USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘chinese proverbs’
Folk speech
Proverbs

Gods live 3 feet off the ground (Chinese Proverb)

离地三尺有神灵

li di san chi you shen ling

away ground three feet exist divine/numinous spirit

There are gods and spirits 3 feet off the ground.

Even when you think you’re alone, the spirits are still watching you, so don’t act differently even if you don’t think anyone is watching.

Chinese proverb usually used by parents as a warning to their children. It’s comparable to Christian families warning their children that God is always watching them, but with roaming spirits. This is related to the Chinese folk belief in spirits of the deceased who act as gods. By convincing a child that they are constantly being watched, the child would be from the parents’ point of view more likely to behave even when they think no one is around. This was used often when I was a child and my mother expected to be away for a while and wanted me to finish my homework before using the computer.

However, threat is not the only application of the proverb, as it also implies karma. Even when you do something good and no one sees, it ticks a point in your favor and the gods always know who’s in the right.

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