During the Warring States period, various states competed with each other. Dai Su met with King Hui of Zhao and told him the fable about the fighting sandpiper and clam, to make him understand the principle that the ultimate beneficiary would be the fisherman. As a result, King Hui agreed to cancel the plan to attack the state of Yan. This idiom is often used later to describe situations where people were preoccupied with fighting each other, others would take advantage of the situation.
This idiom comes from a story of “Zhao prepares to attack Yan” in The Strategies of the Warring States - Yan's Strategy II, which occurred during China's Warring States period. At that time, various states were competing for power and constantly engaging in wars of annexation in order to obtain land, wealth, and people. The endless wars were not only for survival, but also for greater strength. One day, King Hui of Zhao wanted to attack the state of Yan. The tactician, Dai Su, believed that a war between the two states would lead to the misfortune of the people, and he was even more concerned that if Zhao and Yan were both weakened by the war, Qin State would take advantage and swallow them up. Therefore, Dai Su acted on half of the Yan State to persuade King Hui of Zhao, using the metaphor, “when the sandpiper and the clam fight, the fisherman benefits” to urge him not to start a war because the one who would benefit would be Qin State, which is like the fisherman who profits from the fight.
When Dai Su met with King Hui of Zhao, he did not directly ask him to cease the war. Instead, he told him a fable: “Your Majesty, when I was passing through the Yi River on my way to your country, I saw a clam by the riverbank, basking in the sun with its shell open. At that moment, a sandpiper approached and began pecking at the clam's flesh. The clam was startled and immediately closed its shells, and which tightly clamped the sandpiper’s beak. The sandpiper said, “If it doesn't rain today, and if it won't rain tomorrow, you will die from the sun.” The clam retorted, “If your beak won't come out today, and if it won't come out tomorrow, you will also perish soon.” As the two sides reached a deadlocked and refused to give in, a fisherman happened to pass by and effortlessly caught them both.”
Dai Su continued, “Your Majesty, if Zhao attacks Yan today, Yan will surely resist with all its might. If both sides reach a deadlock and cause serious damage to both countries, I am afraid that our neighboring Qin will be the fisherman in the story. They will take advantage of this situation and destroy both Zhao and Yan!” After listening to Dai Su's words, King Hui of Zhao found it reasonable and agreed to cancel the plan to attack Yan.
There are various species of sandpipers, which are collectively known as the family Scolopacidae.
They mainly inhabit and move around wetlands along riverbanks and coastlines. Sandpipers have different sizes, with long beaks, necks, and legs, though some have short beaks. Their plumage is usually gray or brown. They often wade in water to catch small fish, shellfish, etc.
So, what do clams look like? “Clams” is the name of a type of animal belonging to the bivalve family. Examples include clams, oysters, and mussels.
Clams often lives in shallow seas, freshwater, or along sandy and muddy river - sea borders. They can grow up to eight or nine inches in length, and their pearls and shells can be used to make various tools. They also have high value as a food. Some clams that produce pearls are highly valued.
How can we apply the idiom “When the sandpiper and the clam fight, the fisherman benefits” to modern life?
The result of the fight between the sandpiper and the clam will inevitably cause destruction to both sides. Instead of letting others benefit from it, it’s better for both sides to compromise.
If team members compete with each other, it often results in “hurting loved ones and pleasing enemies.”
The fight between the sandpiper and the clam only ends up giving their opponent a good opportunity.