Talk:May you live in interesting times

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This Curse Does Not Make Sense[edit]

Unless this is a very old person or someone on his deathbed cursing a young child, wouldn't the curser live through the same Age as the cursee? It's just got to be apocryphal. Common sense. tharsaile (talk) 16:19, 2 April 2012 (UTC)

Not really. A person can curse the future: "To the sons of the sons of the people who oppress my people: may you live in interesting times." The lack of common sense isn't all that relevant, however. What matters is whether or not it is mentioned in reliable independent sources, which appears to be the case. KDS4444 (talk) 06:05, 9 November 2016 (UTC)

Ernest Bramah[edit]

I've just checked the works by this author currently available in Gutenberg, and none of them feature this phrase. So citation locators will need to look further afield ...

  1. Four Max Carrodos Detective Stories (English)
  2. Kai Lung's Golden Hours (English)
  3. The Mirror of Kong Ho (English)
  4. The Wallet of Kai Lung (English)


No idea whether Bramah actually used it, but to those who have read his books, it sounds very Bramah-esque... AnonMoos (talk) 09:04, 17 March 2008 (UTC)
I've heard the phrase attributed to Brahmah as one of a series of three increasingly fearsome curses, which includes "May you come to the attention of those in high authority!" I too have failed ever to track it down. Narky Blert (talk) 22:04, 29 June 2016 (UTC)


How is may you find what you are looking for a curse? I don't get it. Re: It's playing on the illusion that you will be happy when you reach your goals and dreams. Think of the movie 300. They play on this same curse when they say "May you live forever" to the traitor. It's about giving everything to someone so they have no meaning or desire to live. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:59, 8 July 2015 (UTC)

All three of these "curses" seem to have double meanings; the second perhaps less obviously than the other three (keep in mind that "coming to the attention of those in power" could mean having your achievements recognized by powerful people, rather than being found by oppressive authorities). "May you find what you are looking for" being the strongest curse of the three is probably meant to imply that people often "look for" things that they (according to some other philosophy of life) don't really need, perhaps things that in the end will make them unhappier rather than happier. It seems to me as if all three are meant to actually be "curses" while sounding like blessings. (If the sayings are not genuinely Chinese, as the article seems to imply they might not be, this reversal might be an expression of the Western tendency to simplify Eastern philosophy down to simple inversions of Western thinking - in any case, no matter the origin of the sayings, the irony would seem to be intentional in all three cases.)

May you find what you are looking for is the same as a Jewish curse, May you get everything you deserve. As stated above, it is a curse that is meant to sound like a blessing. The curser does not put any bad karma out into the world while wishing that the cursed person gets the proper comeuppance for whatever wrong they have perpetrated. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Grungeman (talkcontribs) 03:11, 3 September 2011 (UTC)

The ethnic origins of the expression has little bearing on its ironic meaning.

schaferatsprynet (talk) 02:08, 4 November 2015 (UTC)Schafer

A possible origin[edit]

A Chinese myself and I saw this so called Chinese proverb over some website, which makes me ponder for days. By the meanings and if it is a blessing, the closest I can get is:

生于忧患¹ 死于安乐²
(Traditional Chinese 生於憂患¹ 死於安樂²
transliterated Sheng Yu You Huan¹ Si Yu An Le²)

literal translation:
¹Born (or survive or live) in chaotic (or risky, interesting) time.
²Die in a peaceful time

Writen by Mencius (Chinese 孟子, transliterated Meng Zi)

1) Born (or survive or live) in a hush environment will make a person to be tough, both body and mind.
2) Those who are prepared will survive. (used with 3. below)

This part could be what original person that coined the curse version left out, which confused all of us from it's origin, multiple meanings:
1. That person took part in gaining the peace, which make the person treasure it in a peaceful time as someone important.
2. The tough body and mind allows the person who is trained, to survived until the chaotic time is over.
3. This was added with the third link below, that website translated this part as:
Those who live in peaceful time are weak and they won't survive during troubled time.

