So, I came across this chengyu and my understanding is that it means something like "to take a cursory look at something" or, to quote my dictionary, "粗略地观察事物". Now, I understand this and I see where it's coming from, but the book I found it in is about Tiziano Terzani, an Italian journalist/writer who lived in China for a long time and uses it to refer to himself and his travel experience. I have read a lot of his work and he's anything but superficial. So I was wondering if the chengyu has another meaning/can be interpreted in a different way? A little research on the internet got me nowhere. Many thanks!
The meaning you've provided may also be written as 走馬觀花, and looks like a recent meaning of the phrase, popularised in the late Qing dynasty. The earlier meaning of 走馬看花 meant to be in a very satisfied and pleasant/enjoyable mood, and is derived from a poem by the Tang Dynasty Meng Jiao. Quote:
Bolded parts where the 成語 comes from: swift galloping of hooves, see, flower
The poet talks about not wanting to bring up his past impoverished circumstances, referencing his failure to pass the Imperial Examinations twice. Finally, on his third attempt he succeeded, was overjoyed, and rode a horse which swiftly galloped to the Tang Capital Chang'an, where the poet wanted to see all of Chang'an's flowers in a single day. Later literature which uses 走馬看花 in this sense as an expression include:
- 宋 楊萬里 《葉叔羽集同年九人於櫻桃園》詩： “走馬看花才幾日， 曉星殘月半無人。”
- 明 于謙 《喜雨行》： “但願風調雨順民安業， 我亦走馬看花歸帝京。”