铁杵成针 - Grinding a metal bar into a needle

April 16, 2020

tiě chǔ chéng zhēn

“Grinding a metal bar into a needle“

Every language has idioms, sayings, or set phrases. Chinese is no different. In Chinese, an idiom is called 成语 (chéng yŭ) and is usually composed of four characters.

Today, we want to share the story behind the popular saying “铁杵成针” (tiě chǔ chéng zhēn) with you. This idiom comes from Mo Zhen Xi, in Fang yu sheng lan, by Zhu Mu from the Song Dynasty. It is roughly translated as “Hard work pays off” 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…

传说唐朝著名诗人李白,小时候不喜欢读书。有一次,李白趁老师不在,没有完成功课,便跑出去玩儿。他来到了一条小溪边,看到一个满头白发的老婆婆,在石头上磨着一根棍子粗的铁棍。

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。”

听了老婆婆的话,想到自己,李白深感惭愧,便立刻回到山上,从此认真学习,发奋读书。

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.

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.

后来这个故事就演变出“铁杵成针”。比喻只要有决心,肯下功夫,多么难的事也能做成功。

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

铁板
(tiě bǎn; Metal panel)

 


chǔ

pestle

铁杵
(tiě chǔ: Metal bar/rod)

chéng

to become

变成
(biàn chéng;
to change into)

zhēn

needle

别针
(bié zhēn; Safety pin)

例句:

铁杵成针,只要我们肯下功夫,没有办不到的事。Example Sentence:

Hard work pays off; as long as we put in the effort, there's nothing we can’t do.

铁杵成针,经过五年的刻苦努力,他熟练地掌握了汉语。

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?

Let us know in the comments below!