| 2018-06-19 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

In addition to being an important form of transportation, boats in Chinese culture also symbolize the interdependent relationship between the ruler and the people, the sorrow of being separated from loved ones as well as the drifting but unrestrained life.


tóng zhōu gòng jì

Tong means “same” while gong means “together.” Zhou refers to boats while ji means “to cross the river.” This proverb, taken literally, means to cross the river together in a same boat.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu (545-470) wrote: “The men of the Wu and Yue kingdoms are enemies for each other for generations; yet if they are crossing a river in the same boat and are caught by a storm, they will come to each other’s assistance just as the left hand helps the right.”

Although the story is usually quoted to say that even mortal enemies should set aside their disputes and help each other in the face of common danger, it means that when two parties, who are not necessarily enemies of each other, have common interests, they should work together toward the same target.

jī yŭ chén zhōu

Ji means “accumulated” while chen means “to sink.” Yu means “feathers” while zhou means “boats.” This proverb means that accumulated feathers can sink a boat.

Although this proverb originates from the Strategies of the Warring States, Liu An (179-122 BCE) further explained this phrase in Huainanzi by saying “The virtuous persons will never refuse to perform kind deeds, no matter how insignificant their actions might be. By performing insignificant kind deeds, great kindness can be reached. On the other hand, they will never perform evil deeds, no matter how harmless such evil conduct might be. By accumulating insignificant evil deeds, a man can eventually become extremely evil. Hence, a boat might sink if too many feathers are loaded on board, and the central axle of a cart might break if too many light things are loaded. So, a virtuous person is cautious with insignificant affairs.”

This idiom is used to say that small things may gather into a mighty force. 


(edited by CHEN ALONG)