Chinese Idiom: Misfortune May Be a Blessing in Disguise

Shi Shuwen

PureInsight | October 20, 2003

[] There is an old Chinese saying, "Who could have guessed it was a blessing in disguise when the old man on the frontier lost his mare?" It means a loss may turn out to be a gain, or misfortune may be a blessing in disguise. It is now a common adage. This saying originally comes from a story in "Lessons from the Human World" of Hua Nan Zi compiled by Liu An in the West Han Dynasty. The story is as follows.

Once upon a time, there was a man living on the northern border of China who was very good at raising horses. Everyone called him Sai Wong (meaning "an old man on the border"). One day, one of Sai Wong's horses escaped from the stable and ran across the border straight into the territory of the Hu people. Upon hearing this news, all his neighbors came to comfort Sai Wong, and hoped he wouldn't be too upset about the news. To everyone's surprise, Sai Wong was not at all affected by the news, and said with a smile, "A horse running off might turn out to be a good blessing in disguise."

Several months later, this runaway horse returned with a fine horse from the Hu's territory. When his neighbors heard the news, one after another they came by to congratulate Sai Wong. This time, Sai Wong frowned and said to everyone, "Getting a fine horse for nothing is probably a bad omen in disguise."

Sai Wong had a son who enjoyed horseback riding. One day his son went riding on this fine horse from the Hu's territory for an excursion and accidentally fell off the horse and broke a leg. So Sai Wong's neighbors came to comfort him. They asked him not to take it too hard. Surprisingly Sai Wong said to everyone peacefully, "My son breaking a leg might be a blessing in disguise!" His neighbors were all puzzled by his response and decided Sai Wong must had lost his senses due to grief.

However, shortly there after the Hu people began a large-scale invasion against China. All the young men had been summoned to join the army and defend the country. Because the Hu people were very swift, daring and skillful at fighting, most of those young men were killed on the battlefield. Yet, Sai Wong's son survived the war because he did not have to join the army due to his broken leg. It was only until then that Sai Wong's neighbors discovered the wisdom hidden in his words.

The moral of the story is as follows: Many things in a person's life are predestined. Everything may be a blessing or a misfortune in disguise, meaning that you cannot just superficially judge whether something is a blessing or misfortune. One should just let nature run its course and not pursue outcomes. Try not to be too complacent when things go smoothly and too discouraged and depressed when you run into troubles.

Translated from:

Add new comment