Sometimes, it’s good to have some 自知之明


When you’re at your favourite all you can KBBQ place after the 5th round and the order sheet comes around to you, you think “I know my limits”. And so you order 5 more plates of everything. Nothing can stop you.

Or when you’re choosing your university classes and see a 9 AM class. Know thy limits. You know you’ll end up skipping every class and showing up to the final not knowing a lick of information.

These situations show you are as wise as those who made the Chinese idiom, 自知之明 (Zìzhīzhīmíng),  about knowing yourself. Knowing yourself is key to many real-life situations and much more important ones than the ones mentioned above.


In this story, there was a senior official in China named Zou Ji was considered a fine figure. After dressing himself and looking at himself in the mirror, he asked his wife who was more handsome, Lord Xu in the north city or him.

His wife said, “How can Lord Xu compare with you?”


However, Zou Ji knew that Lord Xu was the most handsome man in the state so he didn’t believe his wife. He then asked his concubine the same question, with which she answered the same as his wife.


The next day, when he was conversing with a friend, he asked, “Who is more handsome? Lord Xu in the north or me?”


His friend replied, “Xu is not nearly as handsome as you.”

The next day, Lord Xu himself called on Zou Ji. When they met, Zou Ji compared himself to Lord Xu and it was clear that his appearance was plainer than that of Lord Xus. He thought to himself after, Lord Xu is obviously more handsome. My wife is biased, my concubine does not dare offend me, and my friend wants me to do a favour for him.


So next time you see a salad next to fish and chips, make sure to know yourself and make the right choice. In this case, it would obviously be fish and chips. Easy choice.


So how would you apply 自知之明 in real life? Usually, the idiom is applied with a negative connotation, with the inference that one is reprimanding another for not having any self-awareness. If not used in the manner, 自知之明 will usually be applied as something that people should have– similar to an object.


An example of a way to use the idiom would be:


“人必须要有自知之明,日后才回成功。” (Rén bìxū yào yǒu zìzhīzhīmíng, rìhòu cái huí chénggōng). This example translates to mean that “You must have self-awareness in order to succeed in the future.” Quite fitting, right?


So, what does 自知之明 teach us? Well, it does teach us to refer to our own situation while having a correct understanding of ourselves. That way, countries can be run properly, and we can lead better lives. Hear that, Trump?

Ever do something you think is “fun”, only to be reprimanded by your friends a few minutes later for not having some 自知之明 (Zìzhīzhīmíng) in being more careful.


Can you guess what the idiom means yet? Yep, you guessed correctly! 自知之明 is when you understand your condition so you treat yourself according to how you’re doing.



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