“Building raw pork” is one of those expressions that sounds nothing like what it actually means.
What cai3 saang1 zyu1 juk6 (砌生豬肉) actually means is to make accusations – usually ones that don’t have any merit. It rolls right off the tongue. To describe someone who has been accused of something without any proof, you would say that they had “had someone build their raw pork” (bei2 jan4 cai3 saang1 zyu1 juk6 俾人砌生豬肉).
We often hear this term referenced in Hong Kong pop culture, in everything from triad movies to TVB cop dramas to local press frequently. In fact, it is the Chinese name for the 1997 crime drama Chinese Midnight Express, which stars Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai as a journalist who ended up in prison after exposing a corrupt police force.
Not much is documented about where this turn of phrase came from, though it purportedly originated from the 19th century here in Hong Kong, according to an archived article from the Guangzhou Daily. An expression widely believed to have been popular within law enforcement, it is thought that it came from the English word “charge,” which, phonetically translated, is pronounced as caa1 ceoi4 (差廚) — which sounds a bit like saang1 zyu1 , “raw pork.” According to the article, this eventually evolved and became cai3 saang1 zyu1 juk6. Funnily enough, the “cai3” in this phrase also has another meaning: to attack someone physically.
Far from a defunct product of the Hong Kong’s colonial era, cai3 saang1 zyu1 juk6 is still very much used in everyday Cantonese vocabulary. One of its most frequent usages is when alleged suspects are detained, or charged, by law enforcement agencies without concrete proof – and in some cases, complete lack of evidence.
Perhaps because it’s so short, yet succinct, it is not unusual to find it used by the local media. Back in 2002, two police officers were convicted of perverting the course of justice after they were caught on video physically attacking a manager at a disco – the article refers to them as having “built raw pork” by accusing the manager of obstructing a police officer.
And in 2013, Oriental Daily reported that an innocent taxi driver was arrested after police officers allegedly mistook him for another driver who was accused of attacking a female passenger. The paper reported that the Department of Justice asked for the accused to give up his litigation fees in exchange for the prosecution dropping his case. The man’s reaction outside court? He said that he had had raw pork built.
In the same year, another Oriental Daily story reporting on a case where a 42-year-old off-duty police officer had accused an elderly woman of smashing his mobile phone featured cai3 saang1 zyu1 juk6 in its headline.
So what if people wanted to complain about being falsely blamed for something that you didn’t do, in – but you’re not exactly in trouble with the law? Of course, there’s always lou5 wat1 (老屈) which is much more common in everyday conversation. Literally “old accuse,” it means to be falsely accused of an act you didn’t commit.
Note: Cantonese romanisation in this article is based on the jyutping system, which uses numbers to correspond to the six main tones in Cantonese.