An idiom is a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. In other words, an idiom a phrase that has a double, often deeper meaning people use to teach lessons. In China, no one language exists. Chinese is a mix of unintelligible language varieties spoken by the many ethnic groups in China.
China is one of the oldest surviving civilizations on earth. It is one of the four ancient civilizations, and certainly the longest—the other three being Egypt, Babylon, and India. The standard language is defined as mandarin even though a variety of dialects compose the mandarin language.
According to the BBC news company, the Chinese language has over 50,000 characters altogether. Most characters aren’t used; even a comprehensive modern dictionary will list about 20,000. To read a newspaper, you need to know between 2-3,000 characters, but an educated man from China will be familiar with about 8,000 characters.
The fox borrows the tiger’s fierceness is a Chinese idiom designed to teach a lesson about bullying.
One day, a tiger caught a fox in the forest and wanted to eat it. However, the canny fox told the tiger, “I have been sent to the forest on a mission to the animals.” The tiger, noting the small stature of the fox, asked himself, “How can the fox possiblybenefit the animals?” He could not believeit. The fox told him, “If you do not believe me, then follow me to the forest. You will see whether or not all the beasts fear me.”
The tiger agreed and followed on the heels of the fox. As soon as they noticed the tiger approaching, the beasts of the forest became terrified and ran away. Pleased with himself, the fox said confidently to the tiger, “Look! Who is not afraid of me?” The tiger replied, “Yes, your bearing is indeed majestic. As soon as they noticed you, they immediately fled.” The tiger believed what the fox told him, unaware that the beasts were fleeing the tiger himself and not the fox marching before him.
The fox represents those who bully others by using their powerful connections.
To teach complex concepts like the bully who uses the influence of others to throw their weight around, parables like this one are used. Indeed, when you compare the English language to other popular languages like French or Spanish, English is a primitive language. It can be difficult for people to communicate complex concepts without the use of stories.
Other idioms don’t tell a long story, but are well understood to describe a situation. For example, “fighting between a tiger and a dragon” is understood to mean a struggle between two evenly matched opponents. A common English idiom is “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, meaning that children inherit attributes or habits from their parents.
Idioms and parables aren’t limited to China. They are used worldwide to explain the world around us. Parables like this one survive the test of time because they apply to people of all ages, from all walks of life to explain human nature.