Common Areas in Eastern and Western Culture

Xin Ran

PureInsight | January 17, 2005

[] In China, there is a saying, "Lies stop with wise men." But how many people are truly able to do that ? Many proverbs reflect how scheming people's minds are. Such sayings exist in both the West and East. In the west, there is the idiom, "Give a lie a twenty-four hour start and you can never overtake it." In Chinese, there are many similar phrases too, such "Falsehood can be accepted as truth if it is allowed to proliferate" or "Many mouths can melt gold."

In the West there is also the saying of "Fling enough dirt and some will stick." It is very close to the Chinese phrase of "Zeng Shen killing a man". Zeng Shen lived in the state of Lu during the Spring and Autumn period (722 - 481 BC). He was a noble and upright man, and was one of Confucius' 72 disciples. He was known as a devoted son to his mother. One day another man in the town who was also named Zeng Shen killed someone. A neighbor of the noble Zeng Shen's mother ran to see her and told her, "Your son Zeng Shen has killed someone!" Zeng's mother was weaving at the moment. She shook her head and said to her neighbor, "You must be wrong. My son wouldn't do that."
After a while, someone else came and shouted, "Zeng Shen has killed someone!" His mother continued weaving without looking up. Then a third person ran in and told her "Zeng Shen has killed someone." She became so nervous so that she left the weaving loom and ran away. Zeng Shen was widely known as a noble person. But even his mother didn't have enough faith that he couldn't have done that after she heard three people telling her that her son had killed someone.

There is also another Chinese idiom that expresses a similar meaning. "Three people can make a tiger" came from the Warring States Period (403 – 221BC). A court official named Pang Gong had to accompany the crown prince to the state of Zhao. Before he left, he was worried that other officials might badmouth him in front of the king while he was gone. So he with met the King and asked him, "If someone says there is a tiger on the street, would you believe it?" The king said, "I will not believe it." Pang Gong asked again, "What about if a second person says the same thing?" The king thought for a while and said, "Oh, I would believe it somewhat." Pang Gong continued to ask, "How about if a third person says the same time. Would you believe it?" The king said, "Yes, I would believe it." Pang Gong was trying to remind King of Wei not to believe in unfounded rumors even if many people said it. But when Pang Gong came back with the crown prince, he discovered the King of Wei would not receive him. It was clear to him that the king had believed lies about him that his enemies had told while he was gone.

The Chinese Communist Party is very good at making people believe in lies. "After lies are repeated a hundred times, they become reality." That proverb has become one of the Chinese Communist Party's guiding principles in governing China. That's why many people say, "The real truth is often the exact opposite of what the Chinese Communist Party wants you to believe."

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