Symbolic in idioms

  • Lifestyle
  • Monday, 08 Feb 2010

IN many Chinese idioms, the tiger is symbolic of something powerful and dangerous. In metaphors, the Chinese view this beast, which is regarded as the Lord of the Jungle, as having “authority”. Hence tigers are respected and even revered.

The Pig may be the secret friend of the Tiger but Chinese idioms put the Pig in a bad light. He is supposedly timid but can turn the tables on the Tiger and “eat” (betray) him up! Thus the idiom, “disguise as a pig in order to eat the tiger” (Ban zhu chi lao hu).

Feng shui grandmaster Yap Cheng Hai and his son, Boh Chu, share some Tiger idioms in Chinese culture:

To negotiate with the tiger for its skin (Yu hu mou pi)

Grandmaster Yap: If you ask the tiger for its skin, the tiger will say: “Let me eat you first.”

Boh Chu: The tiger won’t give you its skin and you’re looking for death. That is to say, there is no point in challenging a superpower when you will get eaten up.

The fox borrows the tiger’s authority (Hu jia ju wei)

Boh Chu: It refers to a “small” person borrowing strength from his connections. Which means, the person is trying to portray that he is important because of whom he knows but he is actually nothing.

Sitting on a hill watching two tigers fight (Zuo shan guan hu dou)

Boh Chu: Don’t get involved if you see two powerful people fighting.

Yap: Don’t be foolhardy by getting involved. Keep a safe distance away.

Tiger head, snake tail (Hu tou she wei)

Boh Chu: It’s similar to the English saying: “To start off with a bang and finish with a whimper.”

Three men talking makes a tiger (San ren cheng hu)

A rumour, when repeated often enough, is easily believed as the truth.

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