Blood is thicker than water: This well-worn chestnut is one of few idioms to take the exact same form in English and Chinese (血浓于水), though it is not clear if the phrases in the two languages are related.
Given the importance Chinese traditionally placed on family lineage, it is not surprising that many four-character idioms (chengyu) exist to describe one’s ties to blood relatives, or 亲戚 (qīn qi). Whether they reward you with “red envelopes” at Chinese New Year, or pepper you with intrusive questions, everyone has relatives, and can appreciate the following phrases:
骨肉至亲 Flesh and blood kin
骨肉, literally “bone and flesh,” is a metaphor for one’s blood relatives that appears in many family-related chengyu. This idiom describes one’s closest relatives, whether by lineage or emotional ties:
Gǔ ròu zhì qīn yīng tuán jié.
Blood relatives should be united.
六亲不认 Disowning one’s closest relatives
The term 六亲, literally means“six relations,” appears in many chengyu about family. In the ancient history text the Chronicle of Zuo(《左传》), 六亲 referred to six types of family relations that were considered to be the most important, namely father and son, brothers, father’s sisters, uncle and nephew, one’s wife’s father, and one’s son-in-law’s father.
Over time, 六亲 became a colloquialism simply meaning “close relatives,” and the idiom 六亲不认 refers to a heartless person who feels no kindness or gratitude toward anyone—not even their closest kin:
Qián kě yǐ ràng rén liù qīn bù rèn.
Money can cause a person to forget their closest relatives.
沾亲带故 Claims of kinship and friendship
故 is an archaic way of referring to one’s friends, and this chengyu describes an assortment of people who can claim relation or friendship with oneself:
Tīng shuō tā chū rén tóu dì, suǒ yǒu zhān qīn dài gù de rén dōu fēn fēn lái tǎo hǎo tā.
After he became a success, everyone who was remotely connected to him came to curry favors.
皇亲国戚 Relative of the emperor and kin of the nation; powerful people
Bringing honor to one’s relations is all well and good, but the truly illustrious families were those who governed a country: in the past, the emperor’s relatives often took high political office, and could even rule the country as regents. 皇亲国戚 is a metaphor for a person who is so powerful, they might as well be related to the emperor himself:
Tā de gǎi gé dé zuì le gōng sī lǐ suǒ yǒu de “huáng qīn guó qī.”
His reforms offended all the bigshots in the company.
情同骨肉 As dear as flesh and blood
Family can come in all shapes and sizes, and a friend can sometimes feel as close as a blood relative—hence this chengyu:
Wǒ men jǐ gè rén shì huàn nàn zhī jiāo, qíng tóng gǔ ròu.
We have gone through many hardships together, and are as close as family.