So far, I had commonly come across the notion that chile peppers grown by a madman will produce and, especially, bite particularly well. Strength (or character building) may also be associated with the burning pods, or rather the person able to withstand their heat and eat them.
It is only more recently that appearances of chilli in a different psychological context have come to my attention:
Eating pepper is like meeting a virtuous man, Li Yü (Li Weng), Qing writer and gourmet, claimed in his cookbook, according to Jonathan Spence in “Food in Chinese Culture“, one of the seminal books on Chinese cuisine and its history.
This may not have been about chilli, but then here is Xi Jinping, current Chinese president:
“The work of criticism and self-criticism should be intensified,” just like “adding a bit of chili pepper to make every Party official blush and sweat a little,” he is reported as having said recently.
Guess someone who’s busy sweating can’t be bothered to also tell tall tales about his corrupt behavior…