The Story of the Stone Rooms Poet

The following story (see 語言問題 Yuyan Wenti, ISBN 7-100-02132-4, (June 1980 1st ed, June 1997 2nd ed Commercial Press), p.149, originally entitled "施氏食獅史") by YuenRen Chao (Zhao Yuanren 趙元任) illustrates an aspect of Chinese which makes romanisation somewhat difficult. All the phonemes differ in the tone only, otherwise, they are all written as "shi" in hanyu pinyin.

I wish to thank Professor James Dew, Gloria Bien and others for helping me with the translation in the Chinese language discussion group at I approached the poem as though it were modern Chinese, relying on the meaning of the characters alone, however, it was pointed out to me that the form was more classical literary than modern.

Chinese Characters Pinyin Translation
石室詩士施氏, shi2 shi4 shi1 shi4 shi1 shi4 , The Stone Rooms Poet Shi Shi,
嗜獅, shi4 shi1 , was addicted to lions,
誓食十獅。 shi4 shi2 shi2 shi1 . he vowed to eat ten lions.
氏時時適市視獅。 shi4 shi2 shi2 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi1 . Shi Shi frequently went to town to look at lions.
十時, shi2 shi2 , Ten o'clock,
適十獅適市。 shi4 shi2 shi1 shi4 shi4 . suited ten lions for going to market.
是時, shi4 shi2 , It was also this time,
適施氏適市。 shi4 shi1 shi4 shi4 shi4 . that Shi Shi was going to market.
氏視是十獅, shi4 shi4 shi4 shi2 shi1 , Shi saw those ten lions,
恃矢勢, shi4 shi3 shi4 , Relying on the might of his arrows,
使是十獅逝世。 shi3 shi4 shi2 shi1 shi4 shi4 . He used them and cause the ten lions to die.
氏拾是十獅尸, shi4 shi2 shi4 shi2 shi1 shi1 , Shi collected these ten lions' bodies,
適石室。 shi4 shi2 shi4 . And returned to Stone Rooms.
石室濕, shi2 shi4 shi1 , The Stone Rooms was wet
氏使侍拭石室。 shi4 shi3 shi4 shi4 shi2 shi4 . Shi made his servants clean Stone Rooms.
石室拭, shi2 shi4 shi4 , Once Stone Rooms was wiped,
氏始試食十獅尸。 shi4 shi3 shi4 shi2 shi2 shi1 shi1 . Shin began to eat the ten lion's bodies.
食時, shi2 shi2 , During eating
始識是十獅尸, shi3 shi4 shi4 shi2 shi1 shi1 , It was only then he first realised that the ten lions' bodies,
實十石獅尸。 shi2 shi2 shi2 shi1 shi1 . were in reality the bodies of ten stone lions.
試釋是事。 shi4 shi4 shi4 shi4 . Try expaining the facts of this matter.


© Dylan W.H. Sung 2003

This page was created on Wednesday 16th April 2003, and recently updated on Tuesday 20th January 2004.