| 2019-11-28 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
The Shuowen Jiezi (An Explication of Written Characters) describes this character as a type of ruler, which is considered the original meaning of the character. Today, this is one of the most frequently used characters in Chinese with various meanings, such as craft, engineering, construction and industry.

gōng yù shàn qí shì, bì xiān lì qí qì 
Gong refers to craftsmen and yu means “want to.” Shan means “well done” and shi refers to “work.” Bi is “should” and xian means “at first.” Li means “to sharpen” and qi refers to tools. This term, taken literally, means that if a craftsman wants to finish his work well, he must sharpen his tools first. 
This is a well-known Chinese saying that originated from The Analects. Zigong asked [Confucius] how to be Good (ren). The Master (Confucius) said, “A craftsman, if he means to do good work, must first sharpen his tools. In whatever State you dwell, take service with such of its officers as are worthy, make friends with such of its knights as are Good” (trans. Arthur Waley). 
Ren is the foundational virtue of Confucianism. It characterizes the bearing and behavior that a paradigmatic human being exhibits in order to promote a flourishing human community. When Zigong asked about the cultivation of this virtue, Confucius suggested that he achieve it by making friends with worthy officers and knights. This indicates the beneficial effects of getting along with those who were approved of by most people in society and considered to be morally respectable. 
Tools are one of the most important factors in the work of each craftsman, and the quality of tools and machines used should be given great consideration. The saying highlights the importance of good preparation. It has a similar meaning with another Chinese saying, “sharpening the axe won’t waste  time chopping wood,” the Western equivalent of which is “a beard well lathered is half shaved.” Although all these sayings suggest that the importance of good preparation in all walks of life cannot be overstressed, the meaning of the quote by Confucius is slightly different. It also implies that the appropriate use of tools or methods will substantially improve a project’s bottom line. 
edited by REN GUANHONG