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Chinese Fortunes: Vice or Virtue?


We ordered take-out Chinese food this weekend, which usually wouldn’t be cause for comment except for two things.

First, I ordered something I’d never ordered before, and it reeked. It literally stank to the proverbial high heaven. You could smell the stench for days in the hallway. Even our neighbors mentioned it, although they didn’t know the horrific smell came from our take-out, and I didn’t tell them. (Shhhh)

In case you’re wondering, it was Szechuan Chicken. I have no idea why it smelled that bad, but I know I won’t be ordering it for delivery again. On the plus side it allowed for an entire conversation with a neighbor I’d only nodded to in passing before. He told me about an excellent Chinese food place right across the street that I hadn’t tried but is apparently the best in the area. Score one for smelly food!

Second (you’ve already forgotten there were two things, haven’t you), obligatory fortune cookies accompanied my odorific meal. I love opening fortune cookies. I love being adolescent and adding the words “in bed” to whatever the fortune is. Mostly I love the cookie itself, but the real story here is the fortune which was wrapped inside.


“What’s vice today may be virtue tomorrow.”


That threw me. I turned that phrase over in my head, then wrote it down and stared at it. What the heck is that supposed to mean? Is there some person tucked away in a corner in China somewhere giggling over that phrase right now? “I’ll write something they’ll never figure out and thus take over civilization as we know it.”

I tried dissecting the phrase. What’s vice today? What, exactly, is a vice? The dictionary says it’s an immoral or evil habit. At first I was going to say smoking. Or maybe doing drugs. Or binge drinking. But are those things truly evil? For the sake of argument, let’s say they are. Let’s say smoking is immoral, and evil. (Just for the sake of argument remember, this is not the opportunity for someone to start yelling at me or to get all defensive about their smoking habit.)

Will there ever come a time when smoking is a virtue? In the next few years will it be revealed that smoking really is not only good for your health, but causes super intelligence in little children and second-hand smoke has the ability to cure disease? Never mind that I believe smoking could have been said to be a virtue back in the day, and is now a vice. In other words, I see clearly how it works the other way around. Something “good” becomes “bad” in the blink of an eye these days.

How about something more simple. My vice could be said to be dark chocolate. I love it; can’t get enough of it. I have to ration it out to myself, or I’ll eat the whole bag. It’s my own personal vice, although I’d argue that it’s neither evil, nor immoral, but for the sake of argument let’s say it is. How will it become a virtue, for me, tomorrow?

How will any vice become a virtue? Has there ever been a case of something society thought of as immoral, suddenly becoming a virtue—something righteous and good?

Can you think of anything? I couldn’t.

But just in case, I’ll keep eating the dark chocolate. I hear it’s good for you heart, so it’s well on the way to becoming a virtue. Right?

9 comments on… “Chinese Fortunes: Vice or Virtue?”

  1. I can’t think of anything either. Maybe it means we mellow out with age? That what we once were strict about, we no longer are? Very interesting. I will be thinking about this one today…

  2. I’m with Coleen. I think it’s more symbolic. For instance, rock music was a vice at one time, especially to our parents (at least in my generation). I wouldn’t go so far to say it’s a virtue now, but the world has moved on and it’s possibly the most popular form of music today.Intriguing, Melinda.

    • Melinda VanLone

      Rock music was a vice? It was immoral and evil? Wow. That’s sad. I can’t imagine the world without Bon Jovi.

  3. Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants so it is healthy! 🙂 Now my other vice is wine… not so sure I can turn that one into a virtue.

    I’ll have to re-read your post tomorrow, Melinda, when I’m not so tired. Maybe I’ll be able to come up with a worthy profound comment. 🙂

    • Melinda VanLone

      LOL I do that all the time! I also tend to use LOL as a punctuation mark. Can’t tell you how many times I have to go back through my sentences and take that out. It’s embarrassing.

  4. Philip Chaaya

    Hello everyone

    I just got back from a Chinese restaurant and had the exact same fortune cookie. I asked my wife what it meant and she said to look up Vice and Virtue, she didnt know either. Her guess was, whatever’s negative today will be positive tomorrow, which i think might be true.

    I entered the entire phrase in the Google search and this page is the 1st link I see….
    How bizarre eh???

    How many ppl did this search due to the fortune cookie and the fact that they were curious to know what it meant lol soooo weird lol

    i enjoyed it

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