Daily Chinese Proverb: Play Lute To A Cow

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin Thursday, 8 October 2009 0 comments

This Chinese proverb refers to how you might miscommunicate with people by aiming the communication level too high. It can mean that the method of communication you are using to talk to someone is too sophisticated and therefore will not work. This proverb 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 proverb mocks the audience rather than the speaker.

This proverb can also be taken to mean 'to talk philosophy to a fool.'

Duì niú tán qín
to play the lute to a cow

Proverb Story :

Long ago there lived a musician named Gong Mingyi. He was a master of the Zheng zither, a plucked string instrument.

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. Gong Mingyi picked up the zither and played a second song with much less skillful grace. This time the cow swings its tail instantly and begins to relish the music with erect ears.

Gong Mingyi smiles and understands that, obviously, the cow doesn't respond to his music not because he plays it badly, but because it does not understand the masterful first performance. Therefore it is unable to appreciate it which means that the cow neither understood nor appreciated his elegant music!

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