“May you live in interesting times” is an alleged Chinese curse, just like a thousand other Chinese proverbs or phrases that people use while I’ve never heard of them, as a Chinese, I should emphasize on that point.
So I came across this supposed Chinese curse when I was watching , Season 1 Episode 12, when Mozzie was responding to what Nick said earlier, “A good misery makes life interesting”. My first impression was that those damn screenwriters made another fake Chinese proverb! Gosh! Why do they always have to invent some pretentious phrases with the Confucius sort of view and entitle them as “Chinese proverbs”? Are they seriously that naive to believe that quoting a Chinese proverb makes them, what, more perceptive? No! Not at all! And in fact, I think that’s super dumb! Well, if you do believe you are that smart, use those phrases in Chinese, OK!
I guess the main reason that I am so object about people faking Chinese proverbs and using them everywhere is that sometimes people would purposefully use those proverbs when we talk to show how intelligent they are and how much knowledge they have about the great Chinese culture. However, I gotta say, to be honest, most of the Chinese proverbs are translated extremely weird, so it’s kind of hard to think of the original phrases. Well, here it goes, the awkward moment when you totally have no idea what to respond when someone else quote an alleged Chinese proverb in your conversation.
So I did a little research online just in case someone ever use that ‘curse’ to me. And actually that was what i found confused about the most, the phrase itself seems to be a blessing–May you live in interesting times, however the “interesting times” may have more sub-textual meanings than it appears to be,but a curse??!
So this is what I found: As for the current version, the first time it seemed to appear or be used was in June 1966. This was in a speech given at Cape Town by Robert Kennedy. He said, “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”
The Yale Book of Quotations gives a citation for the phrase “May you live in interesting times” as follows “American Society of International Law Proceedings vol. 33 (1939).” The Yale Book of Quotations also states that “No authentic Chinese saying to this effect has ever been found.”
And that was what made the phrase known for the world, though tons of people out there are using it incorrectly.
Also, I traced back to the original words in Chinese, it turns out that it is a curse than a blessing. The original Chinese phrase is: 寧為太平犬, 莫作亂離人, which literally means: It’s better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period. The piece was originally from the following article:
“却说莘善领着浑家阮氏和十二岁的女儿，同一般逃难的，背着包裹，结队而走。忙忙如丧家之犬，急急如漏网之鱼。担饥担冻担劳苦，此行谁是家乡？叫天叫地叫祖宗，惟愿不逢鞑虏！正是： 宁为太平犬，莫作乱离人！ ”
OK. So that’s the origin of the phrase, and apparently some guy named Robert Kennedy translated it into English and he chose to do a little free-styling, so this is what we got now. (It’s kind of a shame that I don’t even know this proverb in Chinese….><..)
Anyways, it seems that there are more curses, and “May you live in interesting times” is the first and the most known sentence of all. So here is the rest of the curses:
- “May you come to the attention of those in authority.” (sometimes rendered “May the government be aware of you”). This is sometimes quoted as “May you come to the attention of powerful people.” (Alternately, “important people”.)
- “May you find what you are looking for.” This is sometimes quoted as “May your wishes be granted.”
I can hardly believe those two are curses as well to be honest. So I tried to find the original Chinese sayings of them but I couldn’t. Apparently those two are not as popular as the first one, and people are not digging into some ancient shit for something unpopular, obviously.
The only thing I found was the Chinese saying of the third sentence, but that’s not official, because I found two of ’em:
亂世出英雄, 披沙可撿金. / 不入虎穴 焉得虎子.
Well, whatever, I’m done my part.
So the only thing I can do now is hoping that next time when someone talk to me, don’t use those mysterious pretentious Chinese sayings.
And that’s all for today.