Chinese official Pang Cong, worrying that his political opponents would speak badly of him while he was away on a work trip, asked his King whether he would hypothetically believe in one civilian’s report that a tiger was roaming the markets in the capital city, to which the King replied no. Pang Cong asked what the King thought if two people reported the same thing, and the King said he would begin to wonder.
Pang Cong then asked, “what if three people all claimed to have seen a tiger?” The King replied that he would believe in it. Pang Cong reminded the King that the notion of a live tiger in a crowded market was absurd, yet when repeated by numerous people, it seemed real.
Since Pang Cong, as a high-ranking official, had more than three opponents and critics, he was in fact urging the King to pay no attention to those who would spread rumours about him while he was away. “I understand,” the King replied, and Pang Cong left for his tip. Yet, slanderous talk took place. When Pang Cong returned to Wei, the King indeed stopped seeing him.
‘Three men make a tiger’ is a 2000 year old Chinese proverb about an individual’s tendency to accept absurd information as long as it is repeated by enough people. It refers to the idea that if an unfounded premise or urban legend is mentioned and repeated by many individuals, the premise will be erroneously accepted as the truth. This concept is analogous to communal reinforcement or the fallacy of argumentum ad populum.