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I got this out of the Routledge Encyclopedia of the Chinese Language, it really spoke to me, but was wondering if the translation is as true as they depict it. Nothing is as good as running it by fluent speakers of the language. Thank You!

Better to be a broken piece of jade, than a whole piece of clay

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2 Answers 2

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Almost.

Translating「瓦全」as a whole piece of clay, in my opinion, is not immediately intuitive (and that's not really what the literal translation is anyway). I would translate「寧爲玉碎不爲瓦全」to

Better to be shattered jade than to be flawless china.

The message is: A principled person would rather die upholding righteousness than to live an ignoble existence.

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宁为玉碎 不为瓦全

  • literally mean 'rather be jade in pieces than be clay and keep whole'

  • figuratively means 'rather die for principle and honor than survive in disgrace and humiliation'

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