deleonjh (deleonjh) wrote in linguaphiles,

Heaven is high and the emperor is far away

Hi, my question is about the Chinese proverb "Heaven is high and the emperor is far away" which this link says is a line from a longer poem:

Heaven is high and the emperor is far away, the people are few yet officials abound.
Three times each day we are beaten! We have to rebel — it is now or never!

Rather seditious sentiments, I must say. A similar idiom in English might be, "When the cat's away the mice will play."

My question is about the alternate saying, "The mountains are high and the emperor is far away." Wikipedia claims that it means something slightly different but I don't understand what the anonymous contributor meant. Can anyone provide enlightenment on the subject?

EDIT: Someone has revised the Wikipedia entry and removed the garbled part about the mountain. The original follows for the curious:

Shan_Gao_Huang-di_Yuan, meaning, "The mountains are high and the emperor is far away."

Inferring that this saying is about the peasants- this means that the daily lives of Chinese peasants were hard and tough. They had a lot to do and work for before they reached either of these. There really was no availability to move up in the social class system.

Does anyone have the original Chinese poem so we might see whether it's about mountains or skies?

Tags: chinese

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