Mon, Oct 02, 2017 - Page 9

Chinese Practice


(yang1 ji2 chi2 yu2)

disaster brought upon fish in the pond




在英語中意思相近的說法是「to get caught in the crossfire」(被捲入他人的交火中)。由此片語所勾勒的意象,我們彷彿可以看見在兩方火併中,一個無辜的第三方無端被捲入其中。



(We’ll mount the attack at dawn, so innocent civilians don’t get caught in the crossfire.)


(Those two companies are locked in a price war, and small stores are feeling the brunt, with many of them going under.)


caught in the crossfire

During the Spring and Autumn Period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty in the small state of Song, there lived a wealthy military officer named Huan Tui. At one point, Huan offended Song’s ruler, Duke Jing (ruled 516 BC-469 BC), and was forced to flee. The duke wanted a precious jewel he knew Huan owned, and sent somebody to ask about its whereabouts. Huan told him he had thrown it into his pond. Duke Jing sent men to find it, and they dredged that pond until it was dry. They failed to find the jewel, but they did succeed in killing all the fish.

The story, which is found in the Filial Conduct chapter of the Warring States period encyclopedic text lushi chunqiu (Spring and Autumn Annals of Master Lu), gives us the idiom 殃及池魚. The phrase literally means “bringing disaster on the fish in the pond,” the fish in the pond being a metaphor for the innocent that get caught up in a turmoil not of their own making. Another version of the idiom exists that can be used as a noun: 池魚之殃 (the disaster of the pond fish).

A quotation from a now-missing chapter of the Compendium on Popular Cutoms, written in 195 AD by Ying Shao of the Eastern Han, has a rather interesting slant on the story. According to this version, a gatekeeper named Chi Yu (池魚: lit. “pond fish”) died attempting to put out a fire at the gate house. A more likely version, found elsewhere, relates how a gatehouse around Song catches fire and people scoop out all the water in the moat to put out the fire. The fish, left at the bottom of a dry moat, perish, and everyone eats them.

The English equivalent is “to get caught in the crossfire,” which evokes the image of an innocent party being caught in a fire fight between two warring sides.

(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)

The boss came into the office, guns blazing, furious with the sales department, but we all got caught in the crossfire. We had nothing to do with their mistake.


The two of them are arguing again. It’s best not to get involved. You’ll only get caught up in the crossfire.