5 Classic Chinese Stories of Gratitude

With all that goes on every day, and all that could go wrong, we sometimes forget to be grateful. Of course, with Thanksgiving (感恩节 Gǎn ēn jié) right around the corner gratitude is in the air in the U.S., but we thinking that no matter where you are or who you are it’s important to be thankful for what you have and the people you have around you.
In fact, Chinese tradition tells of many stories of being grateful – here are 5 of the most noteworthy!

HSK 3 quiz
例句 (lì jù):

感恩 (gǎn ēn): n. thanksgiving

wǒ men yào xīn huái gǎn ēn.
我    们   要   心   怀    感  恩。
We must be grateful.

fù mǔ wèi wǒ men fù chū le hěn duō,wǒ men yào dǒng de gǎn ēn.
父  母  为   我  们   付  出  了 很   多,   我   们    要    懂    得  感  恩。
Parents have given a lot for us, we should know how to be grateful.

1. 投桃报李 (tóu táo bào lǐ): toss a peach, get back a plum

From the Book of Songs: “投我以桃,报之以李 (Tóu wǒ yǐ táo, bào zhī yǐ lǐ)” “Give me a peach, and I’ll give back a plum.” In later generations this literary reference was shortened to “tóu táo bào lǐ”, a metaphor for friendly exchanges or giving things to each other. A casual English equivalent might be “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”.

HSK 3 quiz
例句 (lì jù):

投桃报李 (tóu táo bào lǐ): to return a favor; to scratch each other’s backs

wǒ men yīng duì bāng zhù guò wǒ men de rén tóu táo bào lǐ.
我   们     应    对   帮     助   过   我   们    的  人  投   桃  报  李。
We should repay those who have helped us.

tóu táo bào lǐ,hù xiāng bāng zhù shì hěn zì rán de shì.
投   桃   报  李,互  相      帮     助   是  很  自 然  的  事。
It’s natural to help each other.

2. 知遇之恩 (zhī yù zhī ēn): the kindness of recognizing sb’s worth and employing him

From “Questions of the Tang” in Liezi. Yu Boya and Zhong Ziqi were a pair of best friends whose story was handed down through the ages. In fact, the two names are synonymous with deep friendship. Boya was adept at musical instruments, while Ziqi was good at appreciating things. When Zhong Ziqi died of illness Boya was extremely sad, thinking that there was no meaning left in the world without his friend, and that no one in the world would be able to appreciate his instrument playing like Zhong Ziqi. So, he broke his favorite instrument, and stopped playing for life.

HSK 3 quiz
例句 (lì jù):

知遇之恩 (zhī yù zhī ēn): the kindness of recognizing sb’s worth and employing him; patronage

wǒ cóng xīn dǐ gǎn xiè nǐ de zhī yù zhī ēn.
我    从    心 底  感  谢  你 的 知  遇 之 恩。
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness.

nǐ duì wǒ de zhī yù zhī ēn,wǒ yī dìng bù huì wàng jì.
你 对  我  的  知 遇  之  恩,我  一  定   不  会   忘   记。
I will never forget your kindness to me.

3. 士为知己者死 (shì wéi zhī jǐ zhě sǐ): a scholar dies for his confidant

From the “Warring States Policy”, said by Yu Rang, one of the four great assassins in the Spring and Autumn Period. The “death of a scholar for a confidant” means that one is willing to dedicate oneself to those who appreciate and cultivate themselves. Yu Rang was the retainer of the Zhi family of the Jin State in the Spring and Autumn Period. In 453 BC, the Zhao family of Jin, together with the Han family and the Wei family, defeated the Zhi family in Jinyang. The lord of the Zhi family, Zhi Boyao, was killed and his head was made into a wine jug by Zhao Xiangzi. Yu Rang sought revenge by assassinating Xiangzi, and committed suicide afterwards.

HSK 3 quiz
例句 (lì jù):

赏识 (shǎng shí): n. appreciation

wǒ hěn gǎn xiè tā de shǎng shí.
我   很   感   谢 他  的   赏     识。
I am very grateful for his appreciation.

měi shù lǎo shī shí fēn shǎng shí wǒ de huà.
美    术   老  师  十  分    赏     识  我  的  画。
The art teacher appreciates my paintings very much.

4. 滴水之恩,涌泉相报 (dī shuǐ zhī ēn,yǒng quán xiāng bào): the grace of dripping water repaid by the spring

The original wording for this expression is, “The grace of trickling drops should be repaid with springs”, with the earliest written record found in the “Popular Collection of Traditional Chinese Wise Sayings” of the Qing Dynasty.

HSK 3 quiz
例句 (lì jù):

报答 (bào dá): v. to repay

wǒ men yīng gāi bào dá tā de hǎo yì.
我    们    应    该  报   答 他 的  好  意。
We should repay him for his kindness.

wǒ bāng zhù bié rén,bìng bù shì xiǎng yào bié rén de bào dá.
我    帮     助   别  人,     并   不  是    想     要   别  人  的  报   答。
I don’t want to be rewarded by others when I help them.

5. 衔环结草 (xián huán jié cǎo): title rings and grass knots (to repay a kindness)

Both the knot grass and a title ring are ancient tokens of repaying kindness found in “The Commentary of Zuo”. The former tells of a scholar bureaucrat who married his dead father’s concubine to another person instead of having her buried along with him as was the custom. In order to repay his son for saving his beloved concubine, the dead father tangled his son’s enemy in the weeds, saving his son.
The latter story tells of Yang Bao, a famous scholar in the Eastern Han Dynasty, who saved a yellow finch when he was nine years old that had been injured by an eagle. A hundred days later the finch recovered and fluttered away, returning that night to say, “I am the messenger sent by Queen Mother of the West. I am very grateful to you for saving me.” The finch took out four crystal clear rings that offered protection to his family.
Later these two ideas, the grass knot (jié cǎo) and the title ring (xián huán) were combined to form a phrase that referenced a favor being rewarded for life and for death.

HSK 3 quiz
例句 (lì jù):

典故 (diǎn gù): n. allusion

zhè piān wén zhāng làn yòng diǎn gù.
这     篇    文     章     滥   用     典   故。
This article overuses allusions.

tā hěn shàn cháng yùn yòng diǎn gù.
他  很    擅     长      运    用     典   故。
He is very good at using allusions.

You May Want to Learn More :

“How to express “Thanks” in Chinese”
“Thanksgivings of the Past and Now”
”3 Chinese Idioms About Being Grateful in Time for Thanksgiving”

HSK 1 quiz

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top