Mon, Apr 16, 2018 - Page 9

Chinese practice


(fu2 di3 chou1 xin1)

remove firewood from under the cauldron



用英語來說,我們可以說這是解決問題的根源(getting to the root of a problem),或從源頭上解決問題(approaching the problem from its source)。「釜底抽薪」有時可英譯為「pulling the rug from under one’s feet」(從某人腳下扯地毯)。「釜底抽薪」和「pulling the rug from under one’s feet」這兩種習語的確都產生了強烈且可立即理解的意象,但須注意的是,這兩者的用法並不完全相同:pull the rug [out] from under one’s feet(將地毯從人的腳下拉出來)比較是指突然撤回對某人的支持,或是扣留、拒絕給予對方所依賴的或一心以為可以仰賴的事物。



(The most direct way to address the global plastic waste crisis is to go to the source of the problem and ban businesses from providing plastic bags.)


(If we are going to protect sharks, a simple ban on catching them isn’t going to cut it; we need to ban the consumption of shark’s fin.)


pull the rug from under somebody’s feet

The character 釜 in the idiom 釜底抽薪 refers to a vessel used to cook food in ancient times, and still refers to a cooking pot or cauldron today. The character 薪 means firewood. The literal meaning of the idiom is to pull the firewood from under the cauldron and, by extension, is a metaphor for solving a problem by removing the thing causing it to persist. For its usage we can perhaps compare it to another idiom, 揚湯止沸, which implies quite the opposite. The literal meaning of 揚湯止沸 is to spoon boiling liquid from a cauldron, and then to pour it back in, to keep the ferocity of the boil under control. Unlike 釜底抽薪, this idiom means deciding upon a temporary solution that mitigates a problem without being able to resolve it.

These two idioms are generally thought to derive from the jinshu section of the jichun ji chapter of the Warring States period encyclopedic text lushi chunqiu (Annals of Master Lu). This section discusses the way to cultivate a healthy life, and is critical of how, at the time, people believed in divination and praying to the ancestors to solve problems, but how this reliance only exacerbated the incidence of disease. The text likens this to an archer who cannot hit a target but, rather than look to improving his own shortcomings, decides instead to move the position of the target. It asks whether this is really of any help to the archer’s ability to hit the target? It goes on to use a metaphor, saying 夫以湯止沸,沸愈不止,去其火則止矣 (It’s like using boiling water to control boiling: the more one tries, the more impossible it becomes. If, however, one removes the fire from under the water, then the boiling will naturally abate), and continues “Shamen and their medicine could only seek to cure illness by driving out evil spirits, so the ancients did not put much faith in them. Such approaches were good for little more than helping the superficial symptoms.”

In English, we can talk of getting to the root of a problem, or approaching the problem from its source. The idiom 釜底抽薪 is sometimes translated as “pulling the rug from under one’s feet.” The two idioms do, indeed, elicit a strong and an immediately understandable image, but the usage differs: To pull the rug [out] from under somebody’s feet is to suddenly withdraw support for somebody, or to withhold or deny something that they had relied upon, or fully expected to be able to count on.

(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)

The decision to cut health benefits for immigrants has really pulled the rug out from under the feet of many who are already struggling.


If he doesn’t start working faster we’ll have to cut his bonus. That will pull the rug from under his feet.