Chinese Idiom Explained: 坐井观天

April 25, 2020

坐井观天 (zuò jǐng guān tiān) is a popular Chinese idiom that comes from Qiu Shui by Zhuang Zi from the Warring States Period, and can be literally translated as “sitting in a well watching the sky” in English.

In this blog, we want to share with you both the Chinese and the English retelling of the original story behind 坐井观天 (zuò jǐng guān tiān), what it means, as well as how to use it in a sentence.

Let’s dive in!


A frog was sitting in a well. A bird flew over and landed on the edge of the well.


The frog asked the little bird: “Where did you come from?” The little bird replied: “I’ve come from the sky, I flew for a hundred miles and got thirsty, I’ve come to find some water.”

青蛙说:“朋友,别说大话了!天不过井口那么大,还用飞那么远吗?” 小鸟说:“你弄错了。天无边无际,大得很哪!”

The frog said: “Look, pal, stop boasting! The sky is no bigger than the well, did you need to fly so far?” The little bird said: “You’re mistaken – the sky has no limits, no boundaries, it’s massive!”


The frog laughed, and said: “Buddy, I sit in this well day after day, I lift my head, and I can see the sky, I can’t be mistaken.”


The little bird also laughed and said: “My friend, you are mistaken. If you don’t believe me, jump out and take a look for yourself.”

This idiom tells us that some are short-sighted, shallow and regard themselves as infallible. It tells us we don’t need to narrow our views to tackle a problem. When faced with a question, or getting to know something, we need to have perspective. That way you can look at a problem full-on; otherwise, you’ll think you are infallible, much like the frog.

zuò (to sit)

jǐng (a well)

guān (to watch)

tiān (sky; day)

例句 (Example Sentences):

Wǒ yào dào wàimiàn de shìjiè kàn kàn, bùnéng zuòjǐngguāntiān.
I want to go out and explore the world, I can’t have such a narrow view of everything.

Tā shēnghuó zài xiāngxià, wàimiàn fāshēng de shìqíng yīdiǎn yě bù zhīdào, wú yì yú zuòjǐngguāntiān.
He lives in the countryside, he doesn’t know what goes on elsewhere, much like sitting in a well watching the sky.

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