Commented Jan 24 at 16:31
  • @user2249675 I think you can make an excellent answer by offering the basic explanations for 扬眉吐气 and 激昂青云.
    – r13
    Commented Jan 24 at 17:30
  • OK. I was busy at work this morning when I wrote the comment. Commented Jan 24 at 19:48
  • 1
    in colloquial English:" Be generous and give me the chance to face the imperial court, so that I, Li Bai, can show how ambitious and passionate I am
    – Tang Ho
    Commented Jan 25 at 2:42

2 Answers 2


To expand on the comment I hastily wrote this morning:

扬眉吐气 is literally "to raise the eyebrows (扬眉), and to have a sigh of relief (吐气)". 扬眉 is also sometimes explained as "to relax the furrowed eyebrows." Regardless, it describes the countenance one has when one is finally relieved of a depressing situation.

Li Bai considered himself a talented poet, but for much of his life he did not get a position in the imperial court. See this recent post which is also related to his frustration. You can imagine this was depressing for literati at that time. So Li Bai was saying he hoped to be recommended to the court, and get relieved from this depressing status.

激昂 means being excited and energetic. 青云 is clouds in the high sky, and is a metaphor for high status/position. 激昂青云 probably means 激昂于青云, to be energetic in a high status, which is the emotional state one has after being promoted to that position.

Overall this sentence says (as in my comment), "why value the space before your stairs so much (why do you not let me visit you), so that 白 (Li Bai himself) can be relieved from the current depressed situation (扬眉吐气) and get energetic in a high position (激昂青云)?"

The sentence comes from the essay 與韓荊州書, which is very famous and widely read. However, it seems that it did not impress 韩荆州 much, and Li Bai did not enter the court until ten years later.


For many famous old texts you can find Modern Chinese translations. The old stuff is way too cryptic for me to understand.


Old Chinese


Modern Chinese translation of the Old Chinese

As nowadays the whole world believes you decide the fate of literature and are the authority that weighs the the value of person's character,
(when) you have made your (positive?) judgement,
then one is recognised as a scholar of the arts,
why do you begrudge receiving me beneath your stairs,
and relieving me of my worries, (which would) excite (in me) great elation and high spirits?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.