Context: My father has always told me Chinese proverbs about how to be a good, successful person in life. This specific proverb was one that was widely used in China. In the city that my father grew up in, proverbs were constantly used to give life advice, and this proverb is one that my grandparents had told him.
Roman Phonetic: “Xue hao san nian, xue huai san tian”
- Transliterated Proverb:
- xue: learn
- hao: good (can refer to habits or nature)
- huai: bad (can also refer to habits or nature)
- san: three
- nian: year
- tian: day
Full Translation: Learning to be good takes three years, learning to be bad takes three days. This refers to habits and nature also and doesn’t mean that it actually takes three years or three days to be good or bad. The three years and three days in the proverb are there to show that learning to be good is hard and takes a lot of time and self-control while learning to be bad is a lot easier than that.
Explanation: My father grew up in Changsha, Hunan, and his family didn’t have much at the time. My grandparents knew the value of education and would use proverbs to teach my father. This specific proverb was used to tell my father that the value of one good test score or one good day of hard work is easy, but doing well over a long period of time is hard to maintain. This is opposed to taking it easy, as that takes no effort and everyone wants to take it easy all the time. This created an environment of hard work and maintained effort for him in his childhood. The proverb is very important for him because it is a part of his character today, and reminds him of how he got to where he is today. When he told me the proverb, he used it in the same way as my grandparents, often referring to good work habits when it comes to school and work. He also adds in the emphasis of the second part of the proverb, stating it is easy to go astray and do things that are fun and easy in the short term, and developing bad habits is easy to do.
Thoughts: Growing up, my parents had always reminded me of the importance of hard work and good habits. Proverbs like this were often told to me and my brother. I often heard this proverb in middle school and high school, when my parents would remind me to keep up my hard work after getting good grades or making any accomplishments. While this proverb can be interpreted to mean not to do bad things, it was used more to encourage me to continue to do well, as doing well is not what is hard, but keeping up good work for a long time is what is hard. I am extremely grateful for my parents teaching me this proverb, as I am constantly reminded by habit to do things well multiple times over a long period. It has also lead me to not take things easy because those can quickly become bad habits in my life.