Mon, Mar 20, 2017 - Page 9

Chinese practice


1,000 pounds hanging by a single thread

(qian1 jun1 yi1 fa3)







(With less than one second left of the game, the team captain, right at this crucial moment, shot the ball in, finally coming from behind to win.)


(The drunk driver suddenly started driving the wrong way down the busy fast lane, it was really hairy, there could have been a terrible accident at any moment.)


The Sword of Damocles

Damocles was a member of the court of Dionysius II (397 BC – 343 BC), the ruler of Syracuse in Sicily from 367 BC to 357 BC and again from 346 BC to 344 BC. Far from being a wise and well-loved ruler, he was known as something of a tyrant.

According to the story, Damocles was trying to flatter the king, saying how much he envied his position and power and the opulence that surrounded him. Dionysius offered to swap places, and Damocles readily agreed. The king, however, arranged for a sword to be suspended above the throne, hanging by a single hair of the tail of a horse. Any moment, the hair would snap, and the sword would fall on Damocles’ head. He had come to realise the sense of impending doom that accompanies all rulers.

References to the “the sword of Damocles” in literature, paintings and popular culture invoke this sense of imminent danger, although not necessarily for those in power.

This idea of impending doom, or imminent peril, of the possibility of danger just around the corner, a matter of life and death, is served in Chinese with the idiom 千鈞一髮, literally meaning 1,000 pounds — technically 1,000 jun, or 30,000 catties — hanging by a single thread. The earliest reference comes in the Confucius chapter of the Taoist Book of Liezi, in which Yue Zeng Zi Yu uses the phrase 「髮引千鈞」 “to pull 1,000 jun with a single hair” when speaking to Duke Mou of Zhongshan, although this reference does not yet imply the idea of danger. This meaning does appear later, however, in the Letter to Minister Meng by the Tang dynasty essayist and poet Han Yu, who wrote 「其危如一髮引千鈞」: “this situation is as precarious as a single hair pulling 1,000 jun.

(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)

I could lose my job any day. I feel like I have the sword of Damocles hanging over me.


The results of the referendum are hanging like the sword of Damocles over the business community.