Blind men touching the Elephant 盲人摸象

elephant-blind-compo Before I begin the story of 盲人摸象, allow me to extend the definition of idioms that I gave in my previous post ‘Being busy and idioms to help’. Chinese idioms have a literal meaning gained from translating each of the characters in the phrase, as well as a figurative meaning that sums up the moral. Usually people just stick with the figurative meaning as it gives an all rounded idea of the intended message of the idiom. Coincidentally, the idiom that I will share with you today is about properly understanding an idea, rather than forming conclusions with what you may find on the surface. This ties in with the idea of having an all rounded understanding of something, because you cannot make conclusions about something with little knowledge. Today’s idiom is called 盲人摸象 (mang ren mo xiang), and is literally translated as ‘Blind men touching the Elephant’.

Out of the idioms I have learnt to date, 盲人摸象 is the most vivid in my mind because my Chinese teacher prepared a script for my classmates and I to perform as a play in order to illustrate the idiom. Acting out the story was a great experience because it made us more confident to use mandarin, our class became more cohesive with teamwork, and it was really funny to act out and watch other people’s parts. This would be a great revision strategy for you if you have a story or event that you need to remember, so perhaps you could create a mini play for your work as well.

As with the other fables I have discussed in my blog, idioms tend to have varying accounts, therefore I will use the play that we performed as the basis for this story. I was considering using the script my teacher had created in order to retell the story, but without asking her that would be plagiarism (plagiarizing is really bad) (不应该养成这样的习惯 = you should not form that habit) (if I did plan on using it I would ask for permission do not fear) (…brackets finished!)。另外, in addition I can’t find the paper from last year 😅

There once were four blind men. One man was a successful Accountant, another was a wise Scholar, another was a renowned Doctor and the last blind man was a famous Fortuneteller. They had all met in a market and each took turns to boast about their achievements and admirable reputations. The Accountant claimed that his calculations were never wrong, the Scholar declared that he was the smartest of the bunch, the Doctor professed that his medical practices were the most heard of, and the Fortuneteller stated that he was the most powerful of them all. Inevitably they broke out into argument…except no one directly addressed each other because they were blind, so instead there was a scattered bustle of noise. After a moment had passed, an elephant and his guide came through the market. The guide announced the elephant’s arrival and silenced the bickering men. Slowly, the men began to approach the elephant and were positioned at various parts of its body. The Accountant touched the elephant’s ears and thought it was a fan. The Scholar felt the trunk of the elephant and was adamant that it was a snake. The Doctor was at the elephant’s rear and was certain that it’s tail was a rope. And the Fortuneteller glided his hands across the body of the elephant thinking that it was a wall. The elephant guide then posed the questioned; 大象怎么样?which means, ‘how is an elephant?’. The men individually put forward what they had thought the elephant was after touching it, but their bickering quickly resumed as they all argued for their particular view (that the elephant is a fan, snake, rope and wall). Shortly afterwards the elephant guide interrupted the men and told them that they were all wrong. The elephant guide explained that neither of the men was correct about their assumptions of what an elephant is because they had all experienced different parts of the elephant.

In our production we had the elephant guide address the audience with the moral of the story. This is that we should not be like the blind who touch the elephant (不要像盲人摸象一样)because we will form conclusions based on incomplete judgements.

I hope that you enjoyed my account of the idiom 盲人摸象 ‘Blind men touching the elephant’. I think that the moral is one that we should not stray from and we should try to bear in mind that we do not know everything, as we are also blind in some respects。 Hence why we should try not to make judgements about certain things, especially if we are unsure of the full details.

If you ever over use brackets (brackets are the future), or think you may be like the blind men touching the elephant, 世界 I wish you good luck.

从欣妍 – From Xinyan.

Ps. As I find a lot of small things to be mentally stimulating, I think it would be interesting to explore some topics that we have an emotive response to so we can 开阔我们的眼界 ‘broaden our horizons’ (so cliché it hurts, but I couldn’t think of another way to phrase it). Obviously topics would need to be engaged with without being like the盲人摸象 (if you know the pinyin without cheating then I applaud you).


One thought on “Blind men touching the Elephant 盲人摸象

  1. I really wasn’t expecting that idiom! It’s so lovely. It doesn’t follow the traditional path of fables – in essence, it isn’t predictable. So, it was a good idiom to use! And despite not having the luxury of performing such an idiom with an obviously energetic group of peers, I will remember it for its unconventional twist at the end. Really! It caught me off guard. “We do not know everything” but if we share between each other collectively, we will be one step closer to find the truth. I feel like it’s going to stick with me for some time. (Cheesy, I know!) (And brackets ARE the future :P)

    Regardless, the fact that you were able to act out this idiom is really cool!

    Thank you for alerting me to the magic of chinese idioms. I didn’t realise how insightful they are, so, again, thank you. *bows in respect*


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