Chinese Language

Proverbs | 19

Jie ling hai xu ji ling ren : Whoever tied the knot on the bell is the one to untie it

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Zhong wen

Whoever tied the knot on the bell is the one to untie it
解铃还須系鈴人

This proverbial saying originally comes from Sayings of Zen Buddhists of the Ming dynasty. It was the answer given by a clever monk to a question posed by the senior monk to test the perceptibility of his disciples. The following repartee was recorded: 'The tiger has a gold bell tied around its neck. Who is capable of untying it?' 'Whoever tied the knot will untie it.'

Who would have thought that a casual remark made in a secluded Buddhist Temple would have assumed the status of a proverb to enrich the Chinese language for generations to come? The simple moral is: Whoever created a problem is the best person to solve it. This applied to the United States' role in Vietnam, and it would seem to apply with equal validity to the Soviet Union's role in Afghanistan today.

Now the much vaunted Big Bang [This article was written in 1987] has turned out to be something of a whimper in the first week of its launch, what with the computers on the blink, feathers flying, fingers burned etc.. The Stock Exchange, we hear, is at panic stations, with the City gents' pinstripe knickers getting all knotted in a twist. The solution surely lies in getting the clever monk, or rather, the mountebank who tied the blooming place into noughts - I beg your pardon, I mean 'knots' - in the first place to untie them.

PS: cf. 'Who is to bell the cat?' (source: The Vision of Piers Ploughman by William Langland 1332-1400) There is no easy answer to that in Chinese any more than in English. The cunning mouse which first suggested that they should tie a bell on the cat's neck to alert all mice of its approach would undoubtedly be the last one to volunteer!

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2006 reprinted from SACU's China Now 123, Page 34, December 1987

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