Chinese Language

Proverbs | 21

Qi bu ru qie, qie bu ru tou, tou bu ru tou bu zhao : A wife is not as good as a concubine, A concubine is not as good as stolen love, To have succeeded in stealing love is not as good as to have failed in doing so

Previous Last 
Zhong wen

A wife is not as good as a concubine, A concubine is not as good as stolen love, To have succeeded in stealing love is not as good as to have failed in doing so
妻不如妾, 妾不如偷, 偷不如偷不着

The feminists today will be justified in condemning this as the ranting of a 'male chauvinist pig'. But judging by the number of highly-placed politicians whose dazzling careers have, in recent years, foundered on the rock of this Casanova's Charter, we can safely assume that the philosophy of love, as encapsulated by the above-mentioned Chinese folk saying, is still being practised, albeit not being preached openly.

Now the first proposition 'A wife is not as good as a concubine', we (I mean the male chauvinist pigs) hold as self-evident. The second proposition is amply endorsed by English aphorisms such as: 'The forbidden fruit is sweetest' (a proverb derived from the story of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis) 'Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant'. (v. Proberbs - Old Testament). 'Adam was but human - this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden'. (Mark Twain: The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson). 'Stolen sweets are always sweeter, Stolen kisses much completer, Stolen looks are nice in chapels, Stolen, stolen, be your apples'. (Leigh Hunt: Song of Fairies Robbing an Orchard).

The last proposition about having succeeded in stealing love being not as good as failing to do so, however, calls for further elucidation. Come to think of it, it is really a case of the insatiable in pursuit of the unobtainable. Is it not true that 'To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive'? (Robert Louis Stevenson). Yes, I think I've got it. The unobtainable is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

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

Copyright © SACU 1965-2016. If you have any comments, updates or corrections please let us know via our Contact page.