Záo bì tōu guāng
Translation: Cutting a wall to steal light.
Meaning: Study hard in difficult conditions.
This proverb comes from a story recorded in the novel Xijing zaji 西京杂记 (Miscellanies of the Western Capital). Its authorship is uncertain: Some historians credit the Western Han 西汉dynasty (206 bce–9 ce) astronomer, historian, and editor Liu Xin (ca. 50 bce–23 ce), while others attribute it to the Jin 晋dynasty (263–420 ce) Daoist alchemist and writer Ge Hong (283–343 ce).
Kuang Heng, a famous scholar in Chinese history, came from a poor peasant family. When he was young, he had no money to buy books. Neither could he afford to buy candles to read in the evening. But the persevering student found a solution to each of his predicaments. He went to work as a farmhand for a rich peasant named Wen Bushi, who was known to have a large collection of books. When payday came, Kuang Heng declined monetary payment from Wen. He asked him if instead he could lend all of the books Wen had, so he could read them at home. Wen was surprised, but gladly consented to his request.
Kuang Heng read day and night, but he had no money to buy all the candles or lamp oil he needed. Seeing that his much better-off neighbor next door was burning his night oil, he had an idea. Using a chisel, he stealthily carved a small hole in the wall. When he finished, a dim ray of light flooded over. He immediately held his book close to the hole and began to satisfy his crave for reading. Eventually, Kuang became very learned and made his fame as a great scholar in the history of China.
Kuang’s behavior may be judged illegal against today’s standards, but in his time, it was lauded as an exemplary act of diligence. The proverb therefore has been used to encourage young people to study hard despite adverse conditions.
|凿||záo||to cut (a hole), to chisel (V)|
|偷||tōu||to steal (V)|
|光明||guāngmíng||brightness, hope (N)|
When I was young, I was touched by the story of “Cutting a wall to steal light from the next-door neighbor.” I often acted it out by reading under the streetlights to lower the electric bill for my parents.
Leave A Comment