The Story of Zi Xiang Mao Dun -- Contradicting Oneself

A man from the State of Chu was selling armor on the street.

"My shield is the strongest in the world,"He Boasted,"No spear in this world can pierce it." The crowd murmured with admiration while the man held up his shield.

Then he held up his spear:"My spear is the sharpest in the world. No shield can stop it!" said the man proudly again.

This time someone from the crowd asked: " What would happen then if you use your spear to pierce your shield?" The man stood there and thought for a long time but couldn't utter a word.

So zi xiang mao dun means to "contradict oneself", and mao dun (spear and shield) together became an expression of "contradiction". Do you know that the concept of "contradiction" is actually an important part of Chinese ancient philosophy? For example, the Confucianist philosopher Meng-tse once wrote wisely, "A great man should retain a child's mind", which appeared to be a contradiction. Why do you think a great man should have a child's mind?

Yin-yang is a kind of mao dun, which are dependent opposites - fire and water, men and women, the Sun and the Moon, up and down, life and death, etc. They are dependent because without one, the other wouldn't exist. Yet yin and yang must be kept balanced otherwise problems will occur. It's a Taoist philosophy. The Taoist scholars believe that the growth of the universe is an evolution of contradictions.

Example: You are being zi xiang mao dun when you tell your students that you don't care what they do after school as long as they finish six hours of homework.

Back to Chinese Idioms Grab Bag Main Page

Chinese Idiom Grab Bag

© 2007 OneWorld Classrooms. All rights reserved.