NOBLE Reference Files

"May You Live in Interesting Times"

In a speech in Cape Town, South Africa, on June 7, 1966, Robert F. Kennedy said, "There is a Chinese curse which says, "May he live in interesting times." Like it or not, we live in interesting times..." Journalists picked up the phrase and it has become a commonplace.

However, the popularity of this "Chinese curse" puzzles Chinese scholars, who have only heard it from Americans. If it is of Chinese origin, it has somehow escaped the literature, although it may be a paraphrase of a liberal translation from a Chinese source, and therefore unrecognizable when translated back to Chinese. It might be related to the Chinese proverb, "It's better to be a dog in a peaceful time than be a man in a chaotic period."

Stephen DeLong, who has been researching this quotation for several years and details his quest on his own website, has traced the quotation back to a 1950 science fiction story: "U-Turn" by Duncan H. Munro, a pseudonym for Eric Frank Russell.

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