> Features > CHINESE PROVERBS

Autumn

| 2018-09-21
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

This character refers to autumn, which is regarded as the season of the primary harvest, with a mood of gladness and gratitude. It is also associated with sadness and depression, as it signifies the imminent arrival of harsh winter, reminding people of the inevitability of old age and death.


一叶知秋
yī yè zhī qiū

Yi ye refers to “a leaf” and zhi qiu means “to know autumn.” This proverb, taken literally, means that through a falling leaf, one can tell that autumn is coming. It indicates the ability to see change coming from weak and ambiguous signals.


The proverb originated from the Huai Nan Zi, a Daoist work written by Liu An (179-122 BCE), the King of Huainan, together with his guests. “Witnessing leaves falling from the trees a man will know that the end of the year draws near. When seeing the water in a bottle freeze, a man will realize that it is getting cold. This is deducing the situation in the distance by analogizing things nearby.” The proverb emphasizes that noticing signs of new threats or opportunities in time is a core attribute of a good leader or ruler. Nowadays, the proverb is often used to describe a person who is good at anticipating and exploiting change.

 

春华秋实
chūn huá qiū shí

Chun refers to spring and hua indicates flowers. Qiu is autumn while shi refers to fruits. The proverb is commonly used as a metaphor for the cause and effect relationship. Just as one needs to plant in spring for a fall harvest, hard work is the key to success. In addition, in some literature the proverb is referenced to say that time passes quickly.


The other meaning of the term is derived from a story in the Records of the Three Kingdoms by Chen Shou (233–297), a historian in the Western Jin Dynasty (266-316). In this story, chun hua indicates literary talent while qiu shi represents moral integrity. Late in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), Cao Zhi (192-232), a prince of the state of Cao Wei, valued an official named Liu Zhen (180-217) for his writings. Another staff member, Xing Yong (?-223), was given the cold shoulder by Cao because he strictly followed the rules. Liu petitioned Cao to put Xing in an important position. He said that Cao should not prefer chun hua (aptitude for writing) to qiu shi (virtue).

 

(edited by REN GUANHONG)