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Chinese Idioms 成 语

Lesson 14
Duì niú tán qín
【 对 牛 弹 琴 】
Play the lute to a cow

In ancient times, there lived a musician named Gong Mingyi. He was a master of the Zheng, a plucked string instrument. Unfortunately, his rash behavior often led him astray.

One day, he saw a cow grazing in a field near his house. He was inspired by the scene and ran outside to play a tune for the cow. Gong Mingyi played beautifully, finding himself intoxicated by the music. But the cow paid no heed to the elegant sounds, simply focusing its attention on eating the grass. Gong Mingyi was surprised at this and could not comprehend the cow’s flippant indifference. He felt that since his performance had been masterful, this means that the cow neither understood nor appreciated his elegant music!

From that story comes the idiom "To play the lute to a cow", which implies that someone speaks or writes without considering his audience. Generally speaking, it means the speaker or writer has over-estimated his listeners or readers. In these cases, the idiom mocks the audience rather than the speaker.

Shì zài rén wéi
All success hinges on human effort; human effort is the decisive factor
Shì guò jìng qiān
Events have passed and the situation has changed; things change with the passage of time
gāo wàng zhòng
(of old people) enjoy moral eminence and high esteem; to be of good moral standing and undisputed reputation
cái jiān bèi

To have both moral integrity and professional competence; to be a person of ability and virtue

Guāng míng lĕi luò

Open and aboveboard; frank and open-hearted

Guāng căi duó

Dazzlingly bright; brilliant