Lion’s den?

中国日报网 2014-08-08 11:20



Lion’s den?

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: “Sometimes you have to throw yourself in the lion’s den.”

My comments:

I have no idea what the speaker is referring to exactly, but basically the idea is this: You can’t achieve anything of note without taking risks, sometimes extraordinary risks.

That’s the idea insofar as throwing yourself into the lion’s den is concerned.

The lion’s den, you see, is the lion’s lair, its hiding and resting place, its home and residence. Lion’s are territorial animals, as you may well know. They guard their home with great vigilance and care. They do not welcome disturbing visitors in their abode, as far as all current knowledge indicates.

And lions are also known as the king of the world – animal world, that is.

All this, in short, means that the lion’s den is a dangerous place for a human to find himself/herself in. Mere contemplation of the idea is frightful.

Hence, if you place yourself in the lion’s den, you put yourself at great risk and danger.

The question to ask, naturally, is why do you want to place yourself in the lion’s den in the first place?

One Chinese idiom may explain this. You’ve heard of people say this before, I am sure. “If you don’t go into the tiger’s den, you won’t be able to catch its cubs.”

Tiger in the Chinese proverb replaces the lion but the ethos remains the same.

So people used to enter the tiger’s den to take their cubs away.

Well, for one thing, if the ancients actually did that, I’m sure it meant little harm. Tigers presumably weren’t at all endangered as they are now worldwide, and so therefore I think the ancients were pretty much free to do anything they liked without doing any harm to the environment.

At any rate, the idea of people entering tiger’s den is not to be read literally, but rather metaphorically. People who say that only means to say it takes great courage and extra risk in order for anyone to achieve anything out of the ordinary.

It is the same with walking into the lion’s den, wherein you’re very likely to be bitten and clawed to death, if not eaten wholesome, head to toe.

Anyways, the idea is, aim high and be not afraid to walk into the lion’s den, i.e. take a chance – at your own risk or peril.

Yes, even peril.

So therefore, take calculated risks only, so that you won’t have anything to complain about later.

And, remember this, don’t rush.

Why not?

What’s the hurry?

Alright, here are media examples of lion’s den, or tiger’s den:

1. In his first public statement since leftist rebels seized the Japanese ambassador’s house on Tuesday, Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori late Saturday said he won’t use force if the rebels disarm and release all of some 340 hostages held at gunpoint.

“The proposal is concrete, that the captors lay down their arms...and facilitate the release of all the hostages, without exceptions,” he said in a televised statement.


The crisis began when about 20 members of a leftist group seized the residence of Japan’s ambassador to Peru during a party Tuesday night.

About 340 hostages are being held, and the Tupac Amaru rebel leaders have threatened to kill them unless officials release hundreds of their imprisoned confederates.

Recently freed hostages said the leader of the leftist Tupac Amaru terrorists holding the hostages is one of Peru’s most wanted and dangerous men: Nestor Cerpa Cartolini.

Cerpa Cartolini is a co-founder of the Tupac Amaru movement who was jailed in the late 1970s for involvement in the bloody takeover of a textile factory in which three policemen were killed.

He is also credited with a dramatic 1990 tunnel escape that freed Tupac Amaru leader Victor Polay and nearly 50 other comrades from one of Peru’s maximum security prisons. Polay was recaptured two years later, but Cerpa Cartolini has remained at large even as Peruvian authorities congratulated themselves for having contained the terrorist threat.

“There is absolutely no doubt that it is Cerpa Cartolini who has directed and is directing this operation,” said Manuel Romero, editor of Peru’s leading business newspaper, who was released with 37 other hostages Friday.

“We’re not talking about just anyone,” said Javier Diez Canseco, another former hostage. “If this leader has placed himself in the lion’s den it’s because he’s going for broke.

Unlike the other leader of the Tupac Amaru movement who has middle-class origins, Cerpa Cartolini is from a working-class background and is considered a ruthless man of action.

- Fujimori breaks silence and urges release of hostages,, December 22, 1996.

2. Laura Miller and Don George interview Haruki Murakami, author of ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle,’ ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’ and ‘Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.’


Did you ever sit in the bottom of a dry well, like your hero, Toru?

No. But I’ve always been attracted by wells, very much. Every time I see one, I go over and look in.

Do you think you’ll go down one some day?

No, no.

Too scared?

Too scared. I read some writings by people who dropped down wells. One story, by Raymond Carver, was about a boy who dropped into a well and spent a day at the bottom. It’s a good story.

