"Chinese" proverb source and translation?
July 13, 2018 10:58 PM   Subscribe

I've been tasked with finding the source of "Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are." So far I've seen it tagged as a Chinese proverb, but I thought I'd ask if anyone from China had ever heard the phrase. If it is Chinese in origin, does the following capture its essence? (I'm entirely ignorant of Chinese languages, I'm just passing on something I found.) 松懈中的你,是真正的你;你之所以感到压力,是因为你期待改变自己
posted by Tell Me No Lies to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
Best answer: yes - I wouldn't quite call 压力 tension; more stress: "who you are when relaxed (sort of) is who you are; the pressure you feel is because you feel you must change yourself"
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 3:20 AM on July 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The chinese translation is more or less correct, but it's not in the form of a proverb at all, just a regular sentence. The concept could be from a Chinese proverb though. They're usually four characters long.
posted by bearette at 5:30 AM on July 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For what it's worth, it doesn't sound at all like a Chinese proverb to me, it sounds like one of the zillions of "profound" "insights" that proliferate in self-help books and are often disguised as quotes from famous people or Chinese proverbs (for some reason they're always supposed to be Chinese) because that makes them more impressive. The earliest version I could find on Google Books is allegedly from 1996 (the others are all from this century) and labeled "Dalai Lama quote"; while I'm sure that attribution is bullshit, it gives a hint as to how it might have gotten labeled a "Chinese proverb." Depending on your relationship with whoever tasked you, you can either say "Sorry, there's no clear attribution" or reword what I said above. I would bet any amount of money it's not an actual Chinese proverb; for comparison, see the relevant Wikipedia article, which has lots of actual proverbs (e.g., "Father's debt, son to give back" and "hit a dog with a meat-bun").
posted by languagehat at 6:13 AM on July 14, 2018 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Agreed with the above--classical Chinese 'proverbs' are written in a different form: they are either in 4-character-long set phrases, and still used today as aphorisms. Or it would be written in Classical Chinese (think: Beowulf, vs. modern English), with an entirely different grammatical and vocabulary structure. So while there might be an originating phrase in Classical Chinese approximating "Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are"... it could also be buying into that "inscrutable pearls of asian mysticism" trope.
posted by yunhua at 8:11 AM on July 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I fully admit to waiting to see what others would say before I posted this because while Chinese was my first language, English is now my only language, and my family isn't very traditional / culture-steeping.

First, I agree with previous posters that this would be four characters followed by another four characters.

Second, this doesn't sound like a terribly Chinese concept, especially not from the periods where most proverbs originate. Who are you? I don't know, what's your position in the world? That's who you are. There is no tension between who you are and what you are supposed to be, so no tension / relaxation dichotomy.

If I had to pick an origin, it would be an instagram yoga brand promoter.
posted by batter_my_heart at 11:05 AM on July 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, this has been most useful. In particular knowing the likely form of Chinese proverbs will help pare things down considerably in the future.

Now I just have to sort out the Russian and Arabic ones. :-)
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:20 PM on July 14, 2018

+1 what batter_my_heart said. I tried to find some verifiable chengyu (the four-word things) in opposition to this idea. I couldn't, and I think it's because the idea is so bizarre nobody bothers to refute it. It's a very western, modern idea to have some sort of intrinsic identity which you must express outwardly.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 3:34 PM on July 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I would also question the provenance - the entire conception of the proverb is very, very Western. The Confucian influences behind many Chinese proverbs would not put out something like this. Indeed, a Confucian approach would be more like relaxation is failing to be who you truly should be, or something like that.
posted by smoke at 5:17 PM on July 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

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