If you’ve spent significant time in China, you likely know about the homesickness that creeps in once the euphoria of being in the Middle Kingdom wears off. At those times, you can say 我想念家乡 (wǒ xiǎngniàn jiāxiāng – “I miss my hometown”). You can also be even cooler than that and blow your friends’ socks off with 落叶归根 (luòyèguīgēn).
落叶归根 (luòyèguīgēn) basically means returning to your hometown, and literally describes a withering leaf that falls at the roots of its own tree. It’s a literary metaphor that sounds slightly dramatic. It’s generally used for cases of people who’ve spent significant time away and are finally returning home.
A breakdown of the characters in 落叶归根 (luòyèguīgēn):
落 (luò): to fall (eg. 坠落 – zhuìluò – to fall, and often used for vehicles like planes and cars)
叶(yè): leaf (eg. 叶子 – yèzi)
归 (guī):to return (eg. 回归 – huí guī)
根 (gēn): root (eg. 根据 – gēnjù – basis or foundation for an argument or claim)
Observing 落叶归根 in the wild reveals 2 main usages.
Usage 1) As a verb
“pànwàng tā nénggòu huídào jiāxiāng, luòyèguīgēn ”
“I hope he can go back and settle back in his hometown“
“qùnián 6 yuè huíguó hòu bùxiǎng zài chūqù, xīwàng luòyèguīgēn ”
“When I came back to China last year July, I didn’t feel like leaving again – I wanted to go back to my hometown“
“nǐ gēge de shēntǐ yìtiān bùrú yìtiān, zuìhòu zhīdào kuàiyào bùxíng le, ràng tā luòyèguīgēn ”
“Your brother’s health is worsening day by day, we finally know that he won’t make it – let’s let him return to his hometown“
Usage 2) 落叶归根 + 的 + 名词
“měigè chóngqìng rén… dōu yǒu yígè luòyèguīgēn de mèng ”
“Every Chongqing person has the dream of returning to their hometown“
“kuòbié duōnián huídào běijīng, yǒuméiyǒu luòyèguīgēn de gǎnjué ？”
“After leaving Beijing for so many years, do you have the feeling that you’ve returned back to your hometown?”
“jìnniánlái wǒ fēicháng xiǎngniàn jiāxiāng, dàgài shì dào le luòyèguīgēn de shíhou le ”
“These past few years I’ve missed my hometown very much – it’s probably time to return back to my hometown“
“dào le tuìxiū niánlíng de lóngyùnchāng yǒu le luòyèguīgēn de dǎsuàn ”
“Having reached retirement age, Long Yun Chang planned to return to his hometown“
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