Chinese Language

Proverbs | 6

Ye chang meng duo : The night is long and dreams are legion (or: A long night harbours many dreams)

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A familiar 4-character idiom which first appeared in Lu Liuliang's Personal Letters. Lu (1629-1683) was an anti-Establishment figure of the Qing dynasty, who was eventually driven to become a monk. This idiom is meant to convey the caution that although all factors seem to be favourable and success is within one's grasp, one should not take things for granted.

The nearest English equivalent of this seems to be 'There's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip', a proverb which owes its origin to ancient Greek. Sometimes the phrase 'Ye chang meng dou' is often used to counsel against delay in action. 'Delays are dangerous', as the English saying goes.

To quote Shakespeare, 'Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends'. (Henry VI, Part 1 Act 3 Scene 2.) And in a different context, 'One inch of delay more is a South Sea of discovery'. (As You Like It, Act 3 Scene 2).

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 reprinted from SACU's China Now 119, Page 40, December 1989

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