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| 2018-04-26
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Peng refers to a giant bird in Chinese mythology. With its back covering thousands of li and wings like clouds that hang from the sky, the peng soaring to a height of 90,000 li high in the sky are a symbol of great aspiration and indomitable will in Chinese culture.


yànquè ān zhī hónghú zhī zhì

Yan refers to swallows while que refers to sparrows. Together yanque refers to small birds that fly low among the forests. An means “how” while the first zhi means “to understand.” Honghu means “swan.” The second zhi is a possessive while the last zhi means “aspiration.” This idiom, taken literally, means how small birds like a swallow or a sparrow can understand the aspirations of a swan.

Chen Sheng was one of the leaders of the uprising against the Qin Dynasty which led to its collapse. When he was young, one day when resting from his labors, he said to the farm hands that he worked with, “If I become rich and noble, I will not forget the rest of you.” The rest laughed, asking, “How can a farm laborer become rich and noble?” “Ah!” said Chen with a deep sigh. “How can a swallow or a sparrow understand a swan’s ambition?”

Large birds like peng and swans that fly high in sky, in contrast to small birds like swallows and sparrows symbolize a person with lofty aspirations. It is used to say that a mediocre person would never understand those who have great and lofty aspirations.        

péng chéng wàn lĭ

Cheng means “prospect.” Wan means “ten thousand.” Li is a unit of length which equals half a kilometer. This idiom, taken literally, means that a peng fills an area as long as ten thousand li.
According to the Chuang Tzu, on its journey to the South Sea, the peng bird flaps sprays for 3,000 li and soars to a height of 90,000 li with the support of the wind. The peng shakes the world with its astonishing movement during its journey.

This idiom is used to compliment or express the wish that a person will have a bright future or a broad arena where he can realize his aspirations and amaze the world.


(edited by CHEN ALONG)