Chinese Stories/The frog of the well

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The frog of the well is a fable by Zhuāng Zǐ, sometimes known as Looking at a sky down in a well.

The story[1][edit | edit source]

There was once a frog that lived in a well. One day, a soft-shelled turtle came by and told him about the sea. "The sea?" Said the frog. "Hah! It's nothing but paradise in here. I assure you, there is no place in the world that is better than inside this well. Why don't you come down here and share my joy?"

The turtle tried, and failed as the mouth of the well was too small. "Why don't you go see the sea instead?"

Moral: Some ignorant people know nothing and refuse to know beyond their own world.

Title[edit | edit source]

The names the frog of the bottom of the well (井底之蛙) and glancing at the sky from the bottom of the well (坐井觀天) were not original titles by Chuang-tzu. The philosopher has given the fable no title. Such titles have been made up by others. In fact, the common interpretation of a frog in a well is incorrect. Back then, the word 井 meant 'trap' (now written as '阱').

Nowadays, both titles have been used as an idiom. The former means a person whose knowledge is so limited that he or she has no idea about anything aside from the world of their own; the latter means the action of being the kind of person mentioned above. Here is an example sentence using both idioms:


Which translates to:

He always shows off his geographical knowledge in front of others, yet he is simply an ignorant frog of the bottom of the well. I guess I'll advise him to stop glancing at the sky from the bottom of the well.

Footnotes[edit | edit source]

  1. The original text: