Hán dān xué bù
Translation: A man from Handan learns how to walk.
Meaning: By imitating others, one can lose his own individuality.
This proverb stems from the Zhuangzi 庄子, a collection of Taoist thinking allegedly compiled by Zhuang Zhou, a Chinese philosopher of the 4th century bce. Zhuang Zhou has been popularly known as Zhuangzi, the namesake of his book. He was a follower of Laozi, the founder of Daoism. Philosophically, the so-called Dao (dào 道) means the Way of the universe. While Laozi believed that the Way could only be understood without verbal explanation, Zhuangzi tried to explain it with allegories. The story that gave birth to this proverb is such an allegory.
A man named Gongsun Long thought he was the most learned man in the world until he met Zhuangzi. He went to another wise man and asked why. The wise man told him two allegories. One of them was about a young man from Shouling in the state of Yan. One day, as he was walking in the street, the young man heard some gossip about people in the neighboring state of Zhao. The people said that the people in Zhao all walked in a very elegant manner. Upon hearing this, and despite his family’s disapproval, the young man of Shouling made up his mind to pay a visit to Handan, the capital of Zhao. He was going to learn the gait of walking from the people of Handan even though he walked perfectly well himself. In Handan, he followed anyone that came in sight, be it man or woman, old or young. He imitated the way they walked, but within half a month, he did not only fail to walk the way the people of Handan did, but he forgot how he walked originally altogether. He but crawled all the way back home, making himself a laughing stock for the onlookers, his villagers, and even his own family members.
The moral of the story is that learning is not just imitating. By merely copying others, you may not even learn anything new, and instead risk losing your own originality.
|邯郸||Hándān||Handan, capital of Zhao (a city in modern-day Hebei Province) (N)|
|学||xué||to learn; to imitate (V)|
|步||bù||step; gait of waking (N)|
|学习||xuéxí||to learn (V); study (N)|
Some hosts of entertainment TV-programs in China blindly imitate the accents of TV-hosts from Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the end, they’ve not only failed to learn the proper Hong Kong or Taiwan accent, but they have also forgotten their original Mandarin style.
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