December 03, 2010


This following text is from the book called 戰國策/ – Strategies of the Warring states, Chu state chapter. It is again a simple story with a message related to real historical events. It is a little bit longer than the previous one, but the vocabulary and sentence structure is straightforward and easy to understand.




Seal script version:




狐假虎威 – Fox hiding behind the authority of a tiger

1虎求百獸而食之。The tiger was hunting and eating animals.
2得狐。狐曰。He caught a fox. The fox said:  
3子無敢食我也。 Don’t dare to eat me.
4天帝使我長百獸。The Emperor of Heavens has sent me to lead the animals.
5今子食我。Now, if you eat me,
6.是逆天帝命也。 It is opposing the Emperor of heavens that you will do.
6子以我為不信。If you don’t trust me,
7 吾為子先行。I will walk in front of you
9 子隨我後。And you follow me.
8 觀百獸之見我而敢不走乎。After all the animals will have seen me, will they dare not run away?
9 虎以為然。The tiger considered this to be righteous,
10故遂與之行。And thus after this he followed the fox.
11獸見之皆走。The animals saw them and ran away.
12虎不知獸畏己而走也。The tiger didn’t know that the animals ran away because they feared him.
13以為畏狐也。He thought they feared the fox.


        jia3                  to (mis)use, to cover oneself
        wei1                might, power
        hu3                  tiger
        qiu2                 to hunt, to seek
百獸    bai3shou4        all the wild animals
        shi2                  to eat
        hu2                  fox
        gan3                to dare
天帝    tian1di4            Emperor of heavens
使        shi3                  to authorize, to make sth./sbd do sth.
        zhang3             to lead
        jin1                  today, now
        zi3                   you
        ni4                   to go against
        ling4                 command (noun, verb)
        xin4                 trust (noun, verb)
        wu2                 me, I
        xing2                to go, to walk
        xian1                first
        sui2                  to follow
        hou4                behind, after
        sui4                  then, thereupon
        guan1               to observe, to watch
        jian4                to see
        zou3                to flee, to run away
        ran2                 right, correct
        gu4                  therefore
        jie1                  all
        zhi1                  to know
        ji3                    self
        wei4                to fear, to be scared of sth.

Sentence structure analysis:


In the above sentence we proceed as always and try to locate the predicate which in this case is – to use, to fake, to borrow, to cover. We then try to find the subject and the object:


To use
tiger’s authority (literally “Tigerauthority”)

As it will be mentioned later, Classical Chinese is using words in a very economical manner and anything that doesn’t have to necessarily be in a text, is left out. In case of虎威, where a genitive marker could be used - – the authority of a tiger, it is simply ommited and contracted into虎威, which can be loosely translated as Tigerauthority.

1. 虎求百獸而食之。

This is a compound sentence with the conjunction . As a rule, when you translate Classical Chinese sentences, you should first look for the predicate, then the subject and object.. This is a compound sentence, because there is more than one predicate ( and ). We first look at the first part: 虎求百獸. Here we have the predicate (to hunt) and we look for the subject, which as mentioned in an earlier post is often omitted in Classical Chinese, here however it is expressed, because the sentence is found very early in the text itself. As Classical Chinese sentences are often structured in an S - V – O fashion, it is easy to identify both the subject and the object of this sentence:

to hunt
all the animals

The collocation百獸 consists of two words: – hundred, – wild animals. Numerals such as hundred in this and many other cases do not represent the number itself, but rather a pronoun meaning – all types, many.

As mentioned earlier, if not indicated otherwise, verbs in Classical Chinese in indirect speech should be translated into past tense.

In the second part of the compound sentence: 食之, we again need to identify the predicate, which is (to eat), then the subject, which is omitted and then the object which is the pronoun (he, she, it, they):

to eat

Note: has also other functions which we will talk about later.
2. 得狐。

This sentence, as short as it might be is also typical for Classical Chinese texts. One very important fact in Classical Chinese is the importance of context. Since Classical Chinese texts were first written on bamboo tables or silk and since it was a very laborious task to write and copy them, the sentences had to be as short and informative as possible. In this case again, the subject is omitted:

to catch

3. 狐曰。

In this next sentence there is a verb that can be seen in almost every Classical Chinese text - – to say, and its function is to introduce direct speech.

