Fight between a snipe and a clam 鹬蚌相争


It is an example of a borrowed metaphor, which uses objects, in this case, of a snipe and a clam, to convey a subtle message. You may be asking yourself how could a bird and  a clam fight with each other.  The history of this proverb was little known, but it is a story learned by almost every Chinese at a very young age.

This proverb is followed by by another set of four words phrase 渔人得利 (the fisherman benefits), whch is known as 歇后语 (literally means words after a pause) and is understood without saying it .

Background

鹬蚌相争 渔人得利 (yù bàng xiāng zhēng,yú rén dé lì) literally means a snipe and a clam fought with each other, but the fisherman benefitted.

A clam was sitting out in the sun when suddenly a snipe flew down to peck at the clam. Suddenly the clam slammed the shell shut, gripping the snipe’s beak in between. The snipe said, “If it doesn’t rain today, and it doesn’t rain tomorrow, I shall see a dead clam on the beach.” The clam said, “If I don’t open today, and I don’t open up tomorrow, I shall see a dead snipe on the beach.” While they were still grappling with each other, a fisherman passed by and netted them both.

Meaning

This proverb is about the loggerhead competition between two parties, both end up as losers and a third party becomes a winner.

Examples

  • In business (Microsoft’s bid for the shares of Yahoo!, which was expected to be turn hostile. Analysts expected that both ended up losers, if Yahoo! fell into the hands of Google at a lower price (but it was announced today that Microsoft withdrew the bid))
  • In current affairs (the fight between the drug kingpins in Colombia, the Munera twins. and the killing of one brother of the other led to the police arresting the surviving brother and breaking up of the drug cartel ran by the brothers)

 

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