You know that feeling when someone tells you a joke but you don’t understand or you can’t hear them. And then you lean closer and ask again, and you still don’t understand. And the third time you nod your head like you understand and accept that you can’t comprehend semi intelligent jokes in the English lexicon.
This is when you need to learn the Chinese idiom about perseverance: 半途而废 (bàn tú ér fèi), which means “to give up halfway”. You could argue that your nodding isn’t giving up but rather trying to not look stupid, but you get the idea. The phrase itself has a negative connotation but the message is positive: you shouldn’t let your work go to waste, persevere and finish your work! Maybe you should try to hear the joke a few more times!
At least not hearing a joke isn’t as bone headed as the Germans going into Russia in World War II without winter coats. And they actually gave up halfway. So don’t worry about it.
The actual story from where we get this Chinese idiom about perseverance is about Yue Yangzi. He came back home after a year of studying with scholars, citing that he “missed his wife”.
His wife, seemingly immune to sweet words and actions and devoid of emotions, chastised him for coming back. She pointed to her loom and said, “ If I take these scissors and cut the silk I’ve been working on, then it would be putting all my previous work to waste.”
She went to say that in the same way, stopping your studies is putting all your previous work to waste. Yue Yangzi went back to the scholars and became a learned man. This story has the message of following through with your work and not letting it go to waste. Keep working at what you’re doing!
Now, this may seem like a passive aggressive story planted deep into Chinese society to frame school dropouts as weak. It may have worked because not finishing school is heavily frowned upon in Chinese society and Chinese culture highly prioritizes academics.
Who knows? Food for thought.
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