You don't need to be an academic to reach the top grade

Zhang Ciyun
Mastering a skilled trade is as impressive as a scholar’s achievements.
Zhang Ciyun

For most Chinese parents, whether they live in a megacity or a remote village, a college education for their children is the ticket to future success.

But a Chinese proverb says differently.

First quoted in the “Miscellaneous Records of Clear Wave” by Zhou Hui during the 12th century, the proverb says sanbai liushi hang, hanghang chu zhuangyuan, or literally “there are 360 trades and every trade produces its own zhuangyuan.”


sān bǎi liù shí háng, háng háng chū zhuàng yuán

Zhuangyuan was a title conferred on the person receiving the highest score in the imperial examination in feudal China.

It other words, the saying means anybody may become distinguished in any trade through determination, talent and hard work.

Some people claim an earlier folk story is the source of the proverb.

As the story goes, a newly designated zhuangyuan was riding through a market on a big horse. When a man carrying firewood and a vendor of cooking oil blocked his way, he shouted to them: “You get out of my way!”

But the two replied something to the effect: “Get off your high horse. You only know how to write, but you can’t do anything we are good at.”

Then, the man with the firewood demonstrated his skill with an ax, and the vendor accurately weighed the oil in a bottle without using a scale. The scholar was amazed by their skills.

“Ah, in 36 trades, each has its own top masters,” he sighed.

The number 36 was later changed to 360 to reflect a very wide range of trades.

Today, the Chinese proverb is often used to encourage young people who fail scholastic exams or can’t afford schooling to follow their skills and distinguish themselves in a trade.

Special Reports