zuò jǐng guān tiān
"Having a narrow view of the world"
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 "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…
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.”
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.
(to sit down)
(a water well)
(to look around)
lán tiān bái yún
(“blue sky and white clouds”)
I want to go out and explore the world, I can’t have such a narrow view of everything.
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?
Let us know in the comments below!