坐井观天 - Having a narrow view of the world

April 25, 2020

坐井观天 zuò jǐng guān tiān "Having a narrow view of the world"

In this blog, we want to share the story behind the popular saying "坐井观天" (zuò jǐng guān tiān) with you. This idiom comes from Qiu Shui by Zhuang Zi from the Warring States Period.

It is roughly translated as “sitting in a well watching the sky” in English. We have included both the Chinese and the English versions of the story below.

Now, let's find out what it really means…


青蛙坐在井里。小鸟飞来了,落在井沿上。

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

青蛙问小鸟:“你从哪儿来呀?”小鸟回答说:“我从天上来,飞了一百多里,口渴了,下来找点儿水喝。”

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!”

青蛙笑了,说:“朋友,我天天坐在井里,一抬头就能看见天。我不会弄错的。”

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.”

小鸟也笑了,说:“朋友,你是弄错了。不信,你跳出井来看一看吧。”

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):

我要到外面的世界看看,不能坐井观天。
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.

他生活在乡下,外面发生的事情一点也不知道,无异于坐井观天。
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?