The squeaky wheel gets oiled, the crying baby gets milk

Zhang Ciyun
Being too acquiescent can work against your best interests. Speak up and be heard!
Zhang Ciyun

The Chinese proverb huikude haizi younaichi translates as “the crying baby gets the milk.” It shares a similar meaning with the English saying: “The squeaky wheel gets oiled.”


huì kū de hái zi yǒu nǎi chī

This is true in most cases.

For instance, one can frequently hear young white-collar workers complain that colleagues who always air their gripes with bosses are more likely to have their grievances addressed than those who remain quiet and say nothing.

Some scientists and scholars attribute this to the cognitive psychology of human beings.

In his book entitled “Frontiers of Legal Theory,” American Judge Richard A. Posner says this may be caused by the “availability heuristic,” or the tendency for people to give undue weight in decision-making to the more easily remembered facts and images.

In China, the saying about the crying baby is now often used to persuade those who are acquiescent to speak out about their needs if they want to be noticed.

Another common Chinese phrase involving milk, which is usually regarded as a disparaging expression, says younai bianshiniang. Its direct translation is “whoever suckles one is one’s mother.” The saying is giving advice: follow the hand that feeds you, or place your loyalties where your interests lie.


yǒu nǎi biàn shì niáng

There are several analogous sayings in English, such as “licking the hand of anybody who throws you a few crumbs” and “he that serves God for money will serve the devil for better pay.”

Special Reports