The poet Shih Shih, so fond of eating lions ...

A tongue or a brain twister?


The famous text of the Lion-eating Poet in a Stone Den (above - read in columns from right) was a demonstration example written at the turn of the 2oth century by Chao Yuen-Ren. With his essay, the eminent linguist tried to spoof the idea of converting Chinese character text into a phonetic (e.g. Latin alphabetic) system. (The Pinyin romanization had been introduced half a century later in the People's Republic for auxiliary purposes.) The essay is 93 words long. Since every word is pronounced alike (except the tone), the entire essay becomes utterly unreadable in Mandarin. (Besides, I also really doubt if it's comprehensible when spoken...) This is different when spoken in Southern dialects - compare with the sound sample in Cantonese (see below).

If I 've counted right, the text includes 32 different characters, yet there hadn't been any need to come to an end with the story as there are at least 39 more Chinese words all pronounced "shih".



It's Mandarin Chinese pronunciation only differs in tone (1 to 4)
(Pinyin romanization)

shi2 shi4 shi1 shi4 shi1 shi4 shi4 shi1. shi4 shi2 shi2 shi1. shi4 shi2 shi2 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi1 shi2 shi2. shi4 shi2 shi1 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi2. shi4 shi1 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi2 shi1. shi4 shi3 shi4 shi3 shi4 shi2 shi1 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi2 shi4 shi2 shi1shi1. shi4 shi2 shi4 shi2 shi4 shi1. shi4 shi3 shi4 shi4 shi2 shi4 shi2 shi4 shi4. shi4 shi3 shi4 shi2 shi4 shi2 shi1 shi1 shi2 shi2. shi3 shi4 shi3 shi2 shi1 shi1 shi2 shi2 shi2 shi1 shi1 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi4

The same text in
Gwoyeu Romatzyh,
elaborated by Chao Yuenren & Lin Yutang with the tones incorporated in the spelling

shyh shy shyh shy shyh shyh shy. shyh shyr shyr shy. shyh shyr shyr
shyh shyr shyr shy shyr shyr. shyh shyr shy shyh shyh shyh shyr. shyh
shy shyh shyh shyh shyh shyh shyh shyr shy. shyh shyy shyh shyy shyh
shyr shy shyh shyh shyh shyr shyh shyr shy shy. shyh shyr shyh shyr
shyh shy. shyh shyy shyh shyh shyr shyh shyr shyh shyh shyh shyy shyh
shyr shyh shyr shy shy shyr shyr. shyy shyh shyy shyr shy shy shyr
shyr shyr shy shy shyh shyh shyh shyh

Here is my translation:

A poet by the name of Shih Shih living in a stone den was fond of lions. As he had taken an oath to eat ten lions, he went out to the market every day at ten o'clock in order to look for lions. It was at the time when all of a sudden ten lions came to the market and also Shih Shih went to the market at once realizing these ten lions. Relying on his (bow and) arrows, he caused these ten lions to pass away. Shih picked up the corpses of these ten lions, and as he went to the stone den, the stone chamber was damp. Shih had the stone den wiped by his servant. As the stone den was cleaned, it was the time that Shih began trying to eat the meal of these ten lions' corpses and he began to realize that these ten dead lions infact were ten stone lions' corpses and he tried to get rid of this matter.



Shishi shishi ...

My own short version and whole text by Dr. Siu-Leung Lee

whole text in Cantonese
S.L. Lee 2001



(Back to Poem & Tongue Twister Audio samples)