The old frontier man lost his horse 塞翁失马

This proverb  is an example of a borrowed metaphoer, i.e, it borrows an object, a horse, to convey a message. It is used most often for giving comfort to someone who met with un unfortunate incident.

It is is another example of 歇后语 (literally means words after a pause) being one proverb of four words phase followed by  another set of four words phrase (焉知非福)and is understood without saying it .


塞翁失马, 焉知非福? (sài wēng shī mǎ yān zhī fēi fú) whidh literally means one frontier man lost his horse, who knows it is not a blessing. It can be difficult to foresee the twists and turns which compel misfortune to beget fortune, and vice versa. There once was a (father), skilled in divination, who lived close to the frontier (with his son). One of his horses accidentally strayed into the lands of the Xiongnu, so everyone consoled him. (But) the father said, “Why should I hastily (conclude) that this is not fortunate?” After several months, the horse came back from the land of the Xiongnu, accompanied by another stallion, so everyone congratulated him. (But) the father said, “Why should I hastily (conclude) that this can not be unfortunate?” His family had a wealth of fine horses, and his son loved riding them. One day (the son) fell off a horse, and broke his leg, so everyone consoled (the father). (But) the father said, “Why should I hastily (conclude) that this is not fortunate?” One year later, the Xiongnu invaded the frontier, and all able-bodied men took up arms and went to war. Of the men from the frontier (who volunteered), nine out of ten men perished (from the fighting). It was only because of (the son’s) broken leg, that the father and son were spared (this tragedy). Therefore misfortune begets fortune, and fortune begets misfortune. This goes on without end, and its depths can not be measured.


1. Even the bad times are good 2. a blessing in disort