If you really want to learn Mandarin, you need to begin to study idioms. Idioms are short sayings with a historical background that convey a story and meaning with just a few words. In the United States, we have idioms like, “Jumping the shark.”
Study and self improvement are important values in Chinese culture. On Friday, we talked about this on our Facebook page. The basic idea is that if you aren’t improving, you are going backwards. Check it out here on Facebook.
Many people are aware that Chinese people typically study very hard during their school years. This doesn’t mean cram for a test. Regular and diligent study is valued in Chinese culture. For example, when I was in Taiwan, 9th graders often studied 15 hours a day for weeks on end to prepare for the high school entrance exam. It was treated as a right of passage.
Xuán Liáng Cì Gǔ
This is an idiom with the following story:
During the Xi Han Dynasty (206BC-25AD), there was a scholar named Sun Jing studied very hard. He was worried that he would fall asleep, so he took a rope and tied one end to the ceiling and the other end to his hair. If he fell asleep, the rope would pull his hair. He did this for many years and learned many things.
There is another story that goes with this idiom:
During the warring states period (around 221 BC), Su Qin, a political strategist, wanted to be rich and famous, so he sold everything he owned to buy expensive clothes. He visited the king of Qin and tried to persuade the king to invade another country. He failed and returned to his home town in ruins. Everyone looked down on him.
Su Qin’s teacher gave him an old book to study. Because Su Qin lost face, he had to work even harder to redeem himself. He chose a particularly painful method to avoid falling asleep while studying. He held a spike above his leg. When he fell asleep, the spike fell and cut his leg. He’d wake up and start over. After studying, he visited Qin’s neighbors. He helped these countries stay safe from Qin.
If you want to understand Chinese people, you need to understand the value of education and diligent study in Chinese culture. Chinese children are taught these stories and they are set forth as examples of how to become successful in life. Parents expect children to study hard and do well in school. In Chinese culture, people believe that success comes from diligent study during childhood and diligent work as an adult.