A Precarious Pile of Eggs

by Ben Schutz 17. November 2011 22:25

The Chinese idiom 危如累卵 (wei1 ru2 lei3 luan3) literally means as precarious as a pile of eggs and comes from a story about King Liu Pi, ruler of the State of Wu.

After his son was killed during a quarrel with a prince of the Han imperial court, King Liu grew to hate the Han regime with a passion. He started by pretending that he was under the weather in order to miss the regular sessions of the imperial court. But, ultimately this did not help. So, he began plotting a rebellion against the Han regime.

King Liu Pi's aid, Mei Cheng, heard about the plot and warned the king that he could not succeed in a battle against the Han regime and that he was likely to be taken to the cleaners. Mei advised the king that to continue plotting against such a formidable foe would leave the king in a situation as precarious as a pile of eggs.

Mei's prediction was correct. When the Han emperor was told that some states, including King Liu Pi's State of Wu, were expanding their military he introduced measures to tighten the control of his central government. And when Liu's plot of rebellion finally came to light, the emperor sent in a large army to crush the revolt. In just three months, all the rebel troops from the State of Wu were wiped out and King Liu Pi was killed.

The popular Chinese idiom 危如累卵 (wei1 ru2 lei3 luan3) is today used to describe situations where a person has placed themselves (or has been placed by circumstances) in a situation where there is an imminent danger of something bad happening. English speakers might describe a person in such as situation as being on a slippery slope.

Tags: , , ,

Blog | English | Mandarin

Teaching Lu Ban How to Suck Eggs

by Ben Schutz 23. May 2011 00:51

The Chinese idiom 班門弄斧 (ban1 men2 nong4 fu3) literally means the ordinary craftsman is showing off his skills with the axe in front of Lu Ban, the master carpenter.

The origin of the idiom can be traced to a poet, Li Bai, of the Tang Dynasty (701-762 AD). He was a very gifted poet and following his death, the people buried him in a beautiful tomb on the Caishi River. Everyday admirers came to visit the tomb and many wrote poetry on the tombstone. One day during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) a scholar came to visit Li Bai's tomb and was appalled to see that it was covered with poorly written poems. He decided to add his own poem to the tombstone to stop future visitors from writing any more. The poem said

A tomb near Caishi River marks the everlasting fame of Li Bai; to and fro, every passer-by writes a poem on the tombstone just like a poor carpenter trying to show his proficiency with the axe before Lu Ban. 

The equivalent English idiom is try to teach one's grandmother how to suck eggs. It is possible that this expression alludes to the fact that a toothless grandmother will be naturally more successful in sucking the contents from an egg than a grandchild with a complete set of teeth. Both the English and Chinese expressions are used to either: a) ridicule or reprimand someone who tries to show off in front of an expert; or b) to express one's modesty when demonstrating a skill in front of colleagues.

Tags: , , ,

Blog | China | English | Idioms | Mandarin


Visiting the Thatched Hut of Zhuge Liang

Read more.. | Comments: 0
21. November 2012 21:19 | Rating: 4 / 2

The sky is falling

Read more.. | Comments: 0
22. October 2012 00:25 | Rating: 3.3 / 3

The Phoney Player

Read more.. | Comments: 0
4. October 2012 20:08 | Rating: 0 / 0

Bring the Dragon to Life

Read more.. | Comments: 0
10. September 2012 21:51 | Rating: 0 / 0

When the Birds are Gone and the Hares are Bagged

Read more.. | Comments: 0
24. July 2012 19:23 | Rating: 0 / 0

Grind an Iron Rod into a Needle

Read more.. | Comments: 0
20. July 2012 00:13 | Rating: 0 / 0

Remove the Root Cause

Read more.. | Comments: 0
6. July 2012 18:49 | Rating: 0 / 0

A Dog's Tale

Read more.. | Comments: 0
6. June 2012 20:08 | Rating: 5 / 1

Learning to Walk

Read more.. | Comments: 0
20. May 2012 22:59 | Rating: 0 / 0

Mastery of the Butcher's Cleaver

Read more.. | Comments: 0
20. April 2012 20:43 | Rating: 5 / 2

Home \ iPhone Applications \ Idioms Dictionary \ Learning Blog \ Why Learn Idioms? \ FAQ \ Sitemap

Copyright Purple Panda 2010 | Terms of Use | Contact Us

PO Box 37, Mt Eliza VIC 3930
Purple Panda Pty Ltd ABN 49 115 506 342