This proverb was originated from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century, which is a Chinese historical novel based upon events in the turbulent years near the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of China, starting in 169 and ending with the reunification of the land in 280.
It is acclaimed as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, with a grand total of 800,000 words, nearly a thousand characters, most of them historical, in 120 chapters.
The background of this proverb is rather complicated which involves one chapter of the novel. In a nutshell, the person at the centre stage was Liu Bei, a governor of one of the provinces of China at the late Eastern Han Dynasty. On the other side was Sun Quan, who had an uneasy alliance with Liu. Sun enticed Liu to marry his sister intending to kill Liu at his territory. However, that did not work. Liu married Sun’s sister and decided to flee without letting Sun know. Sun sent an army to chase the couples, who were saved by boats waiting for them at the shore. Just as the boats were sailing away, the general of the army overhead from the boat these words “賠了夫人又折兵” which literally means losing the wife (although it was Sun’s sister) and the army returned empty handed. However, it is commonly accepted as meaning “losing your wife and the army”
A double whammy. Making double losses in a deal or losing on both sides of it.
Tiger Woods’ alleged extra-marital affair is likely to cause him to lose his wife and on top of that millions of dollars of commercial endorsements.
The subject of this post is shown in the title. However, one should note that the literal translation of 望梅止渴 (wàngméizhǐkě) should be "The sight of plums quenches thirst". It is a direct Chinese metaphor which the author borrowed an object to convey a meaning as opposed to an insinuating metaphor whereby the author borrowed an indirect object to convey a message to the hearer without offending him.
During the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), a general, Cao Cao 曹操, was leading his troop of soldiers across a desert under the scorching sun. The soldiers. were moving very slowly. even though they were close to the destination, due to the running out of body water and strength. Cao Cao tried all means to 0rder the soldiers to expedite, but to avail. As a last resort Cao Cao claimed that there was a plum forest ahead of them and the sweet and sour plums would relieve their thirst. When the soldiers heard that, saliva came up to their mouths and their thirsts were said to have cured.
The are some scientific bases in this metaphor. It is likely that the presence of a pickled plum will bring saliva to one's month. As to whether it would quench a thirst that is besides the issue. However, this metaphor, if effectively used, is a good icebreaker line, and will help you make a lot of sales and friends.
- If you can't buy your son a Ferrari, buy him a model.
- In a sales competition, when your team members run out of steam, as a humor, you showed them a picture of a bonus check and say this metaphor. This would on the one hand relax them and on the other hand get them back on track.
- When your wife goes on a trip for a long period of time, you tell her that you are looking at her picture to quench your thirst. She will love you more.