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望梅止渴 (wang4 mei2 zhi3 ke3)

During the Three Kingdoms era in Chinese history, the General-King Cao Cao (曹操) reigned over the state of Wei 魏. He was a despotic ruler, so much so that some compared him with the Devil. The story relating to this Chinese proverb originates from him.

Being an alpha male, Cao Cao had developed a good acumen for motivating others to do his will. He was leading his armies to war yet again, when the men faced the problem of water shortage. It was a dire situation and his citizens were literally dragging their feet to the battlefield, their tongues swelling in their parched mouths. At this very moment King Cao, an orator comparable to Winston Churchill, came up with his winning statement.

"There's a sour plum glade up ahead. When we reach there we will be able to eat of the fruits to quench our thirst."

In other accounts, he was also said to have remarked:

"There's a lady who's as beautiful as a fairy there, and whoever reaches the battlefield first will get her hand in marriage."

Upon hearing their commander's statement, the men began to salivate uncontrollably. (I hope it was for the plums, not the lady, since there was only one of her to go around, poor girl.) This moisturised their mouths, and enabled the troops to reach the battlefield in record time.

Whether they actually reached the sour plum forest or if there was such a lady was never recorded.

Today, this proverb is used to refer to aspirations that are out-of-reach, and the space cadet who prefers to dream rather than face reality.

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