[Ads-l] Quote: May you live in interesting times (Chinese curse?)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Dec 19 23:16:16 UTC 2015

Thanks for your response, Benjamin. I have seen the Wikipedia entry,
and the QI entry included a discussion of the thematically related
Chinese expression that you mentioned:

Better be a dog in peace than a man in anarchy.

The QI entry gives an 1836 citation for the English language version
of the adage above, in part, because I think the curse "may you live
in interesting times" is a distinct expression, and the curse
formulation apparently originated in English.

Perhaps you can help to find an earlier solid citation for the Chinese
expression (and its translation). I would be very appreciative.

Wikipedia states:

[Begin excerpt]
The expression originates from Volume 3 of the 1627 short story
collection by Feng Menglong, Stories to Awaken the World. [3]
[End excerpt]

But Wikipedia does not give the name of the short story. Wikipedia
points to a document in Wikisource, but I was unable to determine the
exact provenance of the document. In what library is the document
held? Can you determine that? Who created the translation into
English? What is the citation for the English translation?

Wikipedia and Wikiquote are both valuable resources, but, as you know,
they contain plenty of errors.

I try to check or re-check all citations; hence, my bibliographic
notes on the QI website contain shorthand phrases describing the
verification method, e.g., Verified on paper, GenealogyBank, JSTOR,
Google Books Full View, British Newspaper Archive, ProQuest,
HathiTrust Full View, Unz, NewspaperArchive, et cetera.


On Sat, Dec 19, 2015 at 5:19 PM, Benjamin Barrett
<mail.barretts at gmail.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Benjamin Barrett <mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Quote: May you live in interesting times (Chinese curse?)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> I had always wondered about that expression, thank you.
> FWIW, Wikipedia =
> (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_you_live_in_interesting_times) has =
> the original Chinese, tracing it back to a 1627 anthology by F=C3=A9ng =
> M=C3=A8ngl=C3=B3ng.=20
> Benjamin Barrett
> Formerly of Seattle, WA
>> On Dec 19, 2015, at 12:51, ADSGarson O'Toole =
> <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header =
> -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       ADSGarson O'Toole <adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject:      Quote: May you live in interesting times (Chinese =
> curse?)
>> =
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------=
> -----
>> Bonnie found a great new citation in 1936 for the expression "May you
>> live in interesting times".  The QI website now has an entry on this
>> topic. New citations and feedback would be welcome.
>> http://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/12/18/live/
>> Here is some background about the citation: The most fascinating
>> periods in history were filled with tumult and upheaval. Tales of
>> treachery, wars, and chaos provide compelling reading, but many of the
>> participants who were living through the momentous changes were
>> experiencing fear, hunger, and pain. Here are three versions of a
>> saying that has commonly been described as a Chinese curse:
>>  May you live in interesting times.
>>  May you live in an interesting age.
>>  May you live in exciting times.
>> Fred and Ralph Keyes examined the supposed curse and found no
>> substantive evidence that it was a genuine Chinese curse.
>> Bonnie found the earliest citation containing the phrase and labeling
>> it a curse. The phrase was used in a speech by Austen Chamberlain that
>> was described in "The Yorkshire Post" of West Yorkshire, England in
>> March 1936.
>> [ref] 1936 March 21, The Yorkshire Post, Lesson of the Crisis: Sir A.
>> Chamberlain's Review of Events, Quote Page 11, Column 7, Leeds, West
>> Yorkshire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)[/ref]
>> [Begin excerpt]
>> Sir Austen Chamberlain, addressing the annual meeting of Birmingham
>> Unionist Association last night, spoke of the "grave injury" to
>> collective security by Germany's violation of the Treaty of Locarno.
>> Sir Austen, who referred to himself as "a very old Parliamentarian," =
> said:--
>> "It is not so long ago that a member of the Diplomatic Body in London,
>> who had spent some years of his service in China, told me that there
>> was a Chinese curse which took the form of saying, 'May you live in
>> interesting times.' There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on
>> us."
>> "We move from one crisis to another. We suffer one disturbance and
>> shock after another."
>> [End excerpt]
>> Garson
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