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April 1, 2023

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‘Blindness to mountains’ obscures the bigger picture

Taishan, or Mount Tai, is one of the most sacred mountains in China. Nearly every Chinese knows of it, and many have visited it.

The Chinese saying youyan bushi taishan, or “though you have eyes, you don’t recognize Mount Tai,” is often used to describe one who is ignorant.

According to folk stories, however, the reference to Taishan here doesn’t mean the sacred mountain, but rather to the name of an ancient bamboo craftsman from the south.

Once, the craftsman traveled north to learn some skills from Lu Ban, a legendary carpenter in Chinese history. But after a time, he failed to make noticeable progress under Lu’s tutorship, so the carpenter asked the craftsman to leave.

A few years later, when Lu made a trip to the south, he was amazed to see some exquisite bamboo products in local markets.

Lu asked locals who was the master craftsman of these products, and they told him that it was none other than Taishan, who once went to the north to learn from him.

Upon hearing this, Lu deeply regretted his failure “to recognize Taishan’s great talent though I have eyes.”

Whether the Taishan proverb refers to the mountain or the craftsman, it is now widely quoted to depict anyone who is too ignorant to recognize a person’s importance or talent.

Another Chinese proverb inspired from mountains comes from a poem by Su Shi, a great poet of the Northern Song Dynasty (AD 960-1127).

The two lines, bushi Lushan zhenmianmu, zhiyuan shenzai cishanzhong, literally mean “one can’t see the true image of Lushan because he’s in the mountain himself.” Lushan, or Mount Lu, is a major scenic spot in China.

The saying roughly means the same as “you can’t see the forest for the trees.”

So, the Chinese seem to agree that it’s a bad thing for one to be blind to mountains.


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