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Chinese Idioms 成 语

Lesson 20
Wàng méi zhǐ kě
【 望 梅 止 渴 】
To quench one's thirst by looking up at plums

Among the outstanding figures of Chinese history, famous either for their intelligence or treachery, Cao Cao is one of the foremost.

One hot day, he marched out with his troops under a burning sun into a mountainous area. Bewildered, he lost the way. The journey was long and the sun was scorching. After their fruitless and tiresome march, one and all voiced their great dissatisfaction with the leadership of Cao Cao. Troops bitterly complained of their great thirst. The antagonism of the soldiers was growing fast and they were on the verge of staging a mutiny. The subordinate officers were helpless to cope with the situation. Cao Cao, however, in the nick of time cleverly and treacherously gave orders for his troops to march to some nearby plum trees for a rest and announced that soldiers would be allowed to eat as much as they desired of the juicy sour fruit.

At the thought of the sour fruit the soldiers' complaints of great thirst as well as their antagonistic feelings were quickly forgotten.

Based on the story later generations created the proverb "to quench one's thirst by looking up at plums", to illustrate a case where one takes comfort in believing that they have already attained that which was expected or desired.
Yáng cháng duǎn
Avoid one's weaknesses while exploiting one's strengths; make the best use of advantages and fight shy of disadvantages
Yáng méi
Hold one's head high; feel happy and proud
Zhēn dāo zhēn qiāng
Real swords and spears – the real thing; working in real earnest
Zhēn cái shíi xué
Real ability and learning; genuine knowledge or competence
wéi shì
Consider oneself always in the right; be cocksure and impervious to criticism
xún fán nǎo
Torture oneself with unpleasant thoughts; work oneself up for no reason at all