Paper tiger

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This article is about a Chinese metaphor. For other meanings, see Paper tiger (disambiguation).

The phrase paper tiger is a literal English translation of the Chinese phrase zhi laohu (紙老虎), meaning something which seems as threatening as a tiger, but is really harmless.[1] (http://www.etymonline.com/p1etym.htm) The common usage is synonymous with the adjective toothless, meaning ineffective.

The phrase is an ancient one in Chinese, but sources differ as to when it entered the English vocabulary. Although some sources may claim it actually dates back as far as 1850 [2] (http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=paper+tiger), it seems the Chinese phrase was first translated when it was applied to describe the United States. In 1956, Chairman Mao Zedong, said of the US:

"In appearance it is very powerful but in reality it is nothing to be afraid of, it is a paper tiger. Outwardly a tiger, it is made of paper, unable to withstand the wind and the rain. I believe the United States is nothing but a paper tiger." [3] (http://www.maoism.org/msw/vol5/mswv5_52.htm)

In recent years, it has become a frequent term used to describe China or its economy, especially in the American and British press.

A variation on this term is paper champion.

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