In HSK5级 应试指南 (pages 68 and 69), there's an exercise about Confucius (孔子). Two children are arguing about whether or not the sun is closer to the earth during the day. Confucius doesn't know how to answer, and from there...


The choices for the blank are:

A. 你说的对吗
B. 太阳离我们有多远
C. 为什么你这么聪明呢 (✗)
D. 谁说你的知识很丰富呢 (✓)

The 笑着 indicates humor is involved in the answer. B is not a joke, so it's incorrect. A is like a genuine question, which is not correct since 孔子 didn't say anything.

I thought the answer was C. 为什么你这么聪明呢 = "Why are you so smart?". This reminds me of a typical joke where there is a group of people together without any of them speaking, and someone might ironically remark "Gee, don't all speak at once!" And indeed, a sign of intelligence is not claiming to know an answer when you don't.

However, the answer is D. 谁说你的知识很丰富呢 = "Who says you have plentiful knowledge?" To me, this sounds like a flat-out insult (claiming 孔子 is not as smart as people say), and not humorous.

The books explanation is as follows:

第52题根据全文判断,孔子回答不了两个小孩子的问题,“两个小孩子笑着说”应该是一种否定的意思,因此选择反问句”D. 谁说你的知识很丰富呢“。

But it seems C, when said jokingly in the given context, also has a 否定的意思. There seems to be something here about Chinese-style humor I'm missing.

Question: Why do the students joke 谁说你的知识很丰富呢 and not 为什么你这么聪明呢?

6 Answers 6


There seems to be something here about Chinese-style humor I'm missing.

That is because you interpreted the choice C 为什么你这么聪明呢 as an ironic or humorous antiphrasis, that is quite common in English or Italian, my language, but not in Chinese.

Definition of antiphrasis: the usually ironic or humorous use of words in senses opposite to the generally accepted meanings.


  • "This giant of 3 feet 4 inches."
  • "Take your time, we've got all day" (meaning "hurry up, we don't have all day").
  • "Great!" (said when something unpleasant had happened or is about to happen).

In time I realized that the use of antiphrasis as rhetorical device in Chinese is very rare.

But it seems C, when said jokingly in the given context, also has a 否定的意思

Actually, 否定的意思 is not what you mean, it is not an antiphrasis. It's the negation or rejection of what someone says about 孔子的知识.


I believe the best answer should be 谁说您十分有智慧呢?

Because this is a translation from 两小儿辩日,which ends in


孰: Who

为: Thinks

汝: You

多: Same as modern use, plentiful

知: This is a borrowed word (通假字), which is a phenomenon commonly seen in ancient Chinese. When some words haven't been invented (yet), people in the past often use a character that sounds the same or similar. In this sentence, 知 is a subsitute for 智, which means "cleverness" as today.

乎: Used in the end of a question.

Therefore, none of the given choice matches the original meaning. The given D choice mistook the word 知 to be used as its original meaning, which is wrong in this context.


This is a culture thing. Most Chinese would choose D because that's the only logical choice. I bet most Chinese cannot understand why one would choose C unless they have watched enough episodes of Frasier, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc.


The 笑着 indicates humor is involved in the answer

笑着说 (laughingly say) can also indicate they are 取笑 (making fun of/ ridiculing) 孔子

D is the only logical answer

More example:


The laugher is not for humor but for an insult


Because it is not meant to be a joke. They are genuinely saying Confucius is not as smart as people say.

This story of 两小儿辩日 is a famous piece from the book of 列子, which belongs to a school of thought different from Confucianism. They often make fun of Confucius.

However, this is not as serious as an insult either. Confucius is respected because he admits he doesn't know the answer when he doesn't know the answer, instead of pretending to know everything. This is highly valued in Chinese culture.

You can read more about the background and interpretation of the story here: https://baike.baidu.com/item/%E4%B8%A4%E5%B0%8F%E5%84%BF%E8%BE%A9%E6%97%A5. (The link is entirely in Chinese but I think you have a good enough mastery of Chinese to read native contents.)


When you ask your teacher a difficult question, you are challenging his knowledge, not his intelligence. So in this case, only "D" is the correct answer - 谁说你的知识很丰富呢!? (Who said you know everything!?) - you are jokingly questioning his knowledge which was known by many to be immensely broad.

"C" is simply not applicable, since the sentence "为什么你这么聪明呢!?" is a "praise" deserved by him, through answering the question swiftly and correctly, which wasn't the case in this example.

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