Turning a Metal Rod into a Sewing Needle – Chinese Legend

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Asian American
Age: 60
Occupation: Biomedical Research
Residence: San Jose, California
Date of Performance/Collection: 04/30/2021
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Mandarin

Context: I was curious about more legends after I went home for lunch over the weekend, and after hearing about the legend behind the Dragon Boat Festival, I asked my mother to tell me more. 

Story: 

SS: “So this legend is about another famous Chinese poet *pause*, probably the most famous Chinese poet actually. You know about Li Bai?”

Me: “Oh yea everyone knows Li Bai.”

SS: “Well according to legend, he wasn’t always so studious and focused. He was actually very mischievous and would cause trouble all the time as a child. A lot like you and your brother when you two were younger actually.”

Me: “…”

SS: “I’m only half-joking don’t worry. Anyway *pause*, oh right. So Li Bai wasn’t always so studious. But one day, he came across an old lady near a river when he was skipping his lessons. The old lady was grinding a metal rod on a stone repeatedly, and this intrigued Li Bai. He asked what she was doing this for, and the old lady replied that she was grinding it into a sewing needle to…”

Me: “Wait a sewing needle?”

SS: *smiling dryly* “Yes. I would imagine that Li Bai was as surprised as you are. He told the woman that grinding a metal rod into a needle would take many years, but the old woman replied that as long as she persevered in doing so, there was nothing that she could not achieve in the world. That day, Li Bai was moved by what the old woman said, and focused on his studies. That is why he became one of the greatest poets in China. 

Background: This legend is another very popular one in China, and is one that my parents have both heard from their teachers in school when they were young. This legend is used to teach children the value of hard work, and if these children are mischievous, they could relate to Li Bai and see that they are also able to work hard if they put their minds to it. My mother said she interpreted the legend as “if an old woman can grind a metal rod into a sewing needle, then surely you can do anything if you set your mind to it”. 

Thoughts: At first glance, I thought that the legend was a bit absurd. I thought that there was no way that a metal rod would ever be able to be ground into a sewing needle. However, my mother pointed out that I had missed the point of the legend. The focus of the legend was the work ethic of the woman, and that seeing the determination of the woman kindled something in Li Bai. This also connects with the other legend that my parents shared about the myth of the zodiac ox, as both show the importance of hard work leading to results in life. This would also show why education was valued so much throughout Chinese history. My interpretation after reflecting on what my mother said led me to see another lesson in the legend, which is that the people you surround yourself around can have a great impact on your life.