Where Did the Term Paper Tiger Come From?

Where Did the Term Paper Tiger Come From?

What Does Paper Tiger Mean?

Paper tiger is an English translation of the Chinese word xhilaohu. The meaning of the word is juxtaposed to mean a strong but inefficient item. It can mean something that outwardly appears powerful but is frail or ineffective. 

The popularity of the word emanates from slogan popularized by Chinese head Mao Zedong. The fame of the saying was rampant with the Chinese leader. He goes down in history as a powerful leader who took on his rivals, including the US government.

Foundation of Paper Tiger

The origin of the word dates back to ancient times. The first translated version of the word was done under the work of John Francis that took place before the opium war. There is still mystery over which delegate specifically formed the phrase. But it is attributed to one of the Beijing delegates to the White House. 

There is a logic in the idiom since the West views the tiger as the most powerful animal. It is the opposite of the Western culture that attributes the lion as the strongest animal. The phrase states the strongest and fiercest animal that is made so easy out of paper material. This shows the fragility in the phrase despite the power that many attributes to the phrase.

Many Chinese idioms contain the tiger character as a powerful symbol. In the Eastern context, the tiger replaces the lion in West Culture. It currently reflects the current state of the tension in the Middle East with conflicting countries.

Past Uses of Paper Tiger

The idiom first becomes popular through Chinese head Mao Zedong. The phrase came into light during an interview with an infamous American Journalist, Anna Strong back in 1946. The use of popular idiom dealt with the threats of atom bombs.

The Chinese leader alluded to the atom bombs as paper tigers. The leader further portrayed the atom bombs as paper tigers used by the US to scare other people. Despite the power that the atom bombs carry, it does not scare a lot.

Another instance where the phrase became popular was when the Chinese leader described the American imperialism as a paper tiger. The leader stated that the imperialism might appear superficially rooted, but it is not deep-rooted and only a paper tiger. He alluded that the American Imperialism was notwithstanding in the long run. Common examples of paper tigers Zedong stated included:

  • Atom bombs
  • American imperialism
  • Japan
  • Adolf Hitler 
  • U.S Government

Deep Meaning of Paper Tigers

Even though the definition by Zedong is inconclusive, it still bears a lot of significance. At first glance, the infamous idiom might seem strong on the surface. But a close look, makes the matter look like an overextension bound to fall. 

The rise of popularity of the phrase has seen it picked by other scholars. Paul de Man coined the phrase in resistant to theory. He places a puzzle on the meaning of paper tigers. He makes the argument that the paper tiger might turn out to be powerful as first scared of. It calls for caution when approach the paper tiger.

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