Solving things for once and for all: 明察秋毫


Ever have that puzzle you haven’t been able to solve for months, but after you think about it carefully, you’re finally able to solve the puzzle? Well, the Chinese had a similar realisation, except they realised that being observant was a quality that needed to exist in a person in order to have greater success– hence, the idiom 明察秋毫 (Míngcháqiūháo) was born.

During the Warring States Period, 齐宣王天 (qí xuānwáng tián), the king of the Qi kingdom, wanted to learn how to be the hegemon- to which, he sought out the advice of 孟子(mèngzǐ), a famous scholar known as Mencius. Mencius told him that the way to become a hegemon was to practise benevolence and righteousness- only with both could he unify the lands.

Mencius also told him that he had to be observant- observant of the conditions of his people and be understanding towards their feelings. He left the king with a piece of advice: you can do nothing, but it’s about what you are willing to do.

Confused? I was too. This isn’t the clearest idiom story ever. Let me explain. 明察秋毫 is usually used to describe people who are sharp-eyed. When people are sharp-eyed, they can often see more details, which leads to them being able to see the truth. It is essentially used to describe an observant person.

明察秋毫 is often used as a quality more so than an adjective. You could say that Sherlock Holmes is 明察秋毫– for example, Sherlock Holmes 明察秋毫,即使我不说事情的原因,他也知道底细 (Sherlock Holmes Míngcháqiūháo, jíshǐ wǒ bù shuō shìqíng de yuányīn, tā yě zhīdào dǐxì.). The sentence essentially means that Sherlock Holmes is so observant that even if I don’t fully explain, he can understand completely.

Unlike some other idioms, 明察秋毫 has positive connotations and being observant definitely benefits you. What are you waiting for? Practise benevolence and righteousness, and show the world you are 明察秋毫!

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