Chinese Idioms: Putting Out a Fire with More Wood

PureInsight | October 17, 2007

[] During the
Warring States Period, the Qin State was getting bigger. The King of
the Qin State wanted to expand his territory, so he started attacking
all six other states. One year he defeated the State of Wei. A year
later, the King of Wei proposed to give up a portion of his territory
in exchange for peace.

But Sun Chen, an official in the imperial court, disagreed and said to
the King of Wei, "Wei lost the battle last year, but we did not have to
give up our territory. The State of Qin did not ask for territory when
it won last year. That was because both states could strategize the war
correctly. Now a year later, we are willing to give up our territory
and I believe that is because some of our officials want to profit from
this idea, selling this state for glory. Furthermore, using our
territory to trade for peace is not workable. Your Majesty has limited
territory, but the greedy heart of the King of Qin is insatiable.
Taking our land to please the Qin State is like adding more wood to the
fire. While there is wood, the fire will continue."

The King of Wei thought that Sun's words were very rational.
Unfortunately, he was afraid of being invaded again and, eventually,
gave up some of his territory. In the following few decades, the Qin
State continued to attack other states to expand its territory and the
State of Wei became smaller and smaller. Finally, the State of Qin took
over the entire Wei State.

This idiom, "putting out a fire with more wood," means using the wrong
method to solve a problem and making the problem even worse.

(From Intrigues of the Warring States)

Translated from:

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