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His Spear Against His Shield

Oct 24, 2010
Timothy Geithner

US Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner

Right now, it is a worldwide hot political and economic issue about the exchange rate of Chinese currency Renminbi (RMB, or yuan). Developed countries think yuan is significantly undervalued and they are pushing Beijing to appreciate yuan more rapidly.

United States is pushing the hardest among the developed countries, facing continuous high trade deficit against China. One of the approaches is whether to label China as one of currency “manipulating” countries. At most recent senate finance hearing on Sep 16th, 2010, US Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner stated “China’s Yuan ‘Undervalued,’ Not ‘Manipulated’.”

However, 20 months ago, when Geithner was testifying at the same place as “candidate” for the US Secretary of Treasury, he said, “Obama has strong evidence showing China IS manipulating the currency exchange rate.”

Why are his states inconsistent? I guess it must have something to do with his position then and now. It reminds me a popular Chinese idiom about such self-contradictory. It comes with a 2000+ years old story, told by Legalist Han Feizi.

His Spear Against His Shield


Spear and Shield | by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/dunechaser/2623043223/}Dunechaser{/link}

Roman Soldier

One day, in the Era of Warring States, a man from the Chu State went to sell a spear and a shield. Both of these were ancient weapons in China. The spear had a long handle with a metal point on the end. The shield was a type of personal armor, meant to intercept attacks and protect oneself.

To attract customers and to sell his weapons as soon as possible, he would shout out loudly to all who were coming and going: “Come and see! My spear is the sharpest in the world. It is sharp enough to pierce through anything. Even if it just touches something, it will pierce all the way through it.” Hearing his words, many people came to inspect the spear.

Seeing he had an audience, the man held up his spear and loudly boasted to everyone: “My shield is the strongest in the world! However sharp the spears and arrows are, they cannot pierce through my shield!” As he spoke the boastful words, all the listeners were dumbfounded.

Then, a person stepped out of the crowd. He went and picked up the spear and then the shield. He asked, “If you pierce your shield with your spear, what will happen then?” When the man heard that, he had nothing to say. He blushed with shame. He gathered up his things and fled from the marketplace in embarrassment.

His Spear against his shield

His Spear against his shield

Storyteller: So if one says something is like “his spear against his shield,” it means that someone has made two statements that are self-contradictory. It is impossible for the strongest shield to coexist with a spear that finds nothing impenetrable.

In our everyday life, you could notice countless examples how people make “his spear against his shield”, and not surprisingly you will find the most among politicians.

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