Women hold up half the sky.

This is an old Chinese saying. I wonder what hold up mean here. hold up is a phrasal verb, meaning *to remain strong or successful. Nevertheless, in the example, this sense does not seem to work. Perhaps we do not have a phrasal verb here. What does the sentence mean exactly?


In Macmillan Dictionary, there are five senses for hold up:

hold something high
prevent someone/something from falling
cause a delay
steal by threat of violence
stay in good condition

I think in this context the sense prevent someone/something from falling works flawlessly.

  • You should ask it in the Chinese section.
    – Zhang
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 8:48

1 Answer 1


I think that in this sentence hold up means the same as support, carry or shoulder the weight. The sky is above us and it takes, metaphorically, a lot of work to keep it up there.

In other words, your interpretation prevent something from falling is a good match.

Compare with Atlas from Greek mythology, condemned to hold up all of the heavens by himself.

Mao used this saying in one of his speeches, commending women for their role in building/running the society. Anyway, the meaning is just that. Women amount to half the population and hence half the workforce. People entertaining traditional gender roles may occasionally forget this, and this saying is an eloquent reminder.

  • 1
    What an excellent answer. Additional, there is a Chinese idiom 顶天立地 (stand on the earth and hold up the sky). and there is an old saying in the traditional Chinese culture: 男儿应该顶天立地. Man should stand on the earth and hold up the sky.
    – Zhang
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 8:58
  • From Wikipedia: "In Greek mythology, Atlas (/ˈætləs/; Greek: Ἄτλας, Átlas) was a Titan condemned to hold up the celestial heavens for eternity after the Titanomachy."
    – Juya
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 9:02
  • What do you mean by entertain in "People entertaining traditional gender roles may occasionally forget this, and this saying is an eloquent reminder."?
    – Juya
    Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 9:32
  • 2
    @Juya Meaning 3A here. Somewhat archaic. I think it is correct. You may want to wait for an educated native speaker of English for a confirmation :-) Commented Dec 20, 2018 at 9:36
  • 1
    Even people supporting traditional gender roles can understand "women hold up half the sky". (It's the basis for Community Property laws in US States with French and Spanish heritage: during divorce, the woman gets half the property -- and debt -- accumulated during the marriage, even though she "just" stayed home running the house and raising the children. The theory is that her staying home running the house allows the man to focus all his efforts on generating income outside the home. Thus, they are a yin/yang, even though that phrase didn't exist in those areas at the time.)
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 5, 2022 at 11:39

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .