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Chinese idiom: 半途而废 (give up halfway)


The idiom 半途而废 (bàn tú ér fèi): Literally 'Halfway along the road and abandoning [your task].' The original story can be found in《后汉书》, hou han shu 'The Book of Later Han'.


Once upon a time, this time specifically being the Eastern Han Dynasty, in what is now Henan province, there lived a man named Yue Yangzi 乐羊子. Although Yue Yangzi did not have high ambitions in life, he had taken a virtuous and sensible wife. One day, he came upon a block of gold, and he happily took it home. His wife told him angrily, "I heard ambitious people don't drink stolen water, honest people don't accept other people's food. This gold belonged to someone else, we should work hard to earn such a treasure!" On hearing her words, Yue Yangzi was very ashamed and discarded the piece of gold.


This event highlighted that Yue Yangzi really needed to learn more about how things were done. On advice from a friend and with his wife's approval, he found a teacher and began his studies.


One year later, Yue Yangzi returned home. His wife knelt before him and asked whether he had finished his studies. Yue Yangzi replied that he had missed her and come home. On hearing this, his wife jumped up, grabbed a sword, went over to her loom, and cut the piece of cloth there in half. She said, "Silk comes from silk worm cocoons. I have weaved it together thread by thread. Now I have cut it in half and wasted all my own time. Studying is like this. If you come home without finishing, you will have wasted the time you spent there every day."

 一年之后,乐羊子归来。他妻子跪在他面前问他是否已完成学业。他回答说因为想她,所以回家了。妻子听后,立刻站起来,拿起一把刀,走到她的织布机前把布割成两半。她说:“丝帛产自蚕茧, 我一根丝一根丝地把它织起来,现在我把它割成两半,我之前付出的时间全都浪费了。读书也是这样,如果你没有完成学业就归来,你原来用于学习的时间也都白白浪费了”。

Yue Yangzi felt ashamed again and returned to his studies. After seven years he completed them.


Nobody knows the name of the wife, but she has gone down in history as a model of virtue. The story goes on to tell how when Yue Yangzi is attacked by robbers his wife saves them, again by grabbing a sword and threatening them. So while the moral of the story is supposedly 'Don't give up halfway', one might also be inclined to think the bigger message is 'Always listen to your wife'.



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