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…
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.
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 bǎn; Metal panel)
(tiě chǔ: Metal bar/rod)
to change into)
(bié zhēn; Safety pin)
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!