TLDR Background

In his text 此生或彼生 Lu Xun takes apart a proponent of literary Chinese (named, I think, Wang Maozu). Wang had attempted to argue the superiority of Literary Chinese by pointing out that


could be recast in Literary Chinese as the reduction


Wang’s argument immediately struck me as somewhat disingenuous, since several 一 and 是 can be omitted in colloquial Chinese.

Lu Xun responded with the valid criticism that 生 in Wang’s reduction was ambiguous and could denote 學生,秀才 and 這一世/來生。

While I believe that f.e. 孔子家語 offers many examples of Classical Chinese being read ambiguously by the Ancients, I wonder, how hard it would have been for Wang to make a better argument for this single case.


Could Wang simply have said


to make his meaning clear without lengthening the phrase?

Is there another, less ambiguous, option of equal or even smaller length?

I suspect that most 此A彼B patterns involve A and B verbs [此起彼落、此呼彼应], not nouns. Though 此界彼疆 might be an exception. But perhaps the 此A彼B pattern is not even the smartest way to go.

3 Answers 3


It really depends on the focus/contexts of the conservation, 學生, and 人生 are not very easily mistaken one for another.

師嘆曰: 儒不可也.

問: 此(學)或彼(學)(如此不受)?

婦哭訴: 不如.

問: 此(this life)或來(next life)?


Though my knowledge of classic Chinese is limited, I don't think ancient Chinese would express an idea such as "這一個學生或是那一個學生", or "此生或彼生". To me, "這一個學生或是那一個學生" is kind of awkward. I'd use "這兩個學生那一個...". For example:
"這一個學生或是那一個學生較聰明?" => "這兩個學生那一個較聰明?" => "此二生孰慧?"
"這一個人或那一個人比較孝順?" => "這兩個人那一個比較孝順?" => "此二人孰孝?"

Though there is nothing wrong with "此生或彼生孰慧?", it just sounds unnatural to me.


Maybe you can say, 此人或彼人。

生 originally means life, reproduce, giving birth to。 It is indirectly used for youth as in 晚生,后生,小生,学生。 When 生 is used by itself, people would not think of the transformed meaning.

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