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自相矛盾 (zì xiāng máo dùn)

A Chinese proverb referring to contradictory statements or situations.

During the Warring States period in the state of Chu, there was a man who had a spear and a shield. He was trying to sell them in the marketplace and was loudly boasting about the capabilities of each item.

"This long spear (矛; máo) is so sharp, it can pierce through anything!"

"And this wooden shield (盾; dùn) lets nothing through; others name it the Indestructible Shield!"

Then a passerby decided to test him.

"What if you use your spear against your shield?"


Smart aleck.

Using a spear directly against a shield is generally inadvisable. The shield is probably made of something dense and rather sturdy. Hitting it head-on with a pointy object is likely to blunt the point. A spear without a point is called a club or a quarterstaff, depending on whether or not you know anything about quarterstaff fighting. Either way, you were better off before driving the spear into the shield.

Even if your spear remains sharp, it is now lodged firmly in the shield and will be difficult, if not impossible, to remove.

This is a practical application of a general case. Most edged weapons are not designed to be used directly against a solid, hard material such as plate body armor or a shield; attempting to do so will damage the weapon much more than it will damage the armor. There are exceptions, but most of them are tools as specialized in their way as a can opener is in its way.

Even though using a spear directly against a shield is inadvisable, this proverb has much to be said for it. Testing the claims of blustering merchants, and of others who try to make extravagant claims, is a worthy and necessary part of life.

Using a spear against a shield can be an effective means of countering the defensive power of a shield. Many soldiers throughout history carried a javelin, long spear or short spear in addition to their sword and shield. They would use the spear just as they closed with the enemy before drawing their sword for the remainder of the battle. If a long, heavy spear is stuck in your shield, it can make the shield difficult to wield, sometimes forcing the defender to drop their shield entirely. The Romans in fact developed this sort of tactic to a high degree. They began using a short throwing spear called a pilum which was thrown at the front ranks of an oncoming enemy en masse to cause disarray in the front lines just before closing to sword-distance. They eventually developed a special form of pilum with a very soft, short, iron shaft just behind the head of the spear, so that when it stuck in an enemy's shield ( or his armor), the weight of the wooden shaft of the spear jutting out would bend this short, weak length of soft iron, disfiguring the spear and making it unable to be removed and thrown back at the roman army. it was a disposable spear designed to be unusable after impact. brilliant!

additionally, spears, and then eventually lances were utilized by cavalry in charges specifically to break walls of shields. when an armored horse and rider are charging at full gallop, all of that tremendous weight and power are transferred to the fine point of their spear or lance, transferring on impact into a shattering blow, capable of breaking even the sturdiest line of soldiers. Thus in some instances, the spear is the MOST effective means of disabling the defensive power of even the mightiest wall of shields.

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