Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Chengyu: Light Reflected by Snow

Light Reflected by Snow & Collected from Fireflies

During the Jin dynasty (AD 265-420), two young men, Che Yin and Sun Kang, wanted very much to learn and be educated, however were too poor to attend school. Their days were filled with working the land, and helping their parents leaving little time to study during the day. The night was the only real time they had to set aside for studies, but both their families were so poor, they could not afford to buy oil needed for their lamps. Each young man found a way around this problem, in order to study at night.

On a cold winter night, Sun Kang woke up in the middle of the night to notice light coming in from his window. He looked out the window to realize that the light was the moon light reflected by the snow. It was much brighter than indoors, so Sun Kang took his books outside, and read by the moonlight, in the snow. 

One summer evening, Che Yin was mesmerized by the flying fireflies, and was struck with the idea that their light could be of help. He caught the fireflies and kept them in a white cloth bag, which he hung up to use as a lamp. Che Yin could now study at night, by the light of the fireflies.  

Both young men took every opportunity to study, and later became senior officials.

This idiom is used to denote those who study diligently, despite their circumstances. It is also used when someone is wasting time that could be put to better use with studying.

Discuss: Why is education so important to these young men? Is there anything you are passionate about that you would work on it, no matter the circumstances?

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.


  1. Ye ha!! I'm on a roll now! You'll be sick of me commenting soon! What did you change? I noticed it hasn't taken me to a separate page so maybe that's it?
    I love these idioms and you explain yourself so well. I particularly like this one and will be showing the children. You never know it might inspire them to greater things!

    1. Hi! I don't know what I did differently - but so glad it's working out!
      Glad you like the idioms - I particularly like this one as well, especially with Pea bemoaning the end of year schoolwork load that seems to have hit :)


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