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This short tale addresses the background story behind the Chinese idiom 一暴十寒, which literally translates to “One day of sun, ten days of frost”, and which means “to bust butt for a little while and then get lazy”, or “to only work for a short time and then fail”. The story below really applies to the latter meaning. Though this is categorized as advanced, upper-intermediate readers could surely tackle this.

Easy and Difficult Chinese Idioms for Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced StudentsThis story is a little odd, because the idiom 一暴十寒 means “ONE day of sun, TEN days of frost”, but the story references TEN days of sun and TEN days of frost – “one day of sun” is never mentioned. Which calls the whole “story behind the idiom” thing into question. Surely, some of the stories are truly historical, and have stayed with the Chinese people over several thousand years. Some are probably very very recent.

Now, I spent a summer as an editor assistant in an educational publishing house in Beijing, and I can tell you a lot of these “historical stories” (when they’re used as language exercises, anyway) are just kind of made up to fit the word count needed.

I was recently reading “Taoism: The Parting of the Way” by Holmes Welch, and he mentions an interesting phenomenon in Chinese scholarly history: several thousand years ago, some Chinese scholars or philosophers who wanted to get their ideas widely disseminated would write a book, then put the name of a dead but well-respected philosopher on it, and claim they had found a lost work by the other philosopher. Very clever, but it does confuse the historical record a bit.

These types of stories should be treated similarly – in many cases it’s impossible to tell where they came from. Sometimes there is a real historical tie-in to an old text, sometimes it’s all apocryphal – basically an urban legend. So, who knows if this idiom what made up my Mencius, made up by a scholar pretending to be Mencius, or made up by a school teacher to help students remember the text – either way, it’s a nice (and short) little blurb.

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战国 – zhàn guó – Warring States Period (around 475 BC to 221 BC)
孟轲 – mèng kē – Mencius’ full name
孟子 – mèng zi – Mencius’ common name
善于 – shàn yù – To be good at
指责 – zhǐ zé – Point the finger, criticize
阴冷 – yīn lěng – Gloomy and cold
生命力- shēn mìng lì – Vitality
少之甚少 – shǎo zhī shén shǎo – Less and less


战国时,有个叫孟轲的人,大家称他为孟子。孟子善于通过打比方来发表议论。

当时,有人指责孟子不尽力帮助齐王。孟子便解释说:“比如说,天下有些易活的植物,假如把它放在太阳下晒十天,然后再把它放在阴冷的地方冻十天,即使是生命力再强的植物也会死。我见到齐王的机会少之甚少,即使给了他些良好的影响与帮助,我一离开,一些和我主张不同的人,又带给他许多不好影响。我怎么能使齐王的思想、品质好起来呢?”

SHOW ENGLISH TRANSLATION »
During the Warring States Period, there was a man named Meng Ke [Mencius], who everyone called MengZi. Menzi was very good at creating analogies to foster discussion. 

At that time, there was a person who criticized Mencius for not trying harder to help the King of Qi. Mencius explained plainly, saying, “Take this as an example: there are some plants that live well on this earth [lit: under heaven], but if you take them and put them in the sun to dry for ten days, then you take them and put them in the gloom and cold to freeze for ten days, even if their vitality is strong they’re still going to die. My opportunities to see the King of Qi have been less and less, so even if I gave him some good influence and help, as soon as I leave, some people that don’t advocate the same things I do will influence him negatively. [That being the case,] how can I improve the quality of the King of Qi’s thinking?”



7 comments to "Story Behind the Idiom: Yi Pu Shi Han"

  1. Reply William Long says: October 9, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Nice and provocative story. But one might question the teacher yet further and ask whether there is in fact a qualitative difference between his advice and that of the other “counselors”? Or, doesn’t he have confidence in a person’s ability to perceive quality advice? Or, is he just expressing a common frustration of very smart people–that others don’t listen to them/us? On a vocabulary note, my dictionary has 暴 as “bao”; with the “mouth” radical and same basic character (I can’t find the symbol on Google translate, but it is in the Oxford Dictionary–) as “pu”–

  2. this is highly offensive to me and my fellow frosts… DONT EVER TALK TO ME OR MY SON AGAIN!!

    ps why did my wife leave me :(

    • follow up: she came back…with lawyers… and took everything… and my girlfriend… at least i still got my pride… but shes coming back for that next week

      • Reply Frost's Wife (Navy Seal) says: May 20, 2016 at 12:14 pm

        What the f*ck did you just fucking say about me, you little b*tch? I’ll have you know I graduated top of my class in the Navy Seals, and I’ve been involved in numerous secret raids on Al-Quaeda, and I have over 300 confirmed kills. I am trained in gorilla warfare and I’m the top sniper in the entire US armed forces. You are nothing to me but just another target. I will wipe you the f*ck out with precision the likes of which has never been seen before on this Earth, mark my f*cking words. You think you can get away with saying that sh*t to me over the Internet? Think again, f*cker. As we speak I am contacting my secret network of spies across the USA and your IP is being traced right now so you better prepare for the storm, maggot. The storm that wipes out the pathetic little thing you call your life. You’re f*cking dead, kid. I can be anywhere, anytime, and I can kill you in over seven hundred ways, and that’s just with my bare hands. Not only am I extensively trained in unarmed combat, but I have access to the entire arsenal of the United States Marine Corps and I will use it to its full extent to wipe your miserable *ss off the face of the continent, you little sh*t. If only you could have known what unholy retribution your little “clever” comment was about to bring down upon you, maybe you would have held your f*cking tongue. But you couldn’t, you didn’t, and now you’re paying the price, you g*dd*mn idiot. I will sh*t fury all over you and you will drown in it. You’re f*cking dead, kiddo.

        • Reply Friendly Mediator says: May 20, 2016 at 12:15 pm

          What’s this you’ve said to me, my good friend? Ill have you know I graduated top of my class in conflict resolution, and Ive been involved in numerous friendly discussions, and I have over 300 confirmed friends. I am trained in polite discussions and I’m the top mediator in the entire neighborhood. You are worth more to me than just another target. I hope we will come to have a friendship never before seen on this Earth. Don’t you think you might be hurting someone’s feelings saying that over the internet? Think about it, my friend. As we speak I am contacting my good friends across the USA and your P.O. box is being traced right now so you better prepare for the greeting cards, friend. The greeting cards that help you with your hate. You should look forward to it, friend. I can be anywhere, anytime for you, and I can calm you in over seven hundred ways, and that’s just with my chess set. Not only am I extensively trained in conflict resolution, but I have access to the entire group of my friends and I will use them to their full extent to start our new friendship. If only you could have known what kindness and love your little comment was about to bring you, maybe you would have reached out sooner. But you couldn’t, you didn’t, and now we get to start a new friendship, you unique person. I will give you gifts and you might have a hard time keeping up. You’re finally living, friend.

  3. Reply xXx_YermLover_xXx says: May 20, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    Yerm isn’t so great? Are you kidding me? When was the last time you saw a person with such an ability to make stupid comments on this website? Yerm puts the game in another level, and we will be blessed if we ever see a player with his skill and passion for the stupidity again. frost breaks records. Bruh breaks records. Yerm breaks the rules. You can keep your statistics. I prefer the magic.


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