Mon, Jan 08, 2018 - Page 9 News List


A drawing of Zhu Xi.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese Practice


(yi3 qi2 ren2 zhi1 dao4 huan2 zhi4 qi2 ren2 zhi1 shen1)

to give somebody a taste of their own medicine



這個寓言故事也許就是英文諺語「give somebody a taste of their own medicine」(給某人嚐嚐看他自己開的藥)的由來,意指用某人對待他人的方式對待某人,經常帶有復仇或是報復的意味。










(My neighbor woke me by playing the piano at two in the morning, just as I was having a wonderful dream. I gave him a taste of his own medicine, though, by knocking on his door at four and telling him I thought he played magnificently.)


to give sb a taste of their own medicine

Aesop’s Fables, also known as the Aesopica, is a collection of fables attributed to a slave from ancient Greece named Aesop (620~564 BCE). One of these fables, The Cobbler Turned Doctor, tells the story of a failed cobbler who turns instead to selling a fake drug he claimed to be an antidote to all poisons. People believed him, and the cobbler was very successful. Then, one day, he himself fell ill.

The town’s governor, long suspicious of the cobbler’s claims, called for a cup to be brought, and mixed the antidote with water and pretended to add a dose of poison. He demanded the cobbler drink it. Scared of being poisoned, the cobbler declined, and confessed his drug was useless. The governor then addressed the people of the town, asking them how they could have trusted a man with their lives when they couldn’t even trust him to make them shoes.

The fable is probably the source of the proverb “give somebody a taste of their own medicine.” Today, this means to treat somebody in the same way that they have treated others, most often in the sense of gaining retribution or revenge.

The Chinese phrase 以其人之道,還治其人之身 is now used to mean punishing others using their own methods, often in the sense, again, of exacting revenge.

The original meaning of the phrase had none of this sense of retribution, however. In Chapter 13 of the Doctrine of the Mean, Confucius says 道不遠人 (“The Way is not far from man”), citing a line from the poem fa ke from the Odes of Bin section of the ancient Chinese classic the Book of Poetry, or shi jing, which goes:


“In hewing an axe-handle, in hewing an axe-handle, the pattern is not far off.”

Here, Confucius is illustrating the idea that, as one is wielding an axe to make another, it is easy to see how long the axe is meant to be, as the model is, quite literally, at hand. He says 故君子以人治人,改而止 (Therefore, the superior man governs men according to their nature, until they change what is wrong).

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