Choose what is more worthy: reading 10,000 books or traveling 10,000 miles

Zhang Ciyun
Philosophers may differ in their answers, but it’s clear that anything you do to broaden your horizons is worthwhile.
Zhang Ciyun
Choose what is more worthy: reading 10,000 books or traveling 10,000 miles
Li Chaoquan

There’s a popular Chinese proverb that often kindles two different arguments.

The proverb says du wanjuan shu, xing wanli lu, or translated literally “to read ten thousand books and travel ten thousand miles.”


dú wàn juàn shū, xínɡ wàn lǐ lù

The saying was first quoted in “Notes from the Painting-Meditation Studio” written by Dong Qichang (1555-1636), a famous painter, calligrapher and politician in the late years of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Dong’s saying was urging people to study more and gain knowledge, then put into practice what they learned while further broadening their horizons. He thought this was the ideal ethos of Chinese scholars.

However, later on, some people twisted Dong’s saying to du wanjuan shu, buru xing wanli lu, or “to travel ten thousand miles beats reading ten thousand books.”

The latter version obviously emphasizes that experience is more important and meaningful than what one can glean from books.

The two arguments, no matter how you understand them, both compare reading with traveling.

But this is not a unique Chinese idea. Westerners have had similar reflections.

For instance, Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430), a theologian and philosopher, once said: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

David Rockefeller (1915-2017), an American investment banker, was quoted as saying “I am a passionate traveler, and from the time I was a child, travel formed me as much as my formal education.”

All these sayings and quotations seem to agree on one point: By seeing new places and meeting new people, travel can be as enlightening and enchanting as reading books.

The unspoken moral is: Do both as much as possible.

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