坐井观天 - Having a narrow view of the world

April 25, 2020

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…

青蛙坐在井里。小鸟飞来了,落在井沿上

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。”

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!”

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。”

小鸟也笑了,说:“朋友,你是弄错了。不信,你跳出井来看一看吧。”

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.”

这个成语讽刺了那些目光短浅、自以为是、知识浅薄的人,告诉我们不要用狭隘的眼光去看待问题。看问题,认识事物,要站的高,看的远,这样才能看得全面,不然就会像青蛙那样犯了错误还自以为是。

 

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

坐下
zuò xia

(to sit down)

jǐng

a well

 

水井
shuǐ jǐng
(a water well)

guān

to watch

参观
cān guān
(to look around)

 

tiān

sky; day

蓝天白云
lán tiān bái yún
(“blue sky and white clouds”)

Example Sentences

我要到外面的世界看看,不能坐井观天。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。

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!