Chinese Language

Proverbs | 11

Tou ji bu cheng shi ba mi : Failing to steal chickens and losing a fistful of rice into the bargain.

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Zhong wen

Failing to steal chickens and losing a fistful of rice into the bargain
偷鸡不成蚀把米

I suppose that it is a calculated risk we are all inclined to take from time to time. 'You win some, you lose some' as the Americans say. It is a part of the game we play in this life, isn't it? One can't win them all.

And yet few of us are daunted by the prospect of 'losing a fistful of rice' in our relentless pursuit of 'life, liberty and happiness'.

Consider how many of us have 'gone out for wool and come home shorn'. Such is the irony of life!

George William Russell, an Irish poet, (1867-1935) paraphrased this old proverb in an amusing passage as follows (Sketches & Snap):

'Some go to Ascot intent on repairing the ravages of Epsom or Newmarket; and in this speculative section not a few … who go for wool come away shorn'.

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 reprinted from SACU's China Now 124, Page 41, March 1988

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