Chinese Language

Proverbs | 14

Chu sheng zhi du bu wei hu : A new-born calf fears no tiger.

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Zhong wen

A new-born calf fears no tiger

As you probably know 'Stories of the Three Kingdoms', a Ming novel based on the history of the Three Kingdom period (220-265 AD) is a rich source of Chinese proverbs, some original, others recycled from old sayings. This is one of those recycled proverbs, the origin of which remains obscure.

When General Guan Yu, a formidable warrior of considerable reputation in battle, who was idolised in later generations as the 'God of War', heard that an obscure swashbuckling army leader by the name of Pang De from the enemy camp had the audacity to challenge him to mortal combat, he was enraged, fuming, 'The mere mention of my name is enough to scare off any brave man of the world. How dare Pang De, a little lad, thumb his nose at me!'

Thereupon General Guan's son Guan Ping, trying to stop his father rushing into personal combat with Pang, and urge him instead to leave the fighting to himself and other subordinate officers, pleaded, 'There's an old saying "A new-born calf fears no tiger". Even if you were to kill this upstart, you would only be killing a small pawn. No big deal! It's more than the trouble is worth.'

But his father brushed him aside, having determined to teach the new-born calf a lesson he would never forget. It so happened that in the ensuing fight between the two warriors, General Guan actually came off second best and was wounded.

One must admit that there is something very endearing about a new-born calf that fears no tiger. The most admirable example that captured the imagination of the world recently is the teenage pilot Mathias Rust of West Germany, who flew nonchalantly on a solo flight to Moscow without a hitch and audaciously parked his single-engine plane bang in the middle of Red Square, and waited calmly for all hell to break loose. There you have a new-bom calf that fears no tiger, if ever there was one! How does this compare with the English proverb 'Fools rush in where angels fear to tread'? (source: Alexander Pope's Essay on Criticism, 1711)

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 reprinted from SACU's China Now 128 , March 1989

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