They don’t cry until they see the coffin — phrase of the week

Business & Technology

After yet another overworked employee died at a Chinese tech firm, many on social media asked, why is no one accepting responsibility even amid tragedy? Here’s the specific Chinese phrase that was used.

man with tears against purple background with pink chinese characters
Illustration for The China Project by Derek Zheng

Our phrase of the week is: They don’t cry until they see the coffin (不见棺材不落泪 bùjiàn guāncai bù luò lèi).


A 25-year-old content auditor at the video platform Bilibili reportedly died in a hospital of a brain hemorrhage recently. Following a widespread outcry on social media, Bilibili released an internal memo rejecting claims that the employee was overworked. According to Bilibili, he had not worked any overtime in the past week.

One of the top comments in reaction to the memo on social media was:

They can actually say this? Do they really have to see blood before their tears fall?


zhè yě shuō de chū kǒu a ! zhēn shì bújiàn xuè bù diào lèi a

Translation and background

The meaning in this context is: “Does someone really have to die before Bilibili can accept it is wrong?” The phrase evokes the common Chinese colloquialism:

They don’t cry until they see the coffin


bùjiàn guāncai bù luò lèi

“They don’t cry until they see the coffin” describes someone who is so stubborn that they cannot accept they are wrong until they have absolutely failed, or it’s too late.

The Ming-dynasty novel The Plum in the Golden Vase (金瓶梅 jīn píng méi) is where this phrase first appeared. First printed in 1610, it is considered one of the “six classics” of Chinese literature.

Nowadays, “won’t cry until they see the coffin” is a common criticism leveled at celebrities, companies, or government officials who are so stubborn that they won’t accept responsibility — sometimes not even when something has gone tragically wrong, as in the case of Bilibili.

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Previous Phrase of the Week columns

Andrew Methven