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May 5, 2012

4

三人成虎 – Sān Rén Chéng Hǔ

by gordonmichaelsutton

Off to the Confucius Centre at Liverpool University shortly to continue trying to learn Mandarin Chinese – or Pǔtōnghuà as it’s known in China. Thought an image from Chinatown might set the scene.

As a homework, we were asked to find a 4 word idiom in Chinese – that has it’s roots in Ancient China. This is the one I found.

三人成虎 – Sān Rén Chéng Hǔ

Translated it means If three people know something, it becomes a tiger.

Here’s the origins of the idiom;

During the Warring States Period (戰國時代 / 战国时代 – Zhàn Guó Shídài) (475 BC – 221 BC), a prince of the country of Wèi (魏國 / 魏国) was required to go to the country of Zhào (趙國 / 赵国) as a peace hostage. King Wèi ordered his councilor Páng Cōng (龐蔥 / 庞葱) to accompany the Prince.

Páng Cōng knew he would be away for a long time, and he was afraid that his enemies would spread rumors about him.

So Páng Cōng went to the king and asked him, “If someone came to you and said that there was a tiger in the street, would you believe him?”

The king replied, “I would find that very hard to believe.”

Páng Cōng continued, “What if two men told you the same thing?”

The king said that he would still find it hard to believe.

“What about three men?” Páng Cōng asked.

“With three men,” said the king, “I would have to believe it.”

Then Páng Cōng said these words: “It is impossible for a tiger to be in a busy street, this fact is obvious. Yet when three men say it is so, we become convinced of the impossible. This is how terrible rumors are spread. I am about to go to the country of Zhào, much further than the street. While I am away, if you hear bad things about me, remember that I am your faithful servant to you. Do not believe rumors.”

The king assured Páng Cōng that he had nothing to fear, but sure enough, as soon as he was gone, the rumors began to spread. At first, the king paid them no attention, but as he kept on hearing bad things about Páng Cōng, his opinion was gradually swayed.

After the hostage period was over, Páng Cōng and the prince returned to the country of Wèi. But by then, the king did not trust Páng Cōng, and would not see him.

From this story we can see that the more people talk about something, even if it is not true, the more likely we are to believe it.

When we get to class, we’ve been asked to draw the characters on a flipchart and explain to the rest of the small group what they mean, pronouncing it all properly of course, and talk about it’s origins. Interesting modern relevance, too, perhaps when we consider Twitter and other social media tools that abound today. I really like this picture of a tiger by the way – they’re one of my favourite creatures – but sadly can’t claim credit for it.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 5 2012

    What a great story. Good luck with learning the language.

    Reply
    • May 6 2012

      It appealed to me too. It’s definitely not easy but we’ve got a great young teacher from China and she gets the balance right between supporting and challenging you. Your good wishes much appreciated, Victor.

      Reply
  2. May 5 2012

    I learnt Japanese and struggled with the intricacies of that language. Chinese seems so much more impenetrable. You are a brave man. All the very best of luck with it. I know you’ll be rewarded for your effort.

    Reply
    • May 6 2012

      It’s tricky all right but I like the way our tutor relates the language study to Chinese culture and society which helps. Thanks very much for your good wishes.

      Reply

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