Chengyu Tuesdays: Spreading Rumours

三人成虎 sānrénchénghǔ – repeated rumour becomes fact


三人成虎 (sānrénchénghǔ) literally means “three people [talking] makes a tiger”, and is an idiom used to warn that if you repeat a lie often enough, it will be believed. Here’s the story behind it:

In the Warring States Period, Pang Cong, a minister of the State of Wei, was going to the State of Zhao as a hostage. Before he left, he said to the ruler of Wei: 

"Someone said there is a tiger in the market. Do you believe it?"

"No, I don't believe it,” the King replied.

Later, Pang Cong said:

"Now two people have said there is a tiger in the market. Do you believe it?" 

“I am beginning to wonder.”

Later still, Pang Cong said:

"Now three people have said the same thing. Do you believe it?"

"Yes I do."

Pang Cong replied, "There is no tiger in the market. Yet if three people say the same thing, you believe it! We must be alert against rumours gaining credence."

“I understand,” the King said.

After Pang Cong left for the State of Zhao, his enemies spread slanderous rumours about him. When Pang Cong returned, the King refused to see him.