Mandarin yu2-ren2 de2-li4. This is the rough Chinese equivalent of the Latin term tertius gaudens, although the Latin is a noun phrase ("the rejoicing third party") while the Chinese is a complete sentence. More subtle than the military saying "divide and conquer", since it implies that the third party has taken advantage of a short-sighted squabble on the part of the other two.
The story originates in the Stratagems of the Warring States, one of many early Chinese books filled with the lore and parables of political intrigue. It seems that a clam had just opened its shell to sun itself on the beach, and a sandpiper appeared and stuck its beak in to eat it. The clam promptly shut its shell on the sandpiper's beak, and neither could get free.
The sandpiper said, "If it doesn't rain today or tomorrow, there's going to be one dead clam."
The clam replied, "If you can't get your beak out today or tomorrow, there's going to be one dead sandpiper."
A fisherman came up and caught them both.
From the second volume of the Intrigues of the State of Yan. It is quoted in a number of different forms. Another commonly seen is "sandpiper and clam hold onto each other" (yu4 bang4 xiang1-chi2), a type of xiehouyu to which the proper reply is "fisherman gains the advantage".
Other Chinese literary allusions