He’s a very realistic writer.

Yes, very realistic. But the subconscious is very important to me as a writer. I don’t read much Jung, but what he writes has some similarity with my writing. To me the subconscious is terra incognita. I don’t want to analyze it, but Jung and those people, psychiatrists, are always analyzing dreams and the significance of everything. I don’t want to do that. I just take it as a whole. Maybe that’s kind of weird, but I’m feeling like I can do the right thing with that weirdness. Sometimes it’s very dangerous to handle that. You remember that scene in the mysterious hotel? I like the story of Orpheus, his descending, and this is based on that. The world of death and you enter there at your own risk. I think that I am a writer, and I can do that. I am taking my own risk. I have confidence that I can do it.

But it takes time. When I started to write this book and I was writing and writing every day, then when that darkness came, I was ready to enter it. It took time before that, to reach that stage. You can’t do that by starting to write today and then tomorrow entering that kind of world. You have to endure and labor every day. You have to have the ability to concentrate. I think that’s the most important ingredient to the writer. For that I was training every day. Physical power is essential. Many authors don’t respect that. [Laughs] They drink too much and smoke too much. I don’t criticize them, but to me, strength is critical. People don’t believe that I’m a writer because I’m jogging and swimming every day. They say, “He’s not a writer.”

Do you scare yourself when you write these dark things?

No, not at all.

Not even in the scene when the evil being is coming through the hotel room door to get Toru, or when the soldier is skinned alive? Doesn’t writing those scenes upset you?

OK, yeah, I get scared. When I was writing those scenes, I was there. I knew that place, I knew. I can feel the darkness. I can smell the strange smells. If you cannot do that, you are not a writer. If you’re a writer you can feel that in your skin. When I was writing the scene of the skinning, I was so … it was so horrible, and I was scared. I didn’t want to write it, honestly, but I did it. I wasn’t happy when I was doing it, but it was so important to the story. You can’t avoid that. It’s your responsibility.

It sounds like when you feel scared about writing something, you decide to pursue it.

You can’t escape from that. There is a saying in Japan: “When you want a tiger’s cub, you have to enter the tiger’s den.”

- Haruki Murakami,, December 16, 1997.

3. At the age of 82, Jimmy Carter entered the lion’s den. With the publication of his latest book, “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid,” he did what a patriot would do: rally Americans to vigorous debate of a critical issue that affects our future. He deserves a hero’s praise. Instead, he has been attacked and defamed.

I had the honor to serve as the senior Republican on the Middle East Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee throughout the Carter administration. Carter frequently invited me to huddles in the White House; discussions that would ultimately lead to a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt. I know Carter well and consider him a friend.

I also experienced firsthand what Carter now faces. Toward the end of my 22-year tenure in Congress, I spoke in favor of Palestinian rights and was critical of Israeli policies of Palestinian land confiscation and Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian lands. These actions were counter to American policy and values. They dimmed chances for peace.

As a result of my evenhanded position, the pro-Israel lobby poured money into my opponent's campaign. I overcame their challenge in 1980 but lost in 1982 by a narrow margin. Still, the message was heard loudly on Capitol Hill: Criticize Israel and pay with your congressional seat.

In my 1985 book, “They Dare to Speak Out,” I detailed the tactics used to silence criticism of Israeli policies. One of the groups employing these tactics is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. On its Web site, AIPAC calls itself “America’s pro-Israel lobby” and boasts a New York Times description of it as “the most important organization affecting America’s relationship with Israel.”

All citizens have the right to band together and push for policies they believe are right. But AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobby groups do not plead the case for Israel on the stage of public opinion. Instead, they often resort to smear campaigns and intimidation to clear the floor so that only their side is heard.

Carter has dared to call a spade a spade. South African leaders, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and UN Envoy John Dugard, compare Israeli policies to apartheid. The Israeli press uses the term, as do Israeli politicians. Former Education Minister Shulamit Aloni said in a recent commentary, “Indeed apartheid does exist here.” Pro-Israel lobby groups have not debated the credence of these claims. Instead, they lob accusations and insults, even insinuating that Carter is anti-Semitic. They do not prove him wrong with facts. They seek to discredit him with innuendo.

- Carter Enters Lions’ Den, by Paul Findley, Chicago Tribune, February 9, 2007.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Totem pole?

Cash cow?

A dose of his own medicine

Kicking the can down the road?

Food chain?

Follow the money?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)




















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