Chengyu Tuesdays: Dripping Water

滴水穿石 dīshuǐchuānshí – perserverance yields success


滴水穿石 (dīshuǐchuānshí) literally means “dripping water cuts through stone”, and is a common chengyu meaning that persistent effort can overcome any obstacle, a bit like “little strokes fell great oaks”. It’s a clear image, and is the sort of thing a mum will say when her kid is studying for the gaokao. The story behind it, meanwhile, is rather more criminal:


In the Song dynasty, Chongyang county had a problem with thieves. One day, the county magistrate Zhang Guaiya saw a minor official coming out of a government building in a great rush. He searched him, and found a single copper coin hidden under his headband. When he ordered that he be beaten with a rod, the official said one copper coin wasn’t worth being killed for. The magistrate was angry, and said: “One coin every day means a thousand coins in a thousand days. An unsharpened saw can still cut firewood, and dripping water will wear through rock." Zhang had the thief beheaded.