The Story Behind "矛盾 máo dùn" - how to say conflict - contradict - contradiction

Long long ago, there was a man from Chu selling a 矛 máo (spear/lance/ pike) and a 盾 dùn (shield). He boasts of his 盾 dùn (shield) that it is the hardest one in this world and that it can't be broken by any sharp things! He then also boasts that his 矛 máo (spear/lance/ pike) is the sharpest thing in this world and that it can impale anything hard.

Then a passerby asks him what will happen if someone uses his 矛 to impale his 盾. The seller can't say a word!

矛盾 máo dùn:contradiction/contradictory/conflicting/to conflict/to contradict/to be at variance



nǐ zǎo shang shuō zuó wǎn qù péng yǒu jiā le, xiàn zài shuō zuó wǎn yī zhí zài jiā, nǐ zhè bú shì zì xiāng máo dùn ma? nǐ dào dǐ gàn shén me qù le?

You told me this morning that you were at your friend's home last night, and now you tell me you were at home last night, don't you think you are contradictory? What on earth did you do last night?


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Comment by Shu on December 30, 2011 at 1:43pm

Wenzhuo, excellent job at explaining the Chinese idiom story.

I have a post which is also about this idiom story. It goes like this:

Today, our Chinese class student Cam asked me something about Chinese Parrot ducks; I was clueless about what parrot ducks he was talking about, so I asked him to write down the word on the whiteboard. At the same time, Daniel reminded me that it is the  word -paradox - as I explained to him before about the shield and spear idiom..... If you want to know more about my post and get some laughter, you are welcome to visit

Comment by LaoXiang on October 21, 2011 at 10:20pm
Great stuff Wenzhuo, thanks!
Comment by Júlia Baló on October 9, 2011 at 4:59pm

谢谢 :)


Top Member
Comment by Zhang Wenzhuo on October 9, 2011 at 3:59pm
You are welcome Mark and Júlia!:)
Comment by Mark Ashworth on October 8, 2011 at 7:03pm
Thanks for the explanation Wenzhuo! It helps :)
Comment by Júlia Baló on October 8, 2011 at 6:12pm
:) :) :)  I like the story too !

Top Member
Comment by Zhang Wenzhuo on October 7, 2011 at 9:11pm

Hi, Mark

I searched "到底" on baidu, it gives many meanings. Hope it will help.


1."on earth", doesn't have  particular meaning and just for emphasis, like my  sentence.

2."after all", 她到底还是女人!tā dào dǐ hái shì nǚ rén! She is a woman after all!

3."through/to the end", 你要坚持到底,不能认输.nǐ yào jiān chí dào dǐ, bù néng rèn shū. You have to stick to the end, and never give up.

Top Member
Comment by Zhang Wenzhuo on October 7, 2011 at 8:49pm
Yeah, I think so!:)
Comment by Mark Ashworth on October 7, 2011 at 5:38pm

Thanks! So I guess "到底dào dǐ" is just for emphasis and has no particular meaning?



Top Member
Comment by Zhang Wenzhuo on October 7, 2011 at 5:25pm

Hi, Mark


The translation of " what on earth" is “究竟jiū jìng……/到底dào dǐ……". I was in trouble understanding "how on earth" and " what on earth", a friend told me that "on earth" is used for emphasis. Well, " 到底" in my sentence is also used for emphasis, the sentence is totally makes sence without " 到底 ".


Give you more example:



nǐ jiū jìng zài zhè er gàn shén me?

What on earth are you doing here?



jī zhì shè jì dào dǐ shì shén me?

What on earth is mechanism design?


By the way, "how on earth" means " 怎么会zěn me huì/怎么能zěn me néng/究竟jiū jìng……"


yī gè rén zěn me néng wán chéng rú cǐ wěi  dà de gōng zuò ne?

How on earth can one accomplish such a feat?


If there is anything more that you want to know, just tell me!:)

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