Stubborn mules often run headlong into a wall

Zhang Ciyun
Some people just can’t be persuaded that a course of action will end in failure.
Zhang Ciyun
Stubborn mules often run headlong into a wall
Li Chaoquan

In a traditional Chinese courtyard, there’s usually a solitary wall, called a screen or spirit wall, that stands just inside the entrance gate. Because it almost always faces the south, it’s also known as the southern wall.

In spiritual terms, the wall is meant to stop evil spirits from entering the courtyard, but pragmatically, it stands there to block the view of the inside buildings and resident activities from the street.

If one wants to exit the courtyard, he must move either around the right or the left corner of the southern wall. Anyone who tries to make a beeline to the gate will end up running headlong into the solitary standing wall.

These circumstances have led to the creation of the popular Chinese expression buzhuang nanqiang buhuitou, or “not turning back until one slams into the southern wall.”

不撞南墙不回头

bù zhuàng nán qiáng bù huí tóu

Figuratively, this expression refers to someone who refuses to stop what he’s doing or listen to advice to change course of action until he runs into utter frustration or failure, thus implying a kind of stubbornness.

In English, people may also use the word “wall” in a sentence to describe stubbornness. For example, if someone remains obstinate despite your best attempt at persuasion, you might say it’s “like talking to a brick wall.”

The Chinese idiom of hitting the southern wall is often followed by another saying: bujian guancai buluolei. It translates as “not shed a tear until one sees his own coffin readied.”

不见棺材不落泪

bù jiàn guān cai bù luò lèi

English expressions of similar meaning include “to give up only at the sight of the gallows,” “refusal to accept defeat until at the end of one’s rope” and “be as stubborn as a mule.”

People say there is only a fine line between stubbornness and stupidity. Thus, the two Chinese proverbs here illustrate a half-witted stubbornness.

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