| 2018-06-28
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

This character refers to water. Water is not only crucial to life and the earth, but also a great influence on culture. By closely observing it, ancient Chinese people derived moral guidance from water.


yĭn shuĭ sī yuán

Yin means “to drink” while shui refers to “water”, si “to think” and yuan “the source”. These characters together refer to drinking water and thinking of its source. The proverb indicates that one should not forget where his blessings come from.

The proverb comes from a poem named Zheng Diao Qu. Its author is Yu Xin (513-581), a poet of the Liang and Northern Zhou dynasties. Yu used to serve as an important official of the Liang Dynasty. After the fall of the Liang in 557, he was held in the capital of the Northern Zhou Dynasty for the rest of his life. Since then, many of Yu’s writings displayed a sense of homesickness. That was why he wrote “when one drinks water, one should think of its source; when one climbs a tree, one should think of its root.”


shuĭ dī shí chuān

Shui is “water” and di means “to drip”, while shi refers to “stone” and chuan “to wear away”. The literal meaning here is: water drips and stone is worn away. It primarily indicates that persistence will help one achieve a difficult objective.

The proverb originated from a story of the Helin Yulu, a collection of anecdotes written by a Song official named Luo Dajing (1196-?). In the book, a county magistrate called Zhang Guaiya caught one of his subordinates stealing a penny from the office. The petty official didn’t take it seriously and argued that stealing a penny would not incur the death penalty. Zhang was provoked and said, “if you stole a penny every day, you would have one thousand pennies after one thousand days. With persistence a rope can saw through a block of wood, and constantly dripping water can wear away the toughest stone.”


(edited by REN GUANHONG)