Duì niú tán qín
Translation: Play a lute to a cow.
Meaning: To offer something valuable to someone who doesn’t understand its value, equivalent to the English proverb “Cast pearls before swine.”
This proverb comes from a story in the Collected Records of Hongming, an account of the three hundred-year spread of Buddhism in China, written by Sengyou (445–518 ce), a Buddhist monk of the Liang State during the Southern dynasty (420–589 ce).
Gongming Yi was a famous ancient player of the guqin, a seven-stringed zither. Whenever he played, passers-by would stop and listen by his window, mesmerized by the tunes he artfully produced. One day, Gongming Yi went on an outing, carrying his guqin with him. Engulfed in a picturesque scenery of green mountains and rivers beneath an azure sky dotted with clouds like white sashes, Yi could not but lay his guqin on the grass and play. Soon he stopped as he realized that no one was listening. Looking around, he spotted a cow grazing nearby. “Well, why can’t I treat the cow as my audience?” Walking over and sitting near the cow, Yi started plucking the strings. No matter how beautifully he played, the cow paid no attention to him and kept grazing instead. Frustrated, Yi sighed, “It’s useless to play music to a cow.” With that, he was preparing to go home when he accidentally pulled a string, and it produced a sound similar to that of a calf’s call. This alerted the cow, which looked around before going back to nibbling at the grass. Gongming Yi realized that only humans could understand the music produced by humans. A cow could only comprehend the sound made by its own kind.
This proverb teaches us that when we do something, we must know whom we are doing it for, so as to get the expected response.
|对||duì||against, right, correct (Adj)|
|牛||niú||cow, ox (N)|
|弹||tán||to play (a string instrument), to pluck (V)|
|琴||qín||musical instrument, lute/zither (N)|
|琴弦||qínxián||string of a musical instrument (N)|
Playing rock and roll music to opera lovers is as futile as casting peals before swine.