Friday, November 18, 2011



Literally: It is difficult to make a sound with one hand (Han Feizi (hán)(fēi)()).

One cannot clap hands with one hand.

It is difficult to reach achievements by counting only on oneself.

It is difficult to succeed without support.  

A literally similar idiom with a different meaning:


With one hand, one cannot clap hands.

It takes two to fight.

This is sometimes used also to express the following ideas as written in the Bible:

 לא טוב היות האדם לבדו (בראשית ב, 18)

Literally: It is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2, 18).

Or :

"טובים השניים מן האחד" (קהלת ד, 9)

Literally: Two are better than one. (Ecclesiastes 4, 9)



One tree does not become a forest

Cooperation is needed in order to reach achievements.

One person cannot achieve much by himself. 

As the (Jewish) sages of blessed memory said:

ואני כשלעצמי, מי אני? (מסכת חולין, פח ע"ב- פט ע"א).

Literally: If I am only for myself, who am I? (Hulin tractate, 88, 72 - 89, 71)

People, when many, are not afraid of tigers [just as] dogs, when many, are not afraid of wolves 
There is power in numbers.
[Even] a journey of thousand li[1] starts with one step

[One] man repairs the way [and] ten thousand people walk safely
One dish cannot be liked by everybody
Many (literally: 10,000) rivers flow to the sea and the sea is not full.
Acquiring knowledge is never complete.  
In the Bible it is written:
כל הנחלים הולכים אל הים והים איננו מלא  (קהלת, א', 7).
Literally: All the rivers flow into the sea and yet the sea is not full (Ecclesiastes 1, 7)
Plucks a hair from an ox – does not affect the whole body
Insignificant harm.

Literally: One hair from nine oxen.
Very insignificant.
In English they say:
A drop in the ocean.
This originates in a letter written by the great historian Si Maqian  () ()(qiān)        145-87)  BCE) to his friend after being sentenced to death. In this letter he wrote, "If I were to die before completing my work, my death would be as insignificant as the loss of one hair from nine oxen".
Si Maqian was sentenced to death after appearing in court and defending the commander Li Ling ()(líng), whom he knew and admired. The latter had been  defeated by the Huns and surrendered after running out of food and arrows. Emperor Wu ()() (156-87 BCE) had expected the commander to die in battle or commit suicide, and sentenced Si Maqian to death for defending such a "traitor". In the end Si Maqian survived by undergoing voluntary castration, then considered a fate worse than death.
Literally: Three three five five.
In threes and fives.
Small groups scattered here and there.

Literally: Seven big [and] eight small.
Items of various different sizes scattered together.

Literally: 36 professions.
All occupations and professions
Lions on the Marco Polo Bridge[1] – [so many] that they are uncountable

The courtyard in front of the gate [is noisy] like a market
Said of a crowded place.
This is based on the following story:
 During the Warring States period (475-221 BCE), King Wei (wēi)of the State of Qi () accepted the advice of his Minister Zou Ji (zou)(), which was to call upon the inhabitants of the state to express their views on the government. He issued an order inviting every man, whether a minister or peasant, to express their ideas freely, to point out his mistakes and give him advice. Likewise, he promised to give them prizes for doing so. Following his invitation, multitudes hurried to his court, crowding in front of his palace, and the place became as noisy as a market.    
Many cups of light wine can make a person drunk
Many small problems may become one big one.

Literally: men mountain men sea. 
A sea of people, multitude.  
Literally: Five flowers [and] eight doors.
Of all kinds, a large variety.

[1] Lugou Bridge or Marco Polo Bridge, is located southwest of Beijing. It has 250 marble balustrades supporting 485 carved stone lions, and is famous due to its description by Marco Polo (1254 -1324) in his travel book.

[1] 1 li is about 500 meters.


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