Proverb – Chinese

Folklore: Chinese proverb

[Grace did not know the actual Chinese characters]

Hok yu yek sui hang jow, but chun juk teou

“Education is like going on a current. If you don’t progress, you’re going to fall behind.”


My mom would tell me this all the time, like when we would talk about school. She would encourage me to do better in school.

My Analysis:

I found a different version online and used in a medical document. It is a popular quote used to emphasize the importance of education, which dates back to when China installed a meritocracy system. Any person, peasant or nobility, could for these national exams to be in the civil service. They were based purely on merit and skilled knowledge, so to be educated was a high honor and a valued privilege in ancient China. That mentality has trickled down over the generations into a steadfast pressure to be at the forefront of your class.  There is a fear of losing face and appearing to be less smart than your peers. Also, the proverb stresses the fact that you cannot procrastinate or be lazy; you must be persistent in learning more or else the effort will be futile.


“Learning is like rowing upstream, not to advance is to fall back.”

Zhang Z et al. “Randomized Clinical Trial on the Combination of Preoperative Irradiation and Surgery in the Treatment of Adenocarcinoma of Gastric Cardia (AGC) – Report on 370 Patients.” Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania. (2001) International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics December 1998, Volume 42 (Number 5): pages 929 – 934.