Chengyu Tuesdays: Frog in the Well

井底之蛙 jǐng dǐ zhī wā – Narrow-minded and ignorant


You've surely heard of this chengyu, so apologies for those who know it all already, Chinese Tuesdays is more for the 菜鸟 (cài niǎo, look it up if you're so smart). 井底之蛙 (jǐng dǐ zhī wā) literally means "frog at the bottom of a well" (之 is the same as 的), and is used for someone with a limited perspective, for example who thinks they know something but is actually ignorant, or who is talking about something they haven't seen. The idiom comes from a fable by Zhuangzi:

The frog lived down in a well where there was all he had to live. One day, a softshelled turtle came by and told him about the sea. 'The sea? Hah! It's paradise in here. Nothing can be better than this well. Why don't you come down and share my joy?' The turtle tried, and failed as the mouth of the well was too small. 'Why don't you go see the sea instead? During Yu the Great's reign, there was flooding for nine out of ten years, yet the sea barely grew an inch. During Tang of Shang's reign, droughts were experienced in seven out of eight years, yet the sea hardly shrank. Being unaffected by such disasters is the joy of living in the sea. [source]

Here is the story in modern Chinese, which is a lot easier to understand than the original guwen. There's a theory that 井 (jǐng) orginally meant "trap" and not "well". And apparently, Mao Zedong reinterpreted the idiom to present the frog as the tyrant of the well. Resolutely struggle against the capitalist frogs!