Waiting by a Tree for a Hare
There once was a farmer working his fields, when he saw a hare run by. The hare seemed frightened, and accidentally ran into a tree stump, breaking its neck. The farmer left his field for the day, took the rabbit home to cook it for supper. Pleased with such easily available meat, he decided that instead of working hard every day in his fields, he would sit by the tree stump, and wait for another hare to run into it. He did this for the rest of the season, waiting fruitlessly, while his fields, having been neglected, became overgrown with weeds.
This idiom warns against waiting for luck to provide you with what you need, rather than doing what is necessary to obtain it.
Discuss: Have you ever had a stroke of luck happen that made your life easier? Did it change the way you behaved afterwards? What repercussions might there have been if you waited around for that lucky incident to re-occur?
An idiom is an expression that is not meant to be taken literally. For example, in English, we often use the expression "It's raining cats and dogs". Obviously, we don't take this expression literally, we come to learn that it means it's raining hard outside.
Though the Chinese have many proverbs and idioms, Chengyu are formalized idioms, usually using only four characters and relating to folktales, classical literature, and historical accounts. The four characters typically state a moral, and in order to properly understand their meaning, it is important to know the story behind them. There are at least 5,000 Chengyu.
To learn about Chinese idioms is to gain another insight into the Chinese culture, their mores, and their history. We will be learning Chengyu, and their related stories, regularly for the rest of our "year in China". I believe the insights we'll gain will highlight many universal facets of human nature within their cultural context.