To Have an Image of Bamboo in One's Mind
There once was a scholar, Wen Tong, who was renown for his beautiful bamboo paintings. His pieces were requested almost daily, from near and afar, for it seemed the paintings were so beautiful, you could almost see the leaves fluttering in the wind.
Wen Tong loved bamboo, and would spend time every day observing it, whether in the forests or within his own gardens which were filled with bamboo. He would observe their stalks and leaves, the way they swayed in the wind or stood upright on calm days, how the colors changed with the light. He spent so much time observing bamboo, that when he sat down to paint it, he had a clear image of bamboo in his mind. That is why his paintings were so beautiful and sought after.
This idiom refers to knowing what you intend to accomplish before you begin, and having a well thought out plan or design in your mind which ensures its success.
Discuss: Have you ever had an experience of doing something you had thought out so clearly, planned for so long, that when you did it, everything went smoothly. Did you feel proud of the hard work and time you put into planning and accomplishing it? Have you ever done something you wished you had spent more time planning and thinking through ahead of time? How would planning it have helped?
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.