Proverb – China




Zi Xiang (Hsiang) Mao Dun

Literal translation:

Between self shield spear



Many Chinese proverbs have historical background and a little story behind them. This particular one is at least a couple thousand years old. I learned of this story when I was in first grade in China.

There was once a weapon smith who was trying to sell his goods at a street fair. He picked up a shield and bragged to the forming crowd that his shield is the strongest in the world, that even the sharpest weapon couldn’t put a scratch on it. Then he proceeded to the next weapon, a spear. Again, the weapon smith boasted, “My shield is so strong it could pierce through anything!” At this point, someone in the crowed asked, “What would happen then if your shield clashed with your spear?”

This proverb basically illustrates self-contradiction. The Chinese character ? (Mao) literally means spear and ? (Dun) shield. ?? (Zi Xiang) means between oneself. Hence, self contradiction.

In fact, the words ?? (mao dun) is frequently used in the Chinese language much like the words ‘conflict’ or ‘clash’. In the way that it’s used, it can almost pass off as a two word metaphor. For example, one can say, “I think there might be some mao dun (spear shield AKA conflict) between Kelly and Jane.” This might sound strange for someone unfamiliar with the Chinese language, but to fluent speakers, the words spear and shield are literally used in a way to illustrate a clash between two parties. Personally, I think that’s pretty interesting and immensely cool.