zhǐ yào gōng fu shēn , tiě chǔ mó chéng zhēn
Every language has idioms, sayings, or set phrases. Chinese is no different. In Chinese, an idiom is called 成语 (chéng yŭ) and it’s usually composed of 4 characters.
This idiom comes from Mo Zhen Xi, in Fang yu sheng lan, by Zhu Mu from the Song Dynasty. It is roughly translated as “Hard work pays off” in English.
We have included both the Chinese and the English versions of the story below.
Now, let’s find out what it really means.
Word by word translation of this Chinese idiom
只要zhǐ yào: as long as
功夫 gōng fu: effort
功 gōng: work (physics)/achievement
夫 fū: manual worker/man
深 shēn: deep/dark(color)
铁 tiě: iron
杵 chǔ: pestle
磨 mó: to grind
成 chéng: to become
针 zhēn: needle
Li Bai (701-762) was a famous poet in the Tang Dynasty of China.
When he was young, Li Bai was not interested in learning at all, and he often wen out playing.
One day, Li Bai saw an old woman grinding an iron pestle by the river.
He felt so curious that he went over and asked the old woman what she was doing.
It turned out that she was making a needle for her granddaughter to learn embroidery.
Having heard this, Li Bai laughed as most kids would do, because he thought it was a waste of time to grind an iron pestle into a needle and that by the day the needle was made, her granddaughter would have turned into an old woman herself.
However, the old woman told him with confidence: “As long as you work hard enough, an iron pestle can be ground down to a needle.”
Suddenly Li Bai realized that perseverance would help one succeed in everything.
From then on, Li Bai began to study hard and accumulate knowledge. He finally became a great poet!
Eventually, this story became the saying “铁杵成针”. This saying tells us that as long as you are determined and commit to hard work, even the hardest tasks can be accomplished.
Example Sentence One:
Hard work pays off; as long as we put in the effort, there’s nothing we can’t do.
Example Sentence Two:
After five years of sincere hard work, he mastered the Chinese language. If you put in the effort, anything can be done.