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I'm loving learning some of these wise sayings, but I'm having a little trouble getting the deeper meaning.

It seems like it basically is "don't eat the hungry, don't read the stupid".

Does that basically mean "avoid eating foods lacking nutrition, and avoid reading books which lack intellectual nutrition/substance/value/intelligence"? Is there a native/fluent speaker who can help enlighten me? I feel like I'm going to love this phrase once I properly understand it.

Thank you!

3 Answers 3

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不吃饭则饥,
不读书则愚

I love it already, thanks for posting it.

Its meaning is something like:

Who doesn't eat becomes hungry,
Who doesn't study becomes stupid.

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  • It is an analogy, compare the importance of feeding one's mind to feeding one's stomach
    – Tang Ho
    Feb 19, 2022 at 14:46
  • It is also a general admonishment that improper / incorrect actions or omissions have negative consequences. In other words, "Do the right thing" Feb 20, 2022 at 12:20
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I think it's the word 则 that wasn't understood by the OP. 则 is the key conjunction here; it indicates a logical connection of cause and effect between clauses. Here's the CC-CEDICT entry:

則 则 [ze2] /(conjunction used to express contrast with a previous clause) but/then/standard/norm/principle/to imitate/to follow/classifier for written items/

I would translate this 格言 (this saying) as follows:

[If you] don't eat food, then you'll be hungry; [If you] don't read books, then you'll be ignorant.

Here I'm using "then" to translate 则.

It's a nice saying. I wonder where the OP encountered it.

I'm not an expert, but this saying seems to be using Classical Chinese - in any case I'm pretty sure it doesn't follow the vocabulary patterns of contemporary Putonghua 普通话. Here are two paraphrases of it in Putonghua that I got from Baidu:

  • 不吃饭会饥饿,不读书会愚昧。
  • 人不吃饭就会饥饿,人不读书就会愚昧。

There are lots of questions on Baidu about this saying, it seems to be quite a popular one.

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I guess this is the full story:

A student asks the teacher: "What is the importance of study/learning?"

The teacher replies: "The importance of study/learning is the same as the need to eat. If we don't eat, we will feel hungry. If we don't study/learn, we will stay as a fool. The feel of hungry will return if we don't eat the additional meal at a regular interval; the foolishness will stay with us if we don't continue to study/learn."

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