Chinese Language

Proverbs | 9

Bai wen bu ru yi jian : Hearing a hundred times is not as good as seeing once

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Zhong wen

Hearing a hundred times is not as good as seeing once

'Now I can see for myself the reality of China far better than ten thousand words can tell'. I wonder whether or not the Queen of Britain was aware that when in October 1986, she made the above remark in response to the toast of the Chinese leaders at a state banquet in honour of the first British monarch ever to visit China, she was in fact paraphrasing a well-known Chinese proverb dating back more than two thousand years.

The source of the above-mentioned proverb is Qian Han Shu - The History of Western Han. The story was told of a septuagenarian general by the name of Zhou Chongguo, who, when asked by Emperor Xuandi the number of troops he would require to repulse an invasion of the barbarians from the North, replied:

'Hearing a hundred times is not as good as seeing once. Warfare is not a matter of guesswork. I'll have to go to the front to see for myself how the land lies before I can formulate my strategy.'

Somehow or other, this Chinese quotation has managed to creep into some of the English dictionaries of proverbs and quotations in rather an anglicised form:

'A picture is worth more than ten thousand words' although the attribution is correctly given as Chinese.

Is it not a sign of the times that instead of quoting good old Queen's English such as 'Seeing is believing', 'One eyewitness is better than two hear-says' etc., the Queen saw fit to play her China card by quoting a Chinese proverb ?

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001 reprinted from SACU's China Now 120, Page 41, March 1987

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