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There are two sayings available on-line, each with various explanations. One is:

文无第一 武无第二 (in culture there is no first, in war there is no second)

And one is:

文无第二武无第一 (in culture there is no second, in war there is no first)

Does one of these have an earlier origin?

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As a native Chinese speaker, I knew "文无第一 武无第二" when I was very young. However, I have never heard of "文无第二 武无第一".

  • To my understanding, 文 does not mean culture here, and it means the ability of a person to write beautiful and logical articles. 武 here means the fighting technique rather than the war commanding technique. – Zack Jul 6 '15 at 22:01
  • Thanks. It was a native speaker, a professor about 30 years old, from Hebei, who introduced me to the saying and he had "武无第一文无第二," which he explained as war has no final winner but in writing such as poetry people only remember the first creator (say, Kongzi, or Homer) and not others who follow them. – Colin McLarty Jul 6 '15 at 23:09
  • @ColinMcLarty That's not a common knowledge, to my best knowledge. It could very well be the professor's personal theory. – NS.X. Jul 7 '15 at 3:29
  • I agree with NS.X. that it might be a personal theory. The professor's interpretation is indeed very interesting though. – Zack Jul 8 '15 at 1:11
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I stress the meaning already given to the words 文 and 武. According to them and trying to explore the hidden sense of the two statements, I think the sentence only makes sense on its first formulation(文无第一武无第二), the second one looks like a slightly rhetoric and pro-war interpretation. In fact as 文 is a matter of self-personal and gradual improvement that you only are able to porsue if you are prepared to accept that there is no definite or best way (无第一). All attempts and little steps are useful to progress into. So, it's a painful process of continuous improvement, plain of multiple attempts and fails (a trial an error method) which, despite all the difficulties you find, you must be ready to proceed in its search, without never knowing when and if you are reaching the end (无第一). On the contrary, fighting 武 is a more objectif thing in which you must make use of means at yours disposal to achieve, in that real moment, the goal and the aspired target- victory; giving your best in a life-and-death struggle, because there will be not a second chance (武无第二). If you try to imagine a noun after the numeral of that sentence, like“way”or "opportunity” perhaps you can clarify its meaning:文无第一(道路/机会)武无第二(道路/机会).Huli

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