CHIN-CHIN . In the "pigeon English" of Chinese ports this signifies 'salutation, compliments,' or 'to salute,' and is much used by Englishmen as slang in such senses. It is a corruption of the Chinese phrase ts'ingts'ing, Pekingese ch'ing-ch'ing, a term of salutation answering to 'thank-you,' 'adieu.' In the same vulgar dialect chin-chin joss means religious worship of any kind (see JOSS). It is curious that the phrase occurs in a quaint story told to William of Rubruck by a Chinese priest whom he met at the Court of the Great Kaan (see below). And it is equally remarkable to find the same story related with singular closeness of correspondence out of "the Chinese books of Geography" by Francesco Carletti, 350 years later (in 1600). He calls the creatures Zinzin (Ragionamenti di F. C., pp. 138-9).
1253. — "One day there sate by me a certain priest of Cathay, dressed in a red cloth of exquisite colour, and when I asked him whence they got such a dye, he told me how in the eastern parts of Cathay there were lofty cliffs on which dwelt certain creatures in all things partaking of human form, except that their knees did not bend. . . . The huntsmen go thither, taking very strong beer with them, and make holes in the rocks which they fill with this beer. . . . Then they hide themselves and these creatures come out of their holes and taste the liquor, and call out 'Chin Chin.'" — Itinerarium, in Rec. de Voyages, &c., iv. 328.
1795. — "The two junior members of the Chinese deputation came at the appointed hour. . . . On entering the door of the marquee they both made an abrupt stop, and resisted all solicitation to advance to chairs that had been prepared for them, until I should first be seated; in this dilemma, Dr. Buchanan, who had visited China, advised me what was to be done; I immediately seized on the foremost, whilst the Doctor himself grappled with the second; thus we soon fixed them in their seats, both parties during the struggle, repeating Chin Chin, Chin Chin, the Chinese term of salutation." — Symes, Embassy to Ava, 295.
1829. — "One of the Chinese servants came to me and said, 'Mr. Talbot chinchin you come down.'" — The Fankwae at Canton, p. 20.
There are two points of misinformation in Hobson-Jobson's discussion of "chin-chin".
Firstly, although Hobson-Jobson is correct that "chin-chin" derives from the Chinese qing qing 請請 (ch'ing ch'ing or ts'ing ts'ing in old romanizations), the Chinese phrase certainly is not and never was "a term of salutation answering to 'thank-you,' 'adieu'". In Chinese qing 請 is a verb meaning to invite, and is the closest word there is in Chinese to "please" (so for example, qing jin 請進 "please come in", qing zuo 請坐 "please sit down"). The reduplicated form, qing qing 請請 ("please, please ...") is an elliptical construction that would typically be used by a host urging his guest to take a seat or to have a drink, and so English speakers, constantly assailed by a chorus of qing qing by overly polite Chinese, took the phrase to be a general salutation and toast when it never was in Chinese. However, even in pidgin English "chin-chin" seems to have retained the original Chinese meaning, as evidenced by the 1829 example cited by Hobson-Jobson, where "chinchin" is evidently equivalent to the English verb "to invite".
Secondly, Hobson-Jobson suggests that this phrase occurs in William of Rubruck's account of his travels to the Mongol court in the years 1253-1255 (written in Latin, and first English translation published by Richard Hakluyt (c.1552-1616) in his monumental The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation), when the word "chin-chin" used in the anecdote quoted by William of Rubruck is not actually derived from the Chinese qing qing 請請, but is simply an onomatopoeic name for these animals, corresponding to the Chinese word xing xing 猩猩 (a type of ape, but in modern Chinese the word for orang-utan). In fact, anyone with a basic knowledge of Chinese historical phonetics would have realised that "chin" in a 13th century source could not represent the pronunciation of the Chinese character qing 請, as it was pronounced ts'ing in the Northern Chinese dialect of the time (proto-Mandarin). On the other hand, "chin" with a soft "ch" (i.e. "shin") would be a fairly close representation of the pronunciation of the character xing 猩.
Here is the full story of the xingxing as told to William of Rubruck :
One day a priest from Cathay was seated with me, and he was dressed in a red stuff of the finest hue, and I asked whence came such a color; and he told me that in the countries east of Cathay there are high rocks, among which dwell creatures who have in all respects human forms, except that their knees do not bend, so that they get along by some kind of jumping motion; and they are not over a cubit in length, and all their little body is covered with hair, and they live in inaccessible caverns. And the hunters (of Cathay) go carrying with them mead, with which they can bring on great drunkenness, and they make cup-like holes in the rocks, and fill them with this mead. (For Cathay has no grape wine, though they have begun planting vines, but they make a drink of rice.) So the hunters hide themselves, and these animals come out of their caverns and taste this liquor, and cry "Chin, chin," so they have been given a name from this cry, and are called Chinchin. Then they come in great numbers, and drink this mead, and get drunk, and fall asleep. Then come the hunters, who bind the sleeper's feet and hands. After that they open a vein in their necks, and take out three or four drops of blood, and let them go free; and this blood, he told me was most precious for coloring purples.
