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A frog in a well cannot conceive of the ocean. Zhuangzi

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Meaning: of a person who has limited outlook and life experience. From Zhuangzi. 莊子/秋水

Zhuang Zhou (commonly known as Zhuangzi, 庄子, literally “Master Zhuang”), was an influential Chinese philosopher who lived around the 4th century BC during the Warring States period (476–221 BC). He is credited with writing – in part or in whole – a work known by its name, the Zhuangzi, which is one of the fundamental texts of Taoism.

井底之蛙

A frog in a well cannot conceive of the ocean.

Literally: “a frog at the bottom of a well (who can only see a small part of the sky through the opening)”.

Original:

“井鼃不可以語於海者,拘於虛也。”

 

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鼃 is an ancient character for frog. In modern times, it has often been replaced with 蛙 (wā).

The story

A frog lived in a well and had nothing else. One day, a sea turtle came into the well and told her about the sea. One day, a sea turtle came into the well and told her about the sea.

‘The sea? Hah! It’s paradise in here. Nothing can be better than this well. Why don’t you come down and share my joy?’

The tortoise tried to reach the frog at the bottom of the well, but the mouth of the well was too narrow. ‘Why don’t you go see the sea instead? During Yu the Great’s reign, there was flooding for nine out of ten years, yet the sea barely grew an inch. During Tang of Shang’s reign, droughts were experienced in seven out of eight years, yet the sea hardly shrank. Being unaffected by such disasters is the joy of living in the sea….’

子獨不聞夫埳井之鼃乎?謂東海之鱉曰:『吾樂與!出跳梁乎井幹之上,入休乎缺甃之崖;赴水則接腋持頤,蹶泥則沒足滅跗;還虷蟹與科斗,莫吾能若也。且夫擅一壑之水,而跨跱埳井之樂,此亦至矣,夫子奚不時來入觀乎!』東海之鱉左足未入,而右膝已縶矣。於是逡巡而卻,告之海曰:『夫千里之遠,不足以舉其大;千仞之高,不足以極其深。禹之時十年九潦,而水弗為加益;湯之時八年七旱,而崖不為加損。夫不為頃久推移,不以多少進退者,此亦東海之大樂也。』於是埳井之鼃聞之,適適然驚,規規然自失也。

The title of the story “the frog of the bottom of the well” (井底之蛙) was not the original title by Zhuangzi, since he didn’t give any name to the fable. According to some the common interpretation of a frog in a well is incorrect, since the word 井 (Jǐng, well) back then had meant ‘trap’ (today 阱 Jǐng).

 


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