The monk's umbrella: a pun on the lawless nature of some people

Zhang Ciyun
Ancient wisdom often finds contemporary parallels.
Zhang Ciyun
The monk's umbrella: a pun on the lawless nature of some people
Li Chaoquan

Originating in ancient India during the 5th century BC, Buddhism was not introduced into China until the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). But today, China has the world’s largest Buddhist population, with an estimated more than 200 million practitioners.

In the about 33,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries spread across the country, a visitor will find monks of all ages, usually with the salient characteristics of shaven heads and saffron cassocks.

In fact, one may also meet them in many Chinese expressions. Here are two examples.

One proverb says heshang dasan, wufa wutian, or “a monk upholds an umbrella, thus respecting no law and order.” It’s a pun on “hairless” and “lawless” since “hair” in Chinese is a homonym with the word “law.” Also, the umbrella blocks the sky (tian), which may mean “heavenly justice” in Chinese.


hé shang dǎ sǎn, wú fǎ wú tiān

This saying is often used to describe someone who’s utterly lawless.

The other proverb is paole heshang paobuliao miao, or “a monk may run away, but not with his temple.”

There are several folklores about the origin of this saying, with some dating back more than 400 years. But today, the phrase is frequently used to mean that one may run away from a problem temporarily, but eventually he must face it. Or another interpretation: One may run away himself, but can’t take fixed assets with him. In other words, “I’ll get you anyway.”

One may see some similarity between the saying of a Chinese monk running away and the English idiom, “You may run but you can’t hide.”


pǎo le hé shang pǎo bù liǎo miào

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