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March 25, 2023

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Tigers and Mountains

Around the world, tigers live in a wide range of habitats, from rainforests and grasslands, swamps and prairies, according to the World Wildlife Fund. However, in China, people believe the powerful big cats usually live in mountains, and they back up that belief with two very popular sayings.

One saying is shanzhong wu laohu, houzi cheng dawang, which means “the monkey reigns in the mountain when the tiger is absent.” This proverb is often used to describe the situation where a mediocre person holds sway amid a group of people in the absence of a wise decision maker or a true boss.

This Chinese saying sounds a bit like the English expression: “When the cat is away, the mice will play.”

Another Chinese saying that links tigers to mountains is huluo pingyang bei quanqi, which translates literally as “when the tiger comes down from the mountain to the plains, it may be bullied even by dogs.”

This saying usually refers to a down-and-out person who is insulted or otherwise demeaned by lowlifes. In other words, when a strong man loses power or leaves his own turf, he may be subjected to much indignity.

It seems that the two Chinese sayings that link tigers to mountains may be coined by people who lived in areas where they saw tigers only in mountains.


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