Proverb – China


“Zhao San Mu Sz”

“Morning Three Evening Four”

It is necessary to understand the following story to be able to understand the proverb:

“There is a new zookeeper assigned to the monkey section. His first assignment is to announce the monkey-eating schedule. He gathers them around and tells them, “You will have 4 bananas in the morning and 3 in the afternoon.” The monkeys don’t respond well; they are upset and throw a fit. The zookeeper then asks himself what he should do. He proves to be a smart, young man by rewording his announcement. He tells them the next day, “You will have 3 bananas in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.” The monkeys cheer and the zookeeper knows he has done his job successfully. The moral of the story is that there are many ways to be creative. Sometimes, all it takes is presenting the same information in a different way to achieve unexpected positive results.” – Ping Hu


I learned this proverb from a family friend who is in charge of an entire business and operation division of her company, Phillip Morris International in China. Over one hundred people report to her on a daily basis and she often uses this technique to get people’s consensus and support, which often leads to critical business implications. She is forced to think outside the box on a daily basis in recreating new strategies to market the product, cigarettes. After sharing this story with me, I couldn’t help but equate the monkeys in the story with consumers and zookeepers with the media. Evidently, we are embedded in a consumerist culture. While the zookeeper successfully persuaded the monkeys, the media does not always elicit positive feedback. It has infiltrated our society, bombarding us with information left and right (some of which is unreliable information). It becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish reality from the media’s construction of reality. To be a success in advertising, one must constantly think outside the box to appeal to a wide audience.

This story also pertains to patterns of communication. I am in a communication course entitled “communication as a social science” and we just learned about the importance of question phrasing. The way one phrases a question can have huge implications as to how the listener interprets the message and responds. A famous experiment conducted by Loftus came to the following conclusion: after an accident, the investigator asked a group of witnesses if they had seen “a broken headlight” versus “the broken headlight.” The witnesses who were asked the latter were more likely to remember the broken headlight and provide assistance. Merely changing the article of the subject changed the meaning of the question and influenced the way the witness responded. Anyone can be creative; even a zookeeper on the first day of his job. Evidently, creativity almost always leads to success, which is the message I took away from the proverb.