Stories from Ancient China: The Rumour of the Tiger

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During the Epoch of the Warring States (403 – 221 B.C.), there was a trend between the warring states to exchange each other’s crown princes as a hostage to ensure every state honors their bilateral agreements. There is a story related to these hostages in “The History of the Wei State” in The Records of the Warring States and is as follows.

Pang Cong was an official of the royal court of the Wei State, and was asked to accompany the crown prince of the Wei State, who would be a hostage of Zhao State. Before departing to Zhao State, Pang Cong asked the King of the Wei State, “If a person comes telling you that there’s a tiger downtown, would you believe his words?” The King of the Wei State answered, “I would not believe such words.” Pang Cong asked again, “What if a second person comes telling you that a tiger appears downtown, would you believe it then?” The King of the Wei State answered, “I would start to think it might be true.” Pang Cong then asked, “Now a third person comes telling you that a tiger appears downtown, what would you say?” The King answered, “Well, it has to be true then.”

Pang Cong then said, “Apparently a tiger couldn't ever be strolling around downtown, but three people can turn a rumour of a tiger been present downtown into an accepted truth. The capital city of the Zhao State, Handan is much further away from our capital city, Daliang, than our downtown, and there are more than three people speaking ill of me, but I hope you can examine these repeated rumours wisely.” The King of the Wei State said, “I see what you now mean.” Thereupon Pang Cong left the Wei State with the Zhao State crown prince, feeling assured of the King’s acknowlegement of trust. However, later the King of the Wei State still believed the slanderous rumours about Pang Cong, and refused to entrust Pang Cong with more important responsibilities.

There certainly cannot be any tiger downtown. A rumour that a tiger was spotted downtown is an obvious falsehood, but a rumour, if repeated often enough, can be accepted as truth. This spawned the Chinese idiom “three people can turn a rumour of a tiger downtown into an accepted truth,” which is used to express this meaning. For example, one might say, “To tell between truth and falsehood, one must carefully examine all facts and think thoroughly, and should not easily believe in rumours, or one is allowing ‘three people to turn a rumour of a tiger downtown into an accepted truth.’” Sometimes one ends up accepting a rumour as truth by mistake because a lie, if repeated often enough, can be accepted as truth.

Let’s consider a present-day example. In the process of persecuting Falun Gong, Jiang Zemin’s regime continues to create fraudulent lies such as staged homocides, staged suicides, and other types of incredible falsehoods, and repeatedly broadcasts them on TV and publishes them in newspapers. This is done in order to make people believe these rumours, in the same way the King of the Wei State came to believe the rumour of a tiger downtown. Meanwhile, Jiang Zemin has blocked all available channels in China for Falun Gong practitioners to clarify the truth about Falun Gong to the Chinese people. Because many people in China knew little about Falun Gong before the persecution, they gradually accepted these false rumours, after they were repeatedly told by Jiang’s regime. Hopefully, the Chinese people will be able to tell right from wrong, and see through these biggest rumours of the century.

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