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These four characters together relay the meaning that can be expressed in English as, "When three people say there's a tiger running in the street, you believe it".
Of course, there is an ancient story behind this idiom...
三人成虎 is actually a proverb that resulted from a conversation that occurred around 300 B.C.
The conversation was between the king of the Wei kingdom and one of the king's ministers named Pang Cong.
It was near the end of one of many wars, this time with the Zhao kingdom. Pang Cong was to be sent by the king to the Zhao kingdom with the king's son who was to be held hostage. It was common at the time for a king to make his son a hostage to secure stable peace between warring kingdoms.
Before minister Pang Cong departed, he asked his king, "If one person told you there was a tiger running in the street, would you believe it?".
"No", the king said.
The minister continued, "What if two people told you?"
The king replied, "Well, I would have my doubts but I might believe it".
The minister continued, "So, what if three people told you that there is a tiger running in the streets?"
The king replied, "Yes, I would believe it, it must be true if three people say it".
The minister then reminded the king, "Your son and I are now traveling far away to live in the distant Zhao kingdom - much farther from your palace than the street. Rumors may fly about me in my absence, so I hope your majesty will weight such rumors appropriately".
The king replied, "I have every trust in you, do not worry"
While the minister was gone, the king's enemies gossiped about minister Pang Cong on many occasions. At first, the king thought nothing of these comments and rumors. But slowly as the rumors mounted, the king began to suspect ill of his minister.
Some time later when peace was well-established, the minister and prince were freed and returned to the kingdom of Wei. The king received his son, BUT DID NOT EVEN SUMMON MINISTER PANG CONG TO THE PALACE!
Hopefully this story will help you see how dangerous words can be when used to promote rumors, or create ill will. And perhaps will inspire you to not believe everything you hear.
There is also a secondary suggestion in this idiom that gossip is as ferocious as a tiger. Some Chinese people who don't know the ancient story above may believe that this scroll means that rumors are as vicious as three tigers.
Note: This proverb appears in my Korean dictionary but is not well-known in Korea.
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The following table may be helpful for those studying Chinese or Japanese...
|Title||Characters||Various forms of Romanized Chinese|
|Tiger Rumor||三人成虎||sān rén chéng hǔ|
san1 ren2 cheng2 hu3
san ren cheng hu
|san jen ch`eng hu
san jen cheng hu
Below are some entries from our dictionary that may match your Tiger Rumor search...
If shown, 2nd row is Simp. Chinese
|Simple Dictionary Definition|
| sān rén chéng hǔ / san1 ren2 cheng2 hu3
san jen ch`eng hu / san jen cheng hu
three men talking makes a tiger (idiom); repeated rumor becomes a fact
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