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Title: 小故事大道理 – 成語故事
Translated title: The Little Stories – Idioms
Language: Chinese
Author:
吉林美術出版社
Year: 2005

Not much remains to be said about this series, although I must say that this book confirms the origin of the stories’ importance for my appreciation of them. This one is about something genuinely Chinese, namely 成語. It’s not correct to translate this into “idiom” in English, but since there is no better word for it, that will have to suffice. A 成語 is a special idiom, always using exactly four characters and usually expressing a profound meaning which is sometimes not obvious only from looking at the characters. This book sets out to explain a number of idioms by presenting the stories behind them in a relaxed manner.

For instance, let us take the idiom 自相矛盾. Literally translated,自相 means “mutual”, 矛 means “pike” or “lance” and 盾 means “shield”, a combination of characters which is of course completely incomprehensible if read without any background information. The story behind this, however, brings it into a different light. In ancient times, a merchant was selling pikes and shields. Trying to attract people’s attention, he boasted that his pikes were of so fine quality that they could pierce anything, and that his shields could withstand any attack. An onlooker asked the clever question what would happen if one of the merchant’s pikes hit one of his shields. The merchant fell silent. Thus, these four characters nowadays represent something which is paradoxical or mutually contradictory.

There are thousands of these in the Chinese language, some of them very common, some of them fairly rare and only known by people who read a lot. They appear in everyday speech, text books, novels and news articles and learning a few of them is a must. This is quite a nice introduction to a few of them, and I enjoyed reading this book a lot! The Chinese isn’t too complex, but that isn’t the point here. I’m reading for enjoyment and quantity, and if I can learn something genuinely Chinese at the same time, that’s even better.

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