Chinese Idiom: 自相矛盾- To Contradict Oneself

September 03, 2022

Today, we want to share the story behind the popular idiom “自相矛盾” (zì xiāng máo dùn).

It is roughly translated as "To contradict oneself” in English. We have included both the Chinese and the English versions of the story below.

Now, let's find out what it really means…

CHINESE IDIOM ZI XIANG MAODUN

战国时期有一个楚国人,他去市场上卖兵器。为了吸引路人,他拿起自己的矛,向周围的人夸道:“大家快来看啊!我的矛是世界上最锋利的矛!无论多结实的盾,它都能刺穿!”,听到他的话,很多人围了过来,想要看看这支世界上最锋利的矛。

During the Warring States Period, a man from the state of Chu sold some weapons at the market. To entice potential customers, he picked up his spear and began showing them off, shouting: “Come and have a look! I’ve got the sharpest spear in the world! No matter how sturdy a shield is, this spear can pierce through it!”. When people heard this, everyone started crowding around him. They all wanted to see the sharpest spear in the world.

见人们很有兴趣,这个楚国人很得意,他又拿起了自己的盾牌,向众人赞道:“还有我的盾,这是世界上最坚固的盾!有多坚固呢?无论多锋利的矛,都刺不破它!”这时人群中有一个人问他:

Everyone was mesmerised, and the man from Chu was very proud of himself. He then picked up his shield and began showing off: “And this is my shield, it is the strongest shield in the world! Is there anything sturdier? No matter how sharp your spear is, it will never pierce through this!” So the crowd asked him:

“你刚才说你的矛最锋利,无论什么盾都能被它刺破,是吧?”
“You just said that your spear is the sharpest and can pierce through any shield, right?”

“没错儿!”
“That’s right!”

ZIXIANG MAODUN

“你还说,你的盾最坚固,无论什么东西都不能把它刺破,是吗?”
“You also said that your shield is the sturdiest, and there is nothing that can pierce through it, right?”

“当然!”
“Of course!”

“那用你的矛刺你的盾,结果会如何呢?”
“Then, if we use your spear to stab your shield, what would happen?”

这个楚国人想了一下,突然他的脸变得通红,一句话也说不出来,于是连忙收起自己的矛和盾,悄悄地离开了。
The man from Chu stopped to think. Suddenly his face went red, and he was speechless. He immediately packed up his spears and shields and quietly slipped away.

CY green square separator 5050

这个故事告诉人们: 说话做事要前后一致,免得最后陷入尴尬境地。
This story tells us that when you say or do anything, you need to make sure it all lines up. Otherwise, you risk finding yourself in an awkward situation.

也告诉我们无论说话做事都要符合实际,恰如其分,三思而后行。
It also tells us that what you say or do needs to be realistic and appropriate. Best to look before you leap.

(self)

illustration for "self" zi-for zixiangmaodun

xiāng (towards)

xiang for zixiang maodun

máo (spear)

mao for zi xiang maodun

dùn (shield)

dun for zi xiang maodun

例句 (Example Sentences)

成语的字面意思就是用自己的矛刺自己的盾,比喻说话、做事前后抵触、不一致。如:
This idiom translates literally as ‘piercing your shield with your own spear’. It is a metaphor for when you say or do conflicting and contradictory things. For example:

这个商人只会吹牛,说话自相矛盾,千万不能相信他。
Zhège shāngrén zhǐ huì chuīniú, shuōhuà zì xiāng máodùn, qiān wàn bùnéng xiāngxìn tā.
This seller is lying, what he says is contradictory. You cannot believe him.

他后期的研究得出的结论和之前的自相矛盾,所以我们要分析着看待这些研究成果。
Tā hòuqí de yánjiū dé chū de jiélùn hé zhīqián de zì xiāng máodùn, suǒyǐ wǒmen yào fēnxīzhe kàndài zhèxiē yánjiū chéngguǒ.
His research outcomes conflict with the previous outcomes, so we need to analyse the results more closely.

在很多人看来,政府的政策有时候也是自相矛盾,一方面鼓励年轻人创业,另一方面又通过税收等各种规定来限制创业。
Zài hěnduō rén kàn lái, zhèngfǔ de zhèngcè yǒu shíhòu yěshì zì xiāng máodùn, yī fāngmiàn gǔlì niánqīng rén chuàngyè, lìng yī fāngmiàn yòu tōngguò shuìshōu děng gè zhǒng guīdìng lái xiànzhì chuàngyè.
According to the majority, the policy is quite contradictory. On the one hand, it encourages young entrepreneurs, and on the other it limits their ability through taxes.

About the Writer

Qi Laoshi, Senior Teacher at Culture Yard

M.A. from Tianjin Normal University; Chinese language textbook editor and a doting mother.

QI LAOSHI CY AUTHOR


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