Exactly what sort of animal the xingxing is nobody seems to know for sure, as the descriptions of it do not obviously correspond to any living creature, although as a keen amateur cryptozoologist I am inclined to suspect that it is an unknown species of great ape, perhaps a species of orang-utan that used to live in China but is now extinct. The earliest references to the beast, dating to the first millenium B.C.E, all stress its human-like qualities :
In that place there is an animal whose appearance is like a monkey but with white ears, and which walks with its back bent but runs like a human. It is called a xingxing.
Shanhai Jing [The Classic of the Mountains and Seas]
The xingxing can speak, but is not apart from the birds and the beasts.
Li Ji [The Book of Rites]
Now as to the xingxing, it's facial appearance is one of laughter. It also has two legs and is hairless. Nevertheless, a gentleman will slurp broth made from it, and eat great chunks of its meat.
Xunzi : "Against Physiognomy"
Here Xunzi is reflecting on the fact that a xingxing has human attributes, but people eat its meat because it is not human, despite external appearances. Later on the lip of the xingxing (星星脣) came to be considered to be one of the "eight rare delicasies" of Chinese cuisine, but it is not for its meat that it is most renowned, but for its blood. The blood of the xingxing is reputedly a very dark red, which was used for dying cloth. Apparently the blood could only be drawn from a live xingxing, and so hunters had to use devious means, that is to say alcohol and impractical footwear, to capture the animal alive. The earliest extant version of the story of how to capture a xingxing dates to the Tang dynasty (618-907) :
Xingxing like wine and clogs, and so when anyone wants to catch one of them they place these two things down in order to entice them. When the xingxing first see them they always shout back angrily "You're tricking us!", and run off far away. After a long time they come back and gradually persuade each other to take a drink. In a short while they are all drunk, and their feet all trip over the clogs. Thereupon the hunters catch them.
Li Zhao, Tang Guoshi Bu
The fullest version of this story occurs in a short story about a Chinese merchant who journeys to Vietnam in search of cloth dyed with xingxing blood (Zou Annan Yuma huan Xingrong 走安南玉馬換猩絨 "Journeying to Annam a Jade Horse is exchanged for Blood-dyed Cloth), which is preserved in Chapter 69 of the late Ming short story collection Jingu Qiguan 今古奇觀 [Strange Sights from Times Past and Present], as well as in the early Qing collection entitled "A Cup to Reflect the World" (Zhaoshi Bei 照世杯) :
You don't know what a xingxing looks like. Its face is the face of a human, but its body resembles that of a pig, although it also looks a bit like a gibbon. When one comes out it is always in the company of three or four others. In our country those who hunt xingxing are called bunuo. These hunters have a cunning method of capturing the xingxing. They know the paths taken by the xingxing, in the mouth of the valley of the 'black barbarians', and they leave fragrant rice wine all along the path, and on the side they lay out clogs with high platforms. When the xingxing first see the wine they are not willing to go and drink it, angrily shouting "You lot have set a trap to catch us, in order to kill us, but we just won't drink this wine — then we'll see what they can do to us!" Thereupon they lead each other away. After a while they come back and shout angrily some more, and after shouting a few times they can't resist walking up and down past the wine. The sweet fragrance of the wine wafts up into their nostrils, and saliva dribbles down from their mouths. One of them will turn to his companions and say "Let's just taste a little of the wine, but not get drunk", and then they will all come and try some of the wine. What they don't realise is that once the wine goes down to the stomach the throat starts to itch; it doesn't matter what their intentions are, the wine will flow freely down their throat, and they'll end up as drunk as drunk can be. When they see the high-platformed clogs, they each put them on their feet with great delight, whilst at the same time taunting the hunters, "You lot wanted to kill us by intoxicating us with your wine, but we thought about it and were not willing to drink so much that we became drunk — now we'll see what they can do to us!" When the group of hunters see that they are sozzled, and cannot walk steadily, they laugh aloud, saying "We've got you! We've got you!" Then they charge fiercely towards them, and as the xingxing are drunk and are wearing clogs they don't go more than a few steps before they all fall over, whereupon the hunters go over and tie them up.
However, they dare not take their blood of their own accord, but first report to the king that they have captured some xingxing, and only then do the hunters dare take the blood. But taking the blood of the xingxing is no easy matter; they have to kneel before the xingxing and plead with them thus.
"How could we humble hunters offend you? It is only because the king has ordered us to do so that we are unwillingly forced to borrow some of your precious red blood; please favour us with some. If you are unwilling to do so, not only will you be throwing your life away, but all the effort that we hunters have been through will have been in vain; it would be better to favour us with a few gourdfuls of blood. Later when the cloth has been dyed, it will help to spread your good name and reputation. We too will be eternally grateful for your great kindness. This way you would die famous."
Who would think it, but xingxing care greatly about their reputation, and so agree to let the hunters have a few gourdfuls of their blood. When it comes to taking their blood, they get precisely what they were promised, not a drop more and not a drop less. If they happen to encounter a miserly xingxing who will not spare even a single drop of blood, when the hunters try to bleed him, not a drop will they get. These xingxing are true to their word, and are the most trustworthy of animals.
Zhaoshi Bei (Shanghai Guji Chubanshe, 1985) pp.55-56.
So there you have it, if you do ever happen to come across a strange, human-like ape in the wild jungles of south-east Asia, all you need is a little wine and some high-heeled shoes.