Chinese Language

Proverbs | 1

Yu hu mou pi : To negotiate with a tiger for its skin

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Zhong wen

Yu hu mou pi

This 4-character idiom comes from the well-known Chinese classic Tai Ping Yu Lan, a collection of stories consisting of one thousand volumes compiled for Imperial perusal in the Tai Ping period of the Song dynasty - the work was completed in 983 AD.

Originally the story was about a country yokel who tried in vain to persuade a fox into parting with the skin on its back with a view to making a fur coat for himself. As the word 'hu' is pronounced in the same way as 'hu' with only slight difference in intonation, 'fox' has corrupted into 'tiger' through usage.

The moral is that it is the height of folly to try to negotiate with a fierce tyrant to get him to act against his own vital interests. It is worse than trying to 'get blood out of stone'.

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 reprinted from SACU's China Now 119, Page 40, December 1986

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