To Contradict Oneself – No-nonsense Chinese Idioms

The story behind the Chinese word for contradiction is an interesting one. The story goes that an arms trader at a market was touting his spears as the strongest, and able to pierce any armour. While at the same time claiming his shields were also the strongest, and able to withstand any weapon – Until someone questioned what would happen if the trader’s spears were used to attack his shields, highlighting the illogicality of his statements. The result is that the Chinese for “contradiction” is literally “spear shield”.

自相矛盾

Pinyin: zì xiāng máo dùn
English: to contradict oneself, a self-contradiction

Though the idiom is 「自相矛盾」, which is a self-contradiction as demonstrated by the arms trader above, you can also simply use 「矛盾」 to say that something is a contradiction.

The following image from CCTV news illustrates this idiom perfectly.

Contradiction

有害气体不会伤害环境和人员(有害氣體不會傷害環境和人員)
yǒuhài qìtǐ búhuì shānghài huánjìng hé rényuán
Harmful gas won’t harm environment or people

A contradiction in terms if I ever saw one.

Here’s a cartoon on Youtube that tells the story of this idiom:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=niYKEF6hQkQ

  • 酒鬼

    Great post!

  • Briant

    Why there are two way of writing?
    有害气体不会伤害环境和人员
    and
    有害氣體不會傷害環境和人員

    are those different?

    • Hi Briant,
      Yes, the first is simplified and the second traditional Chinese characters. I include the traditional because that’s what I primarily learn, and the simplified because it’s the most widely used.
      Hope that answers your question!
      Dave

      • Briant

        Is that mean we have to learn both of them? 😀
        So 自相 is “spear” and 矛盾 is “shield”?
        It’s interesting! 🙂
        Thanks

        • I probably should have been a bit more clearer in the post. 自相 means “self” while 矛 is spear and 盾 shield. Together (自相矛盾) means “to contradict oneself”, but 矛盾 alone still means simply a “contradiction”. Have you recently started learning Chinese, or are you thinking about learning?

          • Briant

            Actually I have learned it for 3 years. I use elementary school level Chinese book in my country.
            Although I’ve learned it so long, it still hard for me to memorize them all 😀

  • LL

    A classic case of 自欺欺人 (zìqīqīrén)- deceiving oneself as well as others.