References (Simplified Chinese) 有声读物网
China Basic Education 中国基础教育网 圣言学堂

1) I never heard "It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period." before, can someone show me the proverb ?
2) "May you be born in an important time" ?! Confucius ?! This is getting more and more weird...
3) Edited this section a few times. That's the problem with translating Chinese literatures.

--Alepandro 21:04, 10 July 2006 (UTC)

Another Variation[edit]

The third 'Chinese' curse frequently occurs as Be careful what you wish for: you may get it. The meaning is not changed, but the heavy-handed overtones of the second phrase makes the irony more obvious.

"May you find what you are looking for"[edit]

Although I don't recognize where was the "interesting times" translated from, I can recognize the origin of the last "curse". It is 求仁得仁 --Billyswong 17:08, 5 August 2006 (UTC)

  • Except that 求仁得仁 seems to be a positive phrase akin to 如愿以偿. If anything, the way that the third "curse" relies on the second for ironic (or rather, sardonic) effect makes me wonder if the second two curses are just made-up bits of humor very much in the euphemistic English vein. They certainly seem like something Terry Pratchett would have written, and not at all like the sort of 幽默 (humor) used in Chinese. No citations, either. --creamyhorror, Jan 2008 —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:25, 9 January 2008 (UTC)

the origin of "It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period."[edit]

In traditional Chinese, it should be "寧為太平狗,莫作亂世民"。As far as I know it is a popular saying. Snowynight 19:14, 18 December 2006 (UTC)


The first citation at the bottom ("Stephen E. DeLong (May 5, 1998). Get a(n interesting) life! Accessed February 13, 2004") no longer links to a working site, so I removed it. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 07:50, 2 March 2007 (UTC).

Earlier attestation - 1944 - The American Character by Denis William Brogan[edit]

(Note, this citation has been superseded by the 1939 citation given below.) I have found an attestation that is earlier than the 1950 work given in the current article. The book "The American Character" by Denis William Brogan was published in 1944 by A. A. Knopf. The text below is found on page 169 as the final sentences of the book:

It is, I have been told, one of the most formidable of Chinese imprecations to wish that your enemy lived “in interesting times.” We live in very interesting times; times not to be made better by any simple formula. Understanding each other is not enough, but it is an indispensable beginning.

This text appears in the original 1944 edition of the book. It does not appear in reprints issued in the 1950s because the work was rewritten. I initially found this attestation by using Google Book Search, and I then performed a double-check by examining the actual physical book.

Warning: When Google Book Search is used to find matches for the phrase "interesting times" some misleading publication dates are listed. For example, the publication date given for a magazine or other periodical is often the founding date of the periodical. It is not the date of a specific issue of the periodical. Therefore it is desirable to check the physical item directly. If someone else checks this attestation then perhaps the article can be updated. Garson 10:26, 17 April 2007 (UTC)

Earlier attestation – 1939 – American Society of International Law Proceedings - via YBQ[edit]

The Yale Book of Quotations edited by Fred R. Shapiro (Yale University Press 2006) on page 669 gives a citation for the phrase “May you live in interesting times” as follows “American Society of International Law Proceedings vol. 33 (1939).” The YBQ also claims that “No authentic Chinese saying to this effect has ever been found.” Garson 18:44, 25 April 2007 (UTC)

Another early attestation – 1939 – Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science[edit]

Evidence that a slight variant of the phrase was in use “many years” before 1936 is provided by an attestation from 1939. Frederic R. Coudert, a Trustee of Columbia University, presented opening remarks at a meeting of the “Academy of Political Science” in 1939. In his remarks the phrase “May you live in an interesting age” is labeled a Chinese curse. Coudert cites a letter from Austen Chamberlain, half-brother of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, for introducing him to the curse. He also says that Chamberlain learned about the curse from a British diplomat in China:[1]

Some years ago, in 1936, I had to write to a very dear and honored friend of mine, who has since died, Sir Austen Chamberlain, brother of the present Prime Minister, and I concluded my letter with a rather banal remark, "that we were living in an interesting age." Evidently he read the whole letter, because by return mail he wrote to me and concluded as follows: "Many years ago, I learned from one of our diplomats in China that one of the principal Chinese curses heaped upon an enemy is, 'May you live in an interesting age.'" "Surely", he said, "no age has been more fraught with insecurity than our own present time." That was three years ago.

