EmailFacebookGoogle+PinterestTwittertumblrReddit
Chinese Title: 夜郎自大

Here we’ll cover the back story behind the idiom “夜郎自大”, or “Yelang thinks highly of itself”. This idiom one refers to someone who has a high, but misguided, opinion of their own worth. Stick this one in the language bank for when you need to take someone down a peg (preferably while stroking your fu manchu and calmly catching flies with your chopsticks).

Learning Simplified Chinese: Passages and Exercises for the Intermediate ReaderI learned a new word on this one: 统治 tǒng zhì. Which brings the total number of “tongzhi” words (tonal differences aside) I know up to three.

We’ve got:
同志 – tóng zhì or “Comrade” (and in Chinese slang this also means “a homosexual”, though if you keep an eye on the Chinese news you’ll see that that one of the more reputable local dictionaries refused to include that definition though it’s in common use)

通知 tōng zhī – To notify, give notice

And now, 统治 tǒng zhì – To rule over (a kingdom / country)

Let us hope there aren’t any more configurations of that sound.

Click to Listen

汉朝 – hàn cháo – Han Dynasty
部下 – bù xià – Troops or subordinates under one’s command
巡视 – xún shì – Go on an inspection tour
国境 – guó jìng – National Borders
迎合 – yíng hé – Serve one’s own interests / to fawn or cater
异口同声 – yì kǒu tóng shēng – To say in unison
派 – pài – To dispatch, send someone
使者 – shǐ zhě – Envoy
途中 – tú zhōng – En route


汉朝的时候,在西南方有个名叫夜郎的小国家,它虽然是一个独立的国家,可是国土很小,百姓也少,物产更是少得可怜。但是由于邻近地区以夜郎这个国家最大,从没离开过国家的夜郎国国王就以为自己统治的国家是全天下最大的国家。

有一天,夜郎国国王与部下巡视国境的时候,他指着前方问说:“这里哪个国家最大呀?”部下们为了迎合国王的心意,于是就说:“当然是夜郎国最大啰!”走着走着,国王又抬起头来、望着前方的高山问说:“天底下还有比这座山更高的山吗?”部下们回答说:“天底下没有比这座山更高的山了。”后来,他们来到河边,国王又问:“我认为这可是世界上最长的河川了。”部下们仍然异口同声回答说:“大王说得一点都没错。”从此以后,无知的国王就更相信夜郎是天底下最大的国家。

有一次,汉朝使者来到夜郎,途中先经过夜郎的邻国滇国,滇王问使者:“汉朝和我的国家比起来哪个大?”使者一听吓了一跳,他没想到这个小国家,竟然无知的自以为能与汉朝相比。却没想到后来使者到了夜郎国,骄傲又无知的国王因为不知道自己统治的国家只和汉朝的一个县差不多大,竟然不知天高地厚也问使者:“汉朝和我的国家哪个大?”

SHOW ENGLISH TRANSLATION »
During the Han Dynasty, in the southwest there was a small country called Yelang, and although it was an independent nation, its territory was small, there weren’t many citizens, and its products were pitifully few. Because it was the largest kingdom in the near area, the Yelang king who’d never left his own country thought the country he ruled was the biggest on earth.

One day, the king of Yelang was on a national border inspection tour with his troops, when he pointed in front of him [to neighboring country] and said, “Which country is bigger?” In order to serve their own interests and make the king happy, the troops said, “Of course Yelang is bigger!” They walked along, and the king once again lifted up his head, gazed at the big mountain in the distance and asked: “Is there a taller mountain than this anywhere on earth?” And his men answered: “No, there’s no mountain taller than this one on earth.” After a while, they reached the river side, and the king asked again: “I think this is the world’s longest river.” And all his men said in unison “The king speaks truly.” After this, the ignorant king believed even more firmly that Yelang was the world’s biggest country.

Then one day, the Han Dynasty dispatched an envoy to Yelang, and en route they encountered the neighboring kingdom DianGuo, and the King of Dian asked the emissary: “If you compared the Han Dynasty and my Kingdom, which one would be bigger?” The emissary listened in astonishment, as he’d never have thought this small a country thought it could compare itself to the Han Dynasty. But he really never could have suspected that when he got to Yelang, the prideful and ignorant king who didn’t know that the kingdom he ruled was about the size of one Han county, would ask with an exaggerated opinion of his own worth, “Which is bigger: the Han Dynasty or my country?”


19 comments to "Story Behind the Idiom: YeLang Zi Da"

  1. This is a great story, I have heard it before. It is nice to actually see the story and practice the new vocabulary. Thanks

  2. Great post, thanks!
    I would also be interested in you could recommending any language learning videos —

  3. Talk about bad English grammar in that comment –
    I would be interested if you could recommend some ‘Chinese’ language learning videos, haha.

  4. Nice article as always…. ^^

  5. I don’t quite understand why the story involved the Dian King. Is it to show that all the Kings in the Han Empire are all ignorant as to the size of their kingdom?

    • No, I think that’s to show how small Yelang is – it’s saying that Yelang is way smaller than the kingdom of Dian, so I’m going to assume that’s a comparative device.

      • I don’t think that explanation makes sense. In the first paragraph it says that Yelang is the largest country in the region or area:

        “但是由于邻近地区以夜郎这个国家最大,从没离开过国家的夜郎国国王就以为自己统治的国家是全天下最大的国家”

        In the last paragraph it states that Dian neighbors (i.e. is in the region of) Yelang:

        “…途中先经过夜郎的邻国滇国…”

        So, as Dian neighbors Yelang, and Yelang is the largest kingdom in the area, then Yelang must be larger than Dian!

  6. @Sherm: Yeah, I also didn’t get the Dian King bit. I didn’t see it as necessary and it just confused me in the first reading.

    PS Kendra, this site is amazing! Please keep it up!

  7. Good collection of some “ran” phrases.
    Suiran, dangran, rengran, jingran

    What other “–ran” phrases are there?

  8. Cool story, but if I was the king I would at least go out of the country to make sure because you never know if someone is lying. /=|. ( sorry I don’t get emoji.) =^

    Aaannyyy wwwaayyy’sss thanks a lot for all these they are awsome
    THANKS AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!

  9. its fucking lit, dog


Leave Comment: