Chinese Proverb About the Farmer and the Rabbit

Context: The informant, a 19-year-old Chinese-American college student, shared this proverb with me on the Lunar New Year. We were discussing how her parents raised her to embrace her Chinese-American culture. She explained how the lessons she was taught as a child still impact her outlook on life today.


Informant: I know an old Chinese proverb. Um… it’s from, I think, a famous philosopher. Basically, I learned it from my parents and then again in Chinese school. I can’t remember the Chinese translation, but basically the gist of the proverb, or what the proverb literally means is… um “waiting by the tree for the rabbit.” And the story behind it, because all Chinese proverbs kind of have like a story behind them, um… is that there’s this farmer who um basically lived off his land and sold his crops and sort of lived that way. But one day, while he was plowing his land, um a rabbit ran into a tree and died. So, the man got his dinner that day and he had the bright idea of basically… he decided, “Screw farming! I’m just going to wait by this tree for more rabbits to crash into the tree, so I can eat, you know, rabbits for the rest of my life.” And then, he waited for a really really long time and, no surprise to anyone else, no rabbits crashed into that tree again. And, it’s kind of confusing, but basically the proverb means that you can’t wait for things to fall in your lap. Like all good things that are like worthwhile um… take a lot of work and a lot of dedication. And if you sit around and wait for that rabbit to come, it will never come.

Informant’s relation to the item: The proverb is important to the informant because it was taught to her by her parents and then again in Chinese school as a young child. Thus, the proverb has both significance within her family and also cultural/educational significance. Additionally, the proverb, which stresses the important of hard work, continues to impact the informant’s work ethic today.

Interpretation: This particular proverb does not make much sense to a listener who does not have much knowledge of Chinese culture. Without the context of the folk tale surrounding it, the proverb seems like an insignificant phrase. However, knowing the story as well as the importance of hard work and industriousness within many Asian cultures, the proverb clearly holds a lot more weight. This is a common occurrence when analyzing proverbs, which are usually very hard to translate across cultures due to language and cultural barriers.