The Story Behind the Idiom NanYuanBeiZhe
posted at  2011-06-07 19:46  Shane

As you’re probably aware, most Chinese idioms are 4-Chinese character constructs that make little sense unless you know the story behind them. this one, 南辕北辙(PINYIN for this idiom is NanYuanBeiZhe), means “to do something that acts against your own best interests”. The story behind this idiom talks about the follies of a man traveling the wrong direction on his way to the Kingdom of Chu, who refuses against all wisdom and advice to go the right way.

Long ago, there was a man traveling from the Kingdom of Wei to the Kingdom of Chu. He took a lot of traveling money with him, hired a good carriage, harnessed it to a strong steed, hired an exquisitely skilled driver, and then began his journey. The Kingdom of Chu was to the south of the Kingdom of Wei, but this man couldn’t tell the difference when the driver rode away towards the north.

On the road, a passing traveler asked where they were going. The man loudly answered, “We’re going to the Kindom of Chu!”. The traveler told him, “If you’re going to Chu, you should go south. You’re going north, it’s the wrong direction.” The man unconcernedly replied, “No problem! My horse is very fast.” Worried for him, the traveler pulled at the horse, and warned, “You’re going the wrong way. Even if your horse was even faster than it is, you still won’t reach the Kingdom of Chu!” Still not seeing the truth, the man said, “Don’t worry, I’ve brought a lot of money with me.” Making a concerted effort to dissuade him, the traveler said, “Though you may have a lot of money, you’re still going the wrong direction, and your money will be spent in vain.” Thinking of nothing other than getting to the Kingdom of Chu, the man impatiently said, “It’s not a problem, my driver is extremely skilled!” Out of options, the traveler let go of the carriage and watched helplessly as the aimless man from Wu rode away.

The man from Wu didn’t listen to anyone’s exhortations, relying on his fast horse, his money, his driver’s skill and many other favorable conditions, and obstinately continued to go in the opposite direction. Doing this, he could only continue to get further and further away from his goal, because his overall direction was wrong.

This Chinese story tells us, no matter what the situation is, we’d better first be sure we’re going the right way, and only then can we fully employ our other advantages, otherwise those advantages will just cause us pain it have the opposite effect.