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.


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)”.



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….’


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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