sǐ mǎ dāng huó mǎ (Chinese)
literal translation: “Try to save the dead horse as if it is still alive”
My roommate, KY, was born in China and lived there for the first few years of his life. His parents always used many proverbs. This is one of his favorites. He says, “It means nothing is impossible. You should always work with the mindset that you will be able to achieve your goal.” From the literal translation, we see that the proverb is saying that even if a task is literally impossible (i.e. bringing a dead horse back to life), you should still try as if it is possible.
K says that he likes this proverb for two reasons:
“First, I think it has a good message. My parents expect me to achieve a lot. They know that I do some pretty difficult things with my schoolwork and research, but they’ve taught me to never back down. They’ve always repeated this to me whenever I feel stuck or like I can’t do something. It’s reassuring.
“Second, I think it’s pretty funny to picture someone trying to save a dead horse. Like what the heck do you do? Just keep giving it CPR? How do you even give CPR to a f**king horse?”
He then proceeded to laugh at himself for a few minutes.
As ridiculous as it is, K does have a point about humorous proverbs. They make an image stick in your mind. As I’ve found through my research, Chinese proverbs tend to use ridiculous scenarios to teach profound lessons such as “nothing is impossible.” The imagery employed in these proverbs is much more powerful than simply telling someone to “work hard” and “follow their dreams.” Trying to save a dead horse as if it is alive is a great image to conjure whenever you’re stuck on a seemingly impossible task. Throughout my research I’ve grown to love the dark humor of Chinese proverbs. They’re both hilarious and profoundly inspiring.