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A lot of people, mostly those who haven't studied Chinese, like to claim something along the lines of

"In Chinese, the word for crisis 危机, also bears the meaning of opportunity."

This is usually said right before or after making a remark that a crisis can also be a possibility.

My thought on this is that it was originally written as 危险机会 (or 危险的机会), meaning a "chance of danger", or "possibility of danger". And then, as in many other cases, character 2 and 4 dropped, to make the word 危机. In this way, it has become a misunderstanding that the word means both "danger" and "opportunity", as both of these words are represented.

My questions are

  • Am I totally wrong?
  • Do Chinese speakers really think of 危机 as both "crisis" and "opportunity"?
  • Do Chinese speakers use 危机 to describe some kinds of crises (possibly fortunate ones, less severe etc), and use another word for other kinds?
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How many kinds of crisis are there? And what are they? –  fefe Jan 16 '12 at 9:47
    
Catastrophies, disasters, missed deadlines, lack of competent labor, lack of funds, missed flights, lack of credit, food shortage etc –  Lars Andren Jan 16 '12 at 12:19
    
Lars, is your question related to the New Chinese Year Event? –  Alenanno Jan 16 '12 at 12:32
    
@Alenanno no, not at all. –  Lars Andren Jan 17 '12 at 11:27
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3 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Victor Mair has an essay answering your question directly:

Danger + opportunity ≠ crisis, how a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray.

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Hi, welcome to this site. Your answer is good, so I give a upvote to it. Thanks for your answer and I hope that you can continue to give more ansers or ask questions here. –  Huang Jan 17 '12 at 5:07
    
Dead on! This is exactly what I was looking for. –  Lars Andren Jan 17 '12 at 11:30
    
No. But it's sad how far this rumor has gone. I've even heard Chinese hosts on CCTV-9 say this garbage. Think of how callous one would have to be to say this: Oooh look, Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans... what an opportunity for gain! –  stevendaniels Jan 17 '12 at 13:49
    
lo, behold, the CAT in KATRINA... –  flow Dec 16 '13 at 13:51
    
It is not pleasant to think of pain as part of growth, but it is frequently true. Whether any given individual will interpret crisis as an opportunity has more to do with optimism than empathy. –  Waylon Flinn Mar 19 at 13:24
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"危机" is not short for "危险机会". never heard that.

it means "danger",but more serious than general "danger"!

For Example,if the company has some critical trouble,we can say that the company has "危机". By contrast,it also has chance to put the company back on its feet.

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False. Please see K. Shen's accepted answer for very descriptive and complete analysis of this question. –  Lars Andren Nov 7 '13 at 7:08
    
oh sorry,I've always used 危機 in my way..... i'll check it. thx! –  Lily Yu Nov 14 '13 at 1:27
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I've never heard "危险机会", and I don't think it is valid in Chinese.

"危机" does not carry the meaning of "opportunity".

However, there are always opportunities in a crisis situation. Sometimes the ability of a person can be only shown in crisis situations. So a crisis is sometimes considered as an opportunity to appeal one's ability in achieve some task. And in overcoming a crisis, people can get various award or promotion. This should be how "危机" is linked to opportunity.

EDIT:

With respect the different crises given by the OP in the comment, "危机" can be used for all of them. However, a disaster can be a crisis to a country, and a missing deadline is only a crisis for a single person.

"危机" is used to refer to severe situations. There would not be "fortunate" ones.

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