Lessons from Chinese Idioms: "Humbled by the Vast Ocean"

Yi Dou

PureInsight | July 18, 2005

[PureInsight.org] In ancient China, the Yellow River was very important to the Chinese people. People irrigated the rice paddies with the water from the Yellow River. Without the Yellow River, the Chinese people wouldn't have been able to establish the Chinese civilization. Hence, the Yellow River was also known as the Divine River.

According to a Chinese legend, in an autumn, the heavy rainfalls made all the rivers in China surge. A lot of rivers raced into the Yellow River. The Yellow River became all the wider, larger and more powerful. The God of the Yellow River became very pleased and arrogant, thinking he must be reigning over the largest body of water under heaven. As he traveled down the Yellow River, he arrived at the North China Sea. He looked to the east and could not see the eastern edge of the North Sea. He became humbled before the North China Sea and sighed. "I was too arrogant," he said. "I thought I was larger than everything else. Now I have seen your vastness. I realized I had been ignorant. I wouldn't have even realized it had I not traveled here."

However, the god reigning over the North China Sea replied humbly, "Between heaven and earth, I am nothing but a small particle in the middle of the vast lands. Even the seven seas together are nothing but a small grain of dust in the universe. I am far from being vast."

The story spawned the Chinese idiom, "humbled by the vast ocean," which is used to describe a man who is humbled by his limited power.

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