Sài wēng shī mǎ
Translation: An old frontiersman loses his horse.
Meaning: A bad incident may be a blessing in disguise or vice versa.
This proverb stems from a story used to support an argument in the Chinese philosophical classic Huainanzi, attributed to a legendary author named Liu An (179 bce–122 bce). The proverb is the first half of a sentence, which in full says, “塞翁失马，安知非福” sài wēng shī mǎ, ān zhī fēi fú, literally meaning, “Who knows, it may not be a bad thing for the old man at the strategic region to lose his horse.”
The story is about an old man that lived in the northern part of China, bordering the state of the Xiongnus, a nomadic people that harassed the rest of China from time to time. Wars were constant. The old man, like many in the region, made a living by breeding war horses. One day, the best of the old man’s horses went astray across the border. His neighbors, thinking that the old man must have been devastated, came over to comfort him, only to find that he was alright. Instead of being unhappy, he told his neighbors that this might be a blessing in disguise. Sure enough, a few months later, his horse galloped back, bringing a band of horses from a stable of the Xiongnu’s. The neighbors then went to congratulate the old man, who said that a good luck might turn into a misfortune, so there was nothing to be too happy about. His words proved true a few days later, when his son was bucked off one of the Xiongnu’s horses and was injured. The old man, however, saw the accident in a positive light again, to the bewilderment of his neighbors. A bloody war soon broke out between the Chinese and the Xiongnus that decimated almost all the young people in the border region on the Chinese side. But due to his injury, the old man’s son was spared from joining the army and the battles, and that saved his life. All these turns of events testified to the old man’s philosophy that fortune might bring misfortune, or the other way around.
This proverb tells us that one doesn’t have to lament over a misfortune nor should he be overjoyed at a stroke of luck because fortunes and misfortunes come and go in a very precarious way.
|塞||sài||a place of strategic importance, frontier (N)|
|翁||wēng||old man (N)|
|失||shī||to lose (V)|
|边塞||biānsài||frontier fortress (N)|
|失踪||shīzōng||to go missing, disappear (V)|
|战马||zhànmǎ||war horse (N)|
I know you and your girlfriend broke up, but don’t feel too bad. It may be a blessing in disguise because the next girl that comes your way might be more compatible with you.