Thursday, November 17, 2011


The word ()(xìng), signifying "individuality" in Chinese, is relatively new. In Chinese traditional society, which was forged according to Confucian values, there was no place for individuality. Until the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, in an ideal Confucian family, which included three or four generations, the authority was given to the old men; and filial piety, which meant complete obedience to one's parents, was a basic element in the social structure. The family was a strong social unit in which the individual never saw himself as independent.

Throughout thousands of years a system of rules dictated to the Chinese how to behave under almost every possible circumstance, hindering the distinction between ritual behavior and true emotions.

While the following idioms testify to an awareness of individuality, the Chinese people have always ascribed more importance to the society as a whole. The needs of the family, the community or the state have always preceded those of the individual.



Everyone has a thousand autumns

.his own virtues  Everyone has



Literally: [Just as] a hundred people have a hundred family names, every person has his own personality.



The Eight Immortals cross the ocean; every one [of them] demonstrates his own divine ability

Every person has his own abilities and his own way of coping with situations, or of solving problems.

This is based on the story that describes the Eight Immortals crossing the ocean.
The same idea is found in the idiom:


The Eight Immortals cross the ocean; every one [of them] demonstrates his own ability


()(xiān)(guò)(hǎi)()(yòng)(chuán) ()(yǒu)()() (())

The Eight Immortals cross the ocean without a boat; every one of them has his own skills (way to cross) (pun)

The words () (literally: ability) and () (literally: crossing, crossing a river) are homonyms.



Literally: The number of differences among people is like the number of hairs on nine oxen.

Every human being has his own personality.



Three people - six opinions

In French they say:

Autant de têtes, autant d'avis.

Literally: As many as the heads, are the number of opinions.

The same idea is found in the idiom:


Literally: Two yolks in one egg – two hearts.

Said of one person who has two different opinions, or hidden motives.

Literally: Every person has [his own] piece of sky above his head.
                 Every human being has an equal opportunity to express his personality

Every master has his own way to teach
Every person has his own way of doing things.
The same idea is found in the idiom:
Literally: A thousand masters – a thousand methods.
Every person has his own way of acting.
Literally: Good grass will not grow under a big tree.
Those who depend on their parents or on their superiors, will not be able to develop their own personality and will not reach significant achievements.

Literally: Rivers have river routes [and] mountains have mountain paths.
Each thing has its own expression.
Every human being has his own way of life.
Literally: The same bed, different dreams.
Even the closest people have different minds.

Literally: The dragon has nine sons; each is different from the others.
Brothers differ from each other - each has his own character.
. (luó)(bo)(bái)(cài)()(yǒu)(suǒ)(ài)
[One loves] radish, [another loves] cabbage; each has his preferences
People have different preferences.
Ten people – ten characters
Literally: Learns from the Han Dan (hán)(dān)[1] people to walk.
Said of a person who unsuccessfully imitates others and thereby loses his own individuality.
This is based on the following story:  
 During the Warring States period (475-221 BCE), Han Dan (hán)(dān), the capital city of the State of Zhao (zhào) , was famous for the unique energetic and elegant walking style of its inhabitants. People from other places envied the inhabitants of Han Dan and thought that their walking style was the most beautiful upon the earth. Children from the State of Yan (yàn) wanted to imitate this walking style, and set out on a long journey to Han Dan. There, they carefully followed the walking style of the local people, but all their attempts to walk in the Han Dan style failed. Eventually, they decided to give up and return home, but, having forgotten their own walking style, they had no choice but to crawl all the way back.
The lesson from this story is that people must be sensibly critical of others rather than following them blindly. Imitating others without such criticism may incur bad results.
Literally: Comes alone goes alone.
Acts alone independently.
Go on your way [and] let them talk

[1] Han Dan is a city in He Bei ()(běi)province in northern China. 

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