哀鸿遍野 (āihóng-biànyě) is the very first idiom in Pan Weigui’s dictionary, and it’s immediately off to a somewhat down tone.
哀鸿, the first two signs, literally means ”wild geese crying sadly”, a sound traditionally likened to that of sorrowfully yelling refugees. The second half, 遍野, means ”all over the field”. The phrase as a whole quite clearly means ”wild geese crying sadly allover the field”, or, with some metaphors added, ”a land swarming with famished refugees”.
The idiom is most commonly used in written language such as in novels depicting scenes of war or disaster, and it truly sounds beautiful and tragic both in its meaning, and in the original tongue.
This is part two of my series on Chinese idioms, read more here or check out all previous idioms here.
If you enjoy the idioms and want to read more, please go buy Pan Weigui’s book, it’s fairly cheap and definitely worth it.