Chinese Four-Character Proverb

The informant is an eighteen-year old student from Irvine, California currently studying in Los Angeles. His dad was born in India, and his mother was born in Hong Kong before they met in San Jose, CA and moved down to Orange County. He speaks some Spanish and can understand Cantonese, which is how he learned many of his proverbs. He shall be referred to as KT.

KT states that in Chinese culture, there are a series of four-character proverbs that can be summed up in a short, metaphorical sentence that relates back to a full tale.

KT: It was something like, to drain the fish- to drain the pond and catch all the fish. And it’s the story about this one warlord…and he wanted to win this battle, so he asked his two advisors how to win this battle and one of them tells him like how to basically, like, basically cheat in order to win with, like, dishonorable tactics. And the other one was like, ‘you, if you cheat this time, then no one will have any respect for you.’ It’s like you can drain the pond and get the fish, but then next year there won’t be any more fish for you to get.

KT went on to describe how the latter advisor was the wiser one, and the warlord opted to follow his advice. He explained how the proverb tells us that a shortcut may serve in the short term, but will hurt your reputation in the long term.

I agree with KT’s assessment. The proverb emphasizes that all actions taken are investments in one’s reputation, which is not something worth gambling with. This is in stark contrast to the idea of “all’s fair in love and war.” Even as a warlord, the man decided that it was better to act honorably and fairly than to risk damaging his image from a long term perspective. This devotion to honesty even in battle demonstrates a strict adherence to this value that not even the threat of fatal failure can deter.

Furthermore, the nature proverb of the pond emphasizes a cyclical idea. Draining a pond is beneficial in catching fish, but interrupts the natural flow of life. As such, the honest route seems to be more reflective of nature and the way things are meant to be, rather than an explosive interruption of cheating.