Chinese proverb of the week: 7

Duì niú tán qín

对 牛 弹 琴

Play a harp before a cow


Chinese painting - cow

This is the Chinese equivalent to our expression ‘cast pearls before swine’ – that is to say, don’t offer something of value to someone who does not understand that it is valuable as it will be wasted.

Before writing this blog post I had never wondered where the proverb came from even though I understand it and have used it many times.  However, many of the expressions we use in English either come from the Bible or from Shakespeare.                                         In this case it is the former, the saying comes from The New Testament, Matthew  7: 6.

‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.’  [King James Bible]

Don’t you think the bull in the picture looks quite fed up with life ? – a little melody played on a harp might well be just what is needed to perk him up.



















About herschelian

Started my 60s by moving to China with my DH. Surprised to find I am still here in Beijing eight years later - still finding it an adventure!
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4 Responses to Chinese proverb of the week: 7

  1. He sure is stern looking.
    Do you mean he’s ready for the pot? 🙂

  2. Chris says:

    what about “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast” (writer William Congreve).
    Maybe it depends on the beast?

  3. Loraloozi says:

    It’s interesting how I found the English version “cast pearls before swine” inspiring, while feeling totally insensitive to the Chinese one, even though now I see that they mean more or less the same thing. That’s how I re-connect to my own tradition through learning about a different one.

  4. herschelian says:

    Sometimes I think you need to see your own culture through the prism of another culture to understand and appreciate it. What I am finding fascinating through my exploration of Chinese proverbs is how much different nations/cultures have in common, we think the same things even though we often express them differently.

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