Losing your wife and the army 賠了夫人又折兵


This proverb was originated from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century, which is a Chinese historical novel based upon events in the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of China, starting in 169 and ending with the reunification of the land in 280.

It is acclaimed as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, with a grand total of 800,000 words, nearly a thousand characters, most of them historical, in 120 chapters.

Background

The background of this proverb is rather complicated which involves one chapter of the novel. In a nutshell, the person at the centre stage was Liu Bei, a governor of one of the provinces of China at the late Eastern Han Dynasty. On the other side was Sun Quan, who had an uneasy alliance with Liu. Sun enticed Liu to marry his sister intending to kill Liu at his territory. However, that did not work. Liu married Sun’s sister and decided to flee without letting Sun know. Sun sent an army to chase the couples, who were saved by boats waiting for them at the shore. Just as the boats were sailing away, the general of the army overhead from the boat these words “賠了夫人又折兵” which literally means losing the wife (although it was Sun’s sister) and the army returned empty handed. However, it is commonly accepted as meaning “losing your wife and the army”

Meaning

A double whammy. Making double losses in a deal or losing on both sides of it.

Examples

  • Tiger Woods’ alleged extra-marital affair is likely to cause him to lose his wife and on top of that millions of dollars of commercial endorsements.
  • A woman gave her first love to a man and loaned him money and got dumped by him, or vice versa.
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A tyrannical government is more fierce than a tiger 苛政猛于虎

This is a borrowed metaphor, which uses the object, a tiger, to convey a message. This differs from the standard Chinese proverbs is that it is made up of five words.  This proverb is to criticise tyrannical politicians and leaders. It is a straight forward proverb. However, It was originated from the sayings of Confucius, (770-476 B.C.), who is the most respected philosopher of the China history, which makes it more important.

Background苛政猛于虎 (kē zhèng měng yú hǔ) which literal means a tyrannical government is more fierce than a tiger.

At the time known as Spring and Autumn Era, China was under the reign of a tyrannical government. The livelihood of the people was threatened by harsh taxations imposed by the government. Some of the families had to live in the mountain. There was one family, the grandfather, the father and the son were killed by tigers at different times while working or searching for foods in the mountain. One day, Confucius passed by the  cemetery while the mother of the family was weeping for the loss of her son. Confucius asked the woman why she was weeping and the woman told the whole story to Confucius who then asked her why did she not leave the mountain and found a safer place. The woman said the people in the area would rather face the threat of tigers than be suppressed by the tyrannical government. Confucius then turned to his students, who were with him, and taught them that “A tyrannical government is more fierce than a tiger”

Meaning

A tyrannical government is more fierce  than a tiger

Examples

  • In politics (Some North Koreans, under the rule of the tyrant, Kim Chun il,  would rather risk their lives by sneaking into foreign consulates of other countries with a view to seeking asylums in foreign countries than living in their own country)
  • Again in politics (the Mynamar junta ruler’s consistent negliect of the livelihood of its people caused the loss of 20,000 lives to the killer cyclone in the beginning of May 2008)