Chinese Word of the Day – 矛盾


矛盾 (mao dun) literally means “spear shield”. What’s so special about packing these two characters into one word? It can mean contradiction (in logic) or conflict (in a situation)!



Medieval Chinese: mu dzun/ mo dun

Mandarin: mao dun

Hokkien: mo dun

Vietnamese: mâu thuẫn

Korean: mo sun

Japanese: mu jun



The term came from an anecdote written by the Legalist philosopher Han Feizi (韓非子) around 250 BCE. The story goes like this:

楚人有鬻盾與矛者,譽之曰: 吾盾之堅,物莫能陷之。
以譽其矛曰: 吾矛之利,於物無不陷也。
或曰: 以子之矛陷子之盾,何如?

There was a man in the state of Chu who sold shields and spears. He said: “My shields are so hard, nothing can pierce them.”
He praised his spears saying: “My spears are so sharp, there is nothing that they cannot pierce.”
Someone asked: “What if you used your spears to pierce your shields?”
The man could not answer. A shield that cannot be pierced and a spear that can pierce everything cannot exist at the same time.