Chinese Tuesdays: The bystander effect


There’s a phrase "一个和尚挑水吃,两个和尚抬水吃,三个和尚没水吃"*. It means “one monk can carry drinking water [balancing a pole and buckets on his back], two monks can carry drinking water [lifting the buckets together], three monks have no water to drink." It can refer to the diluted sense of responsibility felt by people in crowds to take action, or to encourage you to be self-reliant.

The story goes that one monk, living alone in the mountains, would go down to carry water from a stream back up to his temple. One day another monk came along, and after that they worked together to carry the much needed water up the mountain. But when a third monk arrived they just sat around, because there were three people to do a two-person job, and they all wanted to be the one who didn’t have to carry the water. So they never had enough water to drink, water the plants or fight fires.

This could be taken as especially relevant in today's China, with so many cases of bystanders ignoring strangers in need, perhaps feeling it's someone else's responsibility.


yīgè héshang tiāoshuǐ chī, liǎnggè héshang táishuǐ chī, sāngè héshang méishuǐ chī. 吃 (chī – lit. to eat) can be written/said as 喝 (hē – to drink ), but I’m told 吃 is correct.