Stuffing the Ear For the Purpose of Stealing a Bell
There once was a thief who sneaked into a rich family's house. He noticed a large bronze bell, which was a prize since bronze could be used as currency. He tried to carry the bell out of the house on his back, however it was much too heavy to carry. The only solution he could think of was to break the bell into pieces, and carry those.
He found a large iron hammer and hit the bell with all his strength. The bell started to ring so loudly that the thief covered his ears, which immediately muffled the sound. Feeling better once the sound was muffled, he continued to hit the bell. Of course the neighbors heard the noise and the thief was caught in the act.
This idiom refers to those who fool themselves into ignoring the reality of a situation.
Discuss: Have you ever wanted something to be true so badly that you ignored all the signs that it wasn't? Have you ever pretended something was not happening so that you would not have to deal with it? In what ways can this behavior be hurtful?
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.