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The Chinese Phrase: ’A 3-inch Tongue’

Pu with openwork interlaced dragons from Warring States Period, Shanghai Museum. (Image: Mountain  via   wikimedia  /  CC BY-SA 3.0)
Pu with openwork interlaced dragons from Warring States Period, Shanghai Museum. (Image: Mountain via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

During China’s 5,000 years of traditional culture, the Chinese idiom stands out as a shining pearl in the treasure of the Chinese language and popular phrases. It is concise, vivid, expressive, and an accumulation of historical facts and rich ethnic cultures.

The formation of each phrase reflects historical truths that mirror China’s politics, military, culture, folk customs, ethics, and ideals. These idioms help us better understand the long history of China, its unmatchable wisdom and its timeless language.

During the Warring States Period, soldiers from the state of Qin surrounded Han Dan, the capital of Zhao. The king of Zhao dispatched Ping Yuanjun to the state of Chu for help, as well as to enter into a treaty with Chu. Ping Yunjun decided to take 20 men with him, including scholars and warriors.

During the Warring States Period, the Qin State was about to take over six other states. (Image: Philg88 via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

During the Warring States Period, the Qin State was about to take over six other states. (Image: Philg88 via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

After he picked 19 men, he could not find the last one. Later, a man name Mao Sui recommended himself. Mao was one of Ping’s patrons; however, Ping had no special impression of him. After asking Mao a few questions, Ping reluctantly let him come along.

Mao was a plain-looking man, but he was eloquent and persuasive. Once they arrived at Chu, Mao and the other 19 followers talked about state affairs. Mao displayed his clear and logical thinking. Everyone was impressed with his knowledge and abilities.

The day when Ping Yunjun met the King of Chu, they talked from early morning until noon, but it did not produce any result. The people in Ping Yunjun’s entourage were waiting anxiously, so Mao Sui volunteered to go up to the palace and find out what was happening.

An irrigation project completed in 256 B.C. during the Warring States period by the State of Qin. (Image: Shizhao via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

An irrigation project completed in 256 B.C. during the Warring States period by the State of Qin. (Image: Shizhao via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Touching his sword with one hand, Mao calmly walked up the steps. The King of Chu looked down at him and motioned him to go away. Mao walked in big steps toward the King of Chu and said:

Mao explained that the envoy from Zhao was there to make a treaty and join forces with Chu to fight against Qin, and all of this was being done for the benefit of Chu, not for Zhao itself.

The King of Chu was impressed by Mao’s words, so he signed a treaty with Ping Yunjun. Thus, the mission to unite with Chu and fight against Qin was completed. After returning to Zhao, Ping Yunjun talked to other people about Mao’s contribution to the treaty and he lamented:

Ping Yunjun treated Mao as a special guest after that. The Chinese popular phrase “a 3-inch tongue” means someone is very eloquent and persuasive in his speech.

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