Tag Archives: Chinese Proverbs

Grinding Needles in Jintan

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Wisdom proverbs are a big part of a Chinese culture. So are poets and their writings. Sometimes, the two converge and overlap. For example, there is this idiom: 磨杵成针, or Mó chǔ chéng zhēn in Pinyin. If you translate it almost literally its “Grind pestle into needle.” More commonly, it means “To grind an iron bar into a needle.” This saying is often used to say persevering at a hard task is worthwhile.

This proverb is often attributed to Li Bai, who is often considered one of the greatest poets in Chinese history. The story goes like this. Li Bai, at a young age, came upon on an old woman who literally was trying to grind a thick iron bar into a thin needle. The poet-to-be took the iron bar and tried to do it for the old lady, but he eventually gave up quickly. Li told the woman she was being foolish — that it would take forever to do such a thing.  The old woman chided the young Li and reminded him that hard work can lead to good results. The young boy took that to heart and grew up to be one of China’s greatest poets. Eventually, “grinding an iron bar” also became a metaphor for succeeding at something hard.

As for the statue pictured above, it can be found in Jintan — Changzhou’s most westward district. It’s one of three idiom statues that can be found at Jintan’s Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园. The district’s central shopping area, Dongmendajie 东门大街is nearby. The bus terminal, and the express bus back to downtown Changzhou, is also in walking distance.

The Light Thief

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Chinese culture is filled with wisdom proverbs that refer to specific behaviors deemed socially and personally desirable. One of them (凿壁偷光) stresses the importance of studying hard under tough conditions. The Chinese characters roughly translates into “to cut a hole in the wall to steal light.” Of course, there is a longer story behind that.

Kuang Heng came from the Western Han dynasty. He was born into a poor family, but he had dreams and aspirations beyond poverty. He loved books, wanted to learn, and he wanted to study hard. His family, however, could not afford candles. This meant he couldn’t read at night. So, Kuang Heng cut a hole in his wall. Light from his neighbor’s home streamed in. And with this solitary beam, he was able to study. Many, many nights and texts later, he was able to do very well on the exams aspiring civil servants must take in Imperial China. Eventually, he grew in rank and significance. This story, this proverb, is often used now by Chinese parents when encouraging students to work harder in school and at their students.

As for the statue, it’s one of three with idioms in Jintan’s Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园. It literally depicts a boy reading next to a hole in the wall. Another nearby stresses the importance of filial piety. This is practically Jintan’s small central park, and one of the entrances is on Dongmendajie 东门大街. The park itself is walking distance between the bus station and area’s fashionable shopping district.

Kong Rong and Small Pears

A younger sibling gives a pear to an older sibling.

The Chinese is 孔融让梨, or in Pinyin without the proper tone markers: kong rong rang li. If you translate the characters verbatim, you get “Kong Rong yeild pear.” In the picture, you can barely make out the characters, but I sent the photo to a Chinese friend who is native to Changzhou’s Jintan District.  Turns out, many Chinese people could probably figure this out, due to how famous the expression is.

Kong Rong was both a scholar and a descendant of Confucius. His literary achievements likely outlive his acts as a minor warlord. Once, he spoke ill of Cao Cao, a Chancellor of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Both Kong Rong and his entire family were executed as a result, and their corpses were left in the street  As ancient Chinese history goes, this was during the Three Kingdoms period.  The killing of the family is strangely a reminder of a different part of Chinese culture.

Family is important in The Middle Kingdom in a way it just isn’t in the west. Honoring your father and following his orders are paramount. That’s filial piety, two English words seldomly used in the USA or UK. But it even gets into sibling hierarchy.  Younger brothers are supposed to respect older brothers — the same with older sisters and younger sisters.

As legend goes, as a boy, Kong Rong would only pick up or pick small pears to eat. This would be from or around the trees near his home. Why? He felt it was his duty to leave the plumper, juicier fruit for his elder brothers. Hence, 孔融让梨, or “Kong Rong yeilds pears.”

As for this sculpture, it’s in Jintan’s Hua Luogeng Park 华罗庚公园. It’s one of three statues dedicated to Chinese idioms.  The park itself is in walking distance from the long-distance bus terminal.