Chinese Idiom Explained: 铁杵成针

April 16, 2020

铁杵成针 (tiě chǔ chéng zhēn) is a popular Chinese idiom that comes from Mo Zhen Xi, in Fang yu sheng lan, by Zhu Mu from the Song Dynasty, and can be literally translated as “hard work pays off” in English.

In this blog, we want to share with you both the Chinese and the English retelling of the original story behind 铁杵成针 (tiě chǔ chéng zhēn), what it means, as well as how to use it in a sentence.

Let’s dive in!


As the legend goes, the famous Tang dynasty poet Li Bai didn’t like to read when he was young. One time, when Li Bai’s teacher wasn’t there, he saw his chance and snuck out to play without finishing his homework. He ran towards a small brook where he saw an old granny with white hair, who was grinding a thick metal stick on a rock.

他好奇地问老婆婆:“您为什么要磨铁棒?”老婆婆说:“我要把它磨成绣花针。” 李白吃惊地张大了嘴问:“这么粗的铁棒,怎么能磨成针呢?”老婆婆笑呵呵地说:“只要多下功夫,天天磨,铁棒也能磨成针。”

Curious, he asked the granny: “Why are you grinding a metal rod?” The granny replied: “I want to grind it into an embroidery needle.” Li Bai’s jaw dropped and asked: “This metal rod is so thick, how can it become a needle?” The granny chuckled and said: “As long as you put in the work and grind daily, a metal rod can also become a needle.”


After Li Bai heard what the granny said, he thought about his actions. He felt ashamed and immediately returned to the mountain top and focused on his studies and worked on his reading.

Eventually, this story became the saying “铁杵成针”. This saying tells us that as long as you are determined and commit to hard work, even the hardest tasks can be accomplished.

tiě (metal)

chǔ (pestle)

chéng (to become)

zhēn (needle)

例句 (Example Sentences):

Tiě chǔ chéng zhēn, zhǐyào wǒmen kěn xià gōngfū, méiyǒu bàn bù dào de shì.
Hard work pays off; as long as we put in the effort, there's nothing we can’t do.

Tiě chǔ chéng zhēn, jīngguò wǔ nián de kèkǔ nǔlì, tā shúliàn de zhǎngwòle hànyǔ.
After five years of sincere hard work, he mastered the Chinese language. If you put in the effort, anything can be done.

How would you use the idiom? Is there a similar one in your country?