Nationality: United States
Residence: Chicago, IL
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/28/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Chinese
“In Chinese, we have 成语 which are four word idioms that can refer to stories or just general lessons, or any bit of common wisdom”
Original script: 井底之蛙
Phonetic (Roman) script: Jǐngdǐzhīwā
Transliteration: frog at the bottom of the well
The following is from a conversation with the informant, talking about the story behind the cheng yu:
EW: There’s this classic cheng yu, 井底之蛙 (jing di zhi wa), which is just this frog who lives at the bottom of the well, and it thinks that the world is the size of the well. And whenever birds come and tell it that the world is much bigger, it refuses to believe it.
MW: And what do you think of this?
EW: Well, I just think it’s kinda cool because it’s a lot deeper than just the Princess and the Frog story. Yeah. Chinese people have good sayings.
MW: And what does it mean?
EW: Well basically it means that some people have a very narrow way of viewing the world, I guess. Like, you think that you know everything but really you’re letting your perspective and biases hold you back from understanding the truth of things.
My informant, EW, was born in America but her parents are from China, and she herself lived in China for a year. She learned it from her mom, who she still speaks Chinese at home with. This piece was collected over a phone call, when talking about Chinese traditions.
I like this cheng yu because it’s reminiscent of the Platonian cave theory, and in general I believe a lot of other cultures have similar ideas about the world not being what it seems and that we are only viewing a small portion of what the reality of our universe is. I think it’s interesting to see how other cultures all come up with similar ideas, and how they express them differently.