4. 子無敢食我也。

This sentence nicely illustrates the S – V – O pattern. Here we have a negated verb and an exclamatory particle in the end:

don’t dare
to eat

5. 天帝使我長百獸。

In this construction we have the verb 使 – to authorize, to make, to cause sth. which requires another verb, in this case – to lead:

Emperor of heavens
to authorize
to lead

6. 今子食我。

means today, now, but it also implies that the sentence is in a conditional mood and can be loosely translated as “if”:

to eat

7. 是逆天帝命也。

has a lot of meanings in Classical Chinese and in this case it means “It is, it means”, is again an exclamation particle in the end and the sentence structure is as follows:

It is

to oppose
command of the e. of heavens
exl. Part.

The composition天帝命 – the command of the emperor of heavens can be analysed as:


As it might be confusing, which noun describes which noun, we can start asking questions starting from the back of the collocation: What is it? A Command . What kind of a command is it? The one of Emperor of heaven 天帝.


Who is he? An Emperor . What kind of an emperor? The one of heavens .
8. 子以我為不信。

Here we can see an interesting construction which is: A B = consider A to be B. So we have to divide the sentence into the following blocks:


not  to trust (distrustful)

Although not indicated, but the sentence implies conditional mood and is thus translated as: If you consider me to be distrustful (one that cannot be trusted).

9. 吾為子先行。

This sentence might look a little confusing at first as the meaning of in this case  is “for sb./sth”:


It requires a little bit of non-lexical imagination and descriptive translation and you can come up with the sentence: I will walk in front of you

10. 子隨我後。

Another very straightforward sentence: Its structure is as follows:

to follow
I (me)

As you can see, Classical Chinese is a heavily isolating language. When translated into English (which also has a lot of isolating features) meaning “I”, even in isolating English in this case naturally needs to be translated as “me”.

Words in classical Chinese represent basic concepts of information which Thesaurus linguae sericae calls – synonym groups. The earlier mentioned can be translated as – to fake, to cover, to misuse, to borrow, in 1st, 2nd or 3rd person both in plural and singular and any into any tense and it is up to the reader to understand the correct form and function in the given situation, which is a phenomenon that takes a fair amount of practice and time to grasp.

11. 觀百獸之見我而敢不走乎。

This is the most complicated sentence in the text. It is because it has 4 predicates: – to observe, – to see, – to dare, – to flee and also because of the presence of the particle , which in this case acts as a dependent construction marker. Many times have I tried to inquire about the precise definition of this type of since I was quite frustrated with it before my exams, but there still seems to be a lot of debate amongst experts as to it’s clear definition, so the only description of its function I can provide is, that it connects two sentences and makes the latter dependent on the former:

(you)    Observe

(they)   see
I (me)

(they)   dare
not flee
excl. question particle

Contextually and using logic we can see that most of the sentence should be translated into future tense. 

12. 虎以為然。

In a previous sentence we saw the A B construction. Here we only have 以為 which acts as a verb and means: to believe, to think, to consider sth to be. The subject is omitted and the sentence structure than is as follows:

to think

13. 故遂與之行。

This sentence is a little bit more complicated as well. simply means “therefore”, “thus”, “so”, andmeans “thereafter”, “thereupon”. We can thus separate these two words from the rest and analyze the following:

it (the fox)
to go, to walk

is a very common in Classical Chinese and it has roughly the same meaning as “with”, “along with”. again is a 3rd person pronoun, and in this case means “to go” or “to walk”.

14. 獸見之皆走。

This is a very straightforward compound sentence:

Wild animals
to see

(they) all
to flee

15. 虎不知獸畏己

Even though this compound sentence might be a bit longer and has 3 predicates, it is still quite straight forward:

to not know
oneself/himself (tiger)

to flee
exclamation particle

16. 以為畏狐也。

After the analysis of the above sentences, the following does not need any explanation anymore:

(Tiger)  To think
(animals) to fear
excl. particle


  1. 我很好奇这样的一篇帖子要耗你多长时间,即使对于我这个母语使用者想必也不是件易事。You did an amazing job!向你致敬!

  2. 謝謝您的流言. 其實因為已經很久了所以我不太記得, 但大概花了一個上午的時間吧. 都是要多謝我的中文系老師:)

  3. Спасибо большое! Очень понятно и интересно))

  4. Hет за что Евгений :) удачи желаю.