The proverb quoted by Xi that reveals China’s role in the war in Ukraine

The verse of the ancient poet Hui Hong: “It is up to whoever tied the rattle to the tiger’s neck to remove it.” In the past Xi had taken up a similar Chinese saying: “to remove the doorbell it takes someone who put it on”

In Xi Jinping’s rhetorical repertoire there is an infinity of cultured literary quotes and proverbs that are easy to consume for ordinary people. Yesterday, he distilled one of the second category for Joe Biden: «jie líng hái xu xì líng rén». Loosely translated it means: «It is up to whoever has tied the rattle to the tiger’s neck to remove it». In the context of the video-summit between the two presidents, he expresses China’s line on the Ukrainian crisis: the tiger would be Vladimir Putin; the rattle of NATO expansion towards the East that it would undermine Russian security; the author of the risky feat the United States. That now, if they want to tame the tiger made furious by the continuous ringing of the bell, they should approach the beast alone and remove it with caution.

It remains to be seen whether the Chinese have the desire and interest to somehow facilitate the approach and whether they in turn consider themselves tigers to appease. Xi Jinping is said to have an immense literary culture (he also mentions Hemingway, Dante and Petrarca to fascinate the audience). When during the Cultural Revolution he was sent along with hundreds of thousands of young students to the countryside to “learn from the peasant masses,” he arrived with a suitcase. The villagers began to imagine that there were provisions inside, perhaps a treasure. It was full of books, read and reread during those difficult years that prepared him for power. Probably from one of those precious volumes comes the pearl bestowed on Biden.

It’s about a quote from the ancient poet Huì Hóng of the Song Dynasty. The parable of the tiger and the rattle is a favorite of the Communist general secretary, who uses it in public to signal annoyance when faced with an unwelcome question. In 2014 he dedicated it to a journalist from New York Times which contested Beijing’s restrictions on the international press. He replied thus: «The government of the People’s Republic of China under the laws protects the people’s freedom of speech and also the legitimate rights of the press. However, the international press here should also respect the laws of China. For example, if a car breaks down you have to get out and check where the problem is, if you refer to something as a problem, it means there are reasons. We Chinese have a saying: “to remove the bell you need whoever put it on” “. Foreign correspondence offices (including that of Courier service) did research to decipher the message, which was clear and brutal, even if poetic in form: you have irritated us, now you find for yourself a way to placate us.


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