— Frederic R. Coudert, Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science, 1939

Garson (talk) 06:54, 19 March 2008 (UTC)

Earlier uncertain reference[edit]

Via Google Book Search again, Diplomat in Peace and War by Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen (pub 1949) contains the line, "Before I left England for China in 1936, a friend told me that there exists a Chinese curse - 'may you live in interesting times'". Not authoratitive, perhaps, but it's still worth looking for earlier ones. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:23, 10 December 2007 (UTC)

Excellent work![edit]

I am the guy who found the Eric Frank Russell story for DeLong. I put some time into trying to find an earlier version as more resources opened up on the web, but not for a few years. Thanks! Keith Henson 20:46, 15 November 2007 (UTC)

Maybe 现世宝 is the original ancient Chinese curse.[edit]

While translating a play, I found "May you live in interesting times". Reading the articles here, I still cannot translate it close to the English context. After searching for ancient Chinese curse in Chinese, I found that "现世宝” is closest to it.

现世宝 means a clown of current time, a shameless character of current time.

Normally in China when a child behaves in public very badly, the parents would curse the child, you are such a “现世宝”,meaning you are such a shame to your parents in public. You are such a rotten child.

Interesting aspect on this theory, I guess I focus too much on Classical Chinese. There are a lot of variations on this curse in Spoken Chinese context and we are limited to what we encountered because these are not officially recorded in written Chinese, perhaps cause by the rudeness IMHO.

Just to confirm is 现世宝 comes from Cantonese of the Spoken Chinese ? (To the rest, Cantonese is also a modern written Chinese, use as one of the official languages in Hong Kong and it's neighbors, FYI.) --Alepandro (talk) 09:32, 27 December 2007 (UTC)

Not at all. The word 现世宝 originated from The Scholars (儒林外史). In this word, 现 means "appear" (verb), 世 means "world" (noun), 宝 means "preciousness" (irony), which makes the word mean "preciousness that appear in the word", who is losing his face (丢脸/丢人现眼). So the word has nothing to do with "time", since 现世 means "appear in the world" instead of "modern era" here. --Tomchen1989 (talk) 19:57, 6 September 2015 (UTC)
However, there is a Chinese word 现世报, which means retribution (报应, it's kind of like divine retribution) which occurs in this life (现世, instead of the next life after reincarnation). But I believe it's a modern Chinese word, I cannot find its origin from old books. Th word has something to do with "time" but still no strong link with "interesting times". --Tomchen1989 (talk) 19:57, 6 September 2015 (UTC)

Maybe it wasn't meant to be a curse or blessing[edit]

This reminds me of the sad but truthful origin of the old saying "This too, shall pass." On one hand, it's consoling, on the other hand, it's a warning of sorts. Sympatico73 (talk) 14:01, 4 September 2008 (UTC)

Regarding the spelling of “fulfilment” versus “fulfillment”[edit]

This article contains a quote by Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen from 1949. The original quote contains the word “fulfilment” with a spelling in which the letter “l” appears twice. There is an alternate spelling for this word in which the letter “l” appears three times: “fulfillment”. I think that the spelling “fulfilment” should be used within the quote to conform to the actual original text from the book “Diplomat in Peace and War”. In addition, I think that the “sic” designation is not necessary. Both the Merriam-Webster Online and the American Heritage Dictionary Fourth Edition list the two spellings as acceptable variants.

