Thursday, November 17, 2011



The emotional lives of the Chinese people have been controlled by means of traditional ceremonies that standardize and organize emotion. In traditional China, emotions were not supposed to be expressed freely; instead, the Chinese would gesture and respond as conventionally expected.

Confucius preached moderation in everything – including emotions. According to his ‘doctrine of the mean’, joy and sorrow must be moderate and a free expression of feelings is considered barbaric. Confucius' approach is still manifested in the behavior of contemporary Chinese. For example, when asked how their business is doing, they will answer "so-so", even though it may be very prosperous. Likewise, they will usually say "not bad" ()(cuò) when they actually mean "very good". 









Be ready to cope with difficulties while it is still easy to do so.

Cope with the big while it is still small.

Big problems of the world need to be taken care of while they are still small.

Big problems need to be taken care of when they begin. 

The wise man starts to take care of difficulties early, before they become big.

From the beginning, wise man deals with small difficulties as if they were big ones.

Therefore, finally he has no difficulty.

Dao de Jing, 63



Literally: Man does not have a thousand [successive] good days, [just as] a flower is not red for a [successive] hundred days

Man cannot always be happy, just as a flower cannot bloom forever.

In English they say:

All good things must come to an end.

There is no way to heaven and no gate to earth
There is no way out; a desperate situation.
The same idea is echoed in the idiom:

Literally: Rowing the boat to the bottom of the well – there is no way out.
A fly in a bottle - there is no way out

A rat enters a cage – from six directions, there is no way out
Songs of Chu from four directions
A desperate situation - being surrounded by the enemy from all directions.
This is based on the following story: 
At the end of the Qin (qín) dynasty (221-206 BCE) the State of Han (hàn) and the State of Chu (chǔ)  fought each other for hegemony in China. Liu Bang[1]  (liú)(bāng) and his army laid siege to a place named Gai Xia   (gāi)(xià), where Xiang Yu  (xiàng)() ,  the King of Chu, had remained with a few of his soldiers and very little food. At night, the soldiers of Han, who were besieging the place, started singing the songs of Chu. Xiang Yu was very surprised and asked "Did Liu Bang conquer the entire State of Chu? How could he recruit so many people of Chu to his army?" Then he fled with the rest of his army.   
Literally: [When] bitterness is over, sweetness comes.
After suffering comes happiness.
The fruits of hard work are sweet.
Cuts a fish and finds a pearl – a great unexpected joy
Said of unexpected profit or being pleasantly surprised.
Literally: Floods and fire have no mercy.
The phrase (shuǐ)(huǒ)(literally: water [and] fire) signifies "heavy disasters".
Literally: Sugar cane in the ninth lunar month – becoming sweeter and sweeter.
Said of a person whose happiness increases.  
Literally: Eyebrows open eyes laugh.
Said of a person who beams with joy.
The same feeling is expressed in the idiom:
Literally: The eyebrows fly [and] the body dances.
Radiant with delight.

Literally: The king of dragons moves house – a very severe situation (leaves the ocean) (pun).
Said of a difficult situation.

Literally: A chicken tied to a turtle's leg – I cannot fly and you cannot run away.
Together in the same boat.
When the scar is healed, the pain is forgotten
In good times, trouble is forgotten.
In English:
Back on shore, one prays no more
Literally: He who lives on a mountain is not afraid of a steep slope.
He who is used to hardships is not afraid of inconvenience and distress.
He who rides a tiger will find it difficult to dismount
When entering a dangerous situation, it is safer to carry on to the end. 
This idiom derives from the following story:
Yang Jian (yáng)(jiān)  was the Regent of the last Emperor of the Northern Zhou (běi) (zhōu)  dynasty (557-581 CE). One day his wife said to him, "The Northern Zhou dynasty is like someone who rides a tiger's back. It is dangerous to dismount and there is no choice but to go on riding". He thought that her words made sense and, eventually, he founded the Sui dynasty and united China. 

It is easy to invite demons, [but] difficult to send them away
It is easy to get into trouble, but difficult to get out of it.
He who was drenched with rain is not afraid of dewdrops
He who has experienced hardships is not afraid of small problems.
Disaster is replaced by good luck and good luck is replaced by disaster 
Do not be too excited about good luck and do not lose hope following a disaster.
There are always unexpected turns for better or for worse.
A similar idea can be found in the proverb:

Sweetness is derived from bitterness [and] happiness is derived from unhappiness
A parallel proverb in Hebrew:
אין רעמים שאין אחריהם מטר
Literally: There is no thunder without rain following it (Yalkut Shimoni,    1Samuel , 1)
(huò) ()(dān) (xing )
Disasters do not come singly
The same idea is found in the proverb:
Literally: Frost upon snow.
One misfortune after another.
Literally: Think of it as a pillow – put it behind your brain.
Forget it!
Troubles do not seek people; [it is] the people themselves who seek troubles
Literally: He who is not sick [and] takes medicine – asks bitterness for himself.
 Said of someone who asks for trouble.
Literally: Pours salt on an open wound – adds pain to pain.
When the sky collapses, everybody is crushed
When a disaster strikes, nobody can escape.

Old woman's tiptoes – tormented for a lifetime[1]
Said of a lifetime of unhappiness.

Literally: Waves his fan in the third lunar month – his face is full of spring wind.
This idiom is used to describe a person who shines with happiness.
One never ascends the Temple of Three Treasures[1] (a Buddhist temple) unless [he] is in trouble
One does not pray if one does not have problems.
Said also of one who addresses you rarely, and only to ask for help.
The same idea is expressed in the proverb:
In normal times one does not burn incense, [but] when in trouble – embraces Buddha's feet
He who is contented with what he has is always happy
In Hebrew, they say:
איזהו עשיר השמח בחלקו.  (אבות ד', א).
Happy is he who is contented with his lot (Pirkei Avot,  4, 1).
Literally: Not shedding a tear until seeing the coffin.
Refuses to be convinced until actually facing the harsh reality.
Literally: Uses his neighbor's field as a drain.
Dumping one’s problems on others.
With no bumps and blows, one's bones do not harden. 
Without hardships, one cannot become stronger.
 [So] happy that he does not think of Shu[2]
Said of someone who is enjoying himself so much that he forgets his home and duties.  This is derived from the following story:
At the end of the Three Kingdoms period, in 263 CE, the State of Shu(shǔ) was defeated. Its ruler Liu Chan (liú)(chán)surrendered and was brought to Liuyang (liú)(yáng), the capital city of the State of Wei (wèi). Si Mazhao ()()(zhāo), the ruler of the State of Wei, held a banquet in his honor, with music and dances from the State of Shu. This saddened the prisoners of Shu, except for Liu Chan himself. Later, Si Mazhao asked Liu Chan if he missed his homeland, and the latter replied, "I am so happy that I do not think of Shu any longer". 

[1] The three precious treasures of Buddhism are Buddha ()the Dharma ()            his teachingsand Sangha (sēng) (the Buddhist monastic order). 
[2] Shu (shǔ) was one of the three kingdoms founded after the fall of the Han dynasty.

[1] This idiom relates to the custom of binding female feet in traditional China. On foot-binding, see the chapter on beauty and ugliness, exterior and interior. 

Literally: The king of dragons moves house – a very severe situation (leaves the ocean) (pun).
Said of a difficult situation.
Literally: A chicken tied to a turtle's leg – I cannot fly and you cannot run away.
Together in the same boat.
[1]Liu Bang (liú) (bāng) (256-195 BCE) was the first emperor of the Han dynasty. 

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