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…
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.
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:
“You just said that your spear is the sharpest and can pierce through any shield, right?”
“You also said that your shield is the sturdiest, and there is nothing that can pierce through it, right?”
“Then, if we use your spear to stab your shield, what would happen?”
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.
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.
It also tells us that what you say or do needs to be realistic and appropriate. Best to look before you leap.
自 zì (self)
相 xiāng （towards）
矛 máo (spear)
盾 dùn (shield)
例句 (Example Sentences)
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:
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.
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.
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.
Do you have a Chinese idiom you'd like us to explain? Guess what! We have more in store for you!