The long and short of it: When a foot may be less than an inch

Zhang Ciyun
One man’s advantage may be another’s disadvantage ... and vice versa.
Zhang Ciyun
The long and short of it: When a foot may be less than an inch
Li Chaoquan

Probably no one would challenge the fact that one foot is longer than one inch. However, a common Chinese proverb, chiyousuoduan, cunyousuochang, claims that sometimes a foot may prove short and an inch may prove long.


chǐ yǒu suǒ duǎn, cùn yǒu suǒ cháng

The saying first appeared in a poem written by Qu Yuan (c. 340-278 BC), one of China’s greatest poets. The annual Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar, is still observed nowadays to memorialize Qu, who is also known as a famous patriot.

In the poem, Qu also says that abundant resources may be insufficient, problems can’t always be solved by wisdom, things may not be predicted by divination, and there are times when a god can’t make his power felt.

Chinese also have a folk story to illustrate this point.

The story goes that a goat meets a camel. The latter is tall, so it can eat the new leaves on tall trees, but the goat can’t. So, the camel tells the goat: “You see this is the advantage of being tall.”

Later, they come to a piece of grassland, which is surrounded by a tall fence with a small door. The goat slips through it to graze on the grass inside, but the camel is too big to enter.

This time, the goat says: “Now, you can see my advantage in being short.”

Eventually, the two come to an ox and ask him for his opinion on which of them has the advantage. The ox says advantage in one situation can be a disadvantage in another.

All in all, like people tend to say in English, every man has his strong and weak points, and everything has its advantages and disadvantages.

Special Reports