Thanks to the editor, Sympatico73, who raised this issue by modifying the spelling. The spelling “fulfillment” is more common, but in this case I think that “fulfilment” is preferable. Garson (talk) 13:07, 24 September 2008 (UTC)

From Dutch novel[edit]

It seems most likely that the expression is from a Netherlands novel, in which a Chinese character uses the phrase (invented by the Dutch author). I'll try to pin it down, but a very reliable person say's he's sure of it, and will try to dig up the details for us. --Jim a/k/a fdksla8Fjdksla8 (talk) 00:02, 19 October 2008 (UTC)

Kingdom of Fear[edit]

I just added a part to 'Popularization and usage' regarding the use of the phrase as the title of a short section of Hunter S. Thompsons book, Kingdom of Fear. Many of the sections of this book have been published previously elsewhere. This is probably the case for this section too. If anyone knows location of the original publication please substitute my Kingdom of Fear reference with it. Adlab (talk) 15:46, 6 November 2009 (UTC)

Dave Thurman[edit]

Merely a comment. I have used this phrase for many years. I thought it had Yiddish origin. You may want to investigate that possibility because the tone has that ironic twist that Yiddish expressions have been known for. Thanks. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:20, 9 January 2010 (UTC)

Lasting words to awaken the world[edit]

I was discussing this is class today and one of my students suggested it was from the Ming Dynasty book "Lasting words to awaken the world". I am not fluent in Chinese and so it would take someone who understands that language to check this. Amsterdam biking (talk) 06:23, 4 June 2012 (UTC)

This is a reference to 醒世恒言 written by Feng Menglong. There are two other closely related story collections of similar length associated with this work, and so it may be advisable to look at the other two as well. Quadibloc (talk) 01:11, 19 December 2013 (UTC)
  1. ^ Coudert, Frederic R. (1939). "Preparedness and Foreign Policy: Introduction". Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science. Academy of Political Science. XVIII (No. 3): 269.  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help)

Unattributed "closest chinese".[edit]

The translation would be pretty close and if it were in fact "a proverb" then that would be a dead match. However the links just go to single characters, there's no cite, and I haven't tackled the given sentences myself yet. If confirmed it would be close enough, Chinese and English are very different and the dog/man peace/war thing is close enough if in fact it's a proverb and especially if as is often the case the Hanzi have shaded meanings supporting it. Lycurgus (talk) 20:33, 1 January 2015 (UTC)

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Familiarity with Chinese culture?[edit]

"However, due to Joseph Chamberlain's familiarity with Chinese culture"

This strikes me as tolerably original. But if anybody can supply a reliable source...Septentrionalis PMAnderson 21:57, 2 June 2016 (UTC)

Sentence removal re: Joseph Chamberlain's familiarity with Chinese culture[edit]

Today I removed the following sentence from the article: "However, due to Joseph Chamberlain's familiarity with Chinese culture, his thoughts could have been inspired by the famous Chinese dog adage." The sentence had tagged with a citation-needed tag since June of 2016 (four months ago), which it clearly warranted. I had a look over the article on Joseph Chamberlain itself, and did a cursory review of the literature available on Google Books regarding his connections with China and Chinese culture, and I could find nothing to substantiate this claim (which is what I had hoped to do— substantiate it). If someone can find a citation suggesting this is true, then please add the sentence back and add the citation. Failing this, I don't think we can retain this sentence within the article, and the claim must remain apocryphal. KDS4444 (talk) 05:09, 9 November 2016 (UTC)

@Pmanderson:, since you might find this interesting KDS4444 (talk) 05:11, 9 November 2016 (UTC)
I'm fairly inactive, but will try to look into it. I would suggest either the Chamberlain orchids, or that the Colonial Secretary must in that age have been familiar - or at least read up on - Hong Kong. Septentrionalis PMAnderson 22:07, 17 November 2016 (UTC)