He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man (不到长城非好汉)

susanna76

Senior Member
Romanian
Hi,

I'm having trouble understanding a Chinese saying. I found it online in Chinese as 不到长城非好汉 (bú dào Chángchéng fēi hǎohàn) -- I don't know what that says because I don't speak Chinese. I also found it in English as "He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man"

I give both Chinese and English versions here because I'm trying to understand what exactly the saying refers to when it says "true man." Maybe some of you who are Chinese understand this better. Is the meaning

1. You have the obligation to see this great accomplishment of the human spirit, because much creativity and suffering has gone into it.
2. You won't understand what the human spirit is capable of until you see the Great Wall.

I eagerly await your responses! Thank you in advance!
 
  • Eilatan24

    Member
    Cantonese- Hong Kong
    This is a tricky one. To my understanding, it's a metaphor. Having been to the Great Wall is like having overcome the difficulties. And a true man here (好汉) means a hero who fears nothing.
     

    xiaolijie

    Senior Member
    UK
    English (UK)
    This is a tricky one. To my understanding, it's a metaphor. Having been to the Great Wall is like having overcome the difficulties. And a true man here (好汉) means a hero who fears nothing.
    What are the difficulties in going to see the Great Wall? If you're in China, it can take just a couple of hours to get there to see it and anyone can go and see it. What the saying is really saying is "the Great Wall is a must see", in a very similar fashion to the way we say "the 10 films you must see before you die", and there is no relationship whatsoever between the films and dying :D.
     

    susanna76

    Senior Member
    Romanian
    I see now. That's why I asked. I knew it was a cultural thing, choosing this phrase "true man" to mean something that in English is not literally "true/great man." Thank you again! :)
     

    Eilatan24

    Member
    Cantonese- Hong Kong
    What are the difficulties in going to see the Great Wall? If you're in China, it can take just a couple of hours to get there to see it and anyone can go and see it. What the saying is really saying is "the Great Wall is a must see", in a very similar fashion to the way we say "the 10 films you must see before you die", and there is no relationship whatsoever between the films and dying :D.
    I guess the difficulties here may not mean going there as a tourist, its more about the chinese history and culture like how it was built (on people's suffering) & why it was built (to defend against northern invasion, see how long is steep it is.). So in ancient China, having been to the Great Wall definitely means something ;)
     

    Youngfun

    Senior Member
    Wu Chinese & Italian
    What are the difficulties in going to see the Great Wall? If you're in China, it can take just a couple of hours to get there to see it and anyone can go and see it. What the saying is really saying is "the Great Wall is a must see", in a very similar fashion to the way we say "the 10 films you must see before you die", and there is no relationship whatsoever between the films and dying :D.
    Well, I guess in ancient times it was more difficult to reach the Great Wall... transports were more difficult, while today we have a highway.
    Moreover, for people who don't exercise regularly (like me :D) it's difficult.
     

    SuperXW

    Senior Member
    Now I think about it, I don't know why I must see the Great Wall to be a 好汉 either...
    Anyway, we just like to associate many "heroic" scenes with the idea of a "true man"...
    When you step on some magnificent places, you probably would feel like "you are the man"...
     

    枫十二

    Senior Member
    Mandarin
    I knew for the first time that it came from our president MAO when I was picking it up in BAIDU.

    At one time, the Kuomintang had numeral superiority and wanted to encircle and annihilate the Communist Party. The Communist Party survived one important battle, after which the president Mao(Communist’s leader) wrote this in that poem.

    Maybe the Great Wall is the destination of Red Army at that time, or it is just a metaphor for the goal of Red Army. In my opinion, President Mao wanted to express this:
    If we don’t reach the Great Wall, we are not true men.==>If we don’t realize our goal, we are not true men.(which shows President Mao’s determination and confidence)

    As for today:
    The Great Wall can be a metaphor for the spirit of Chinese.
    1.The original function of the Great Wall is to defend. ==> Chinese like peace, not aggression.
    2. As you said :suffering ==> Chinese knows the wisdom of 忍( wisdom of waiting)
    3. As you said: creativity.
    4. It can also mean industry.
    5. ……It is very hard to write them all out!

    If you don’t “reach the Great Wall”, you are not a true man. ==>If you don’t know the spirit of Chinese, you are not a true Chinese.
    The Great Wall is not only a Chinese wonder but also a human miracle. Can the Great Wall be the metaphor for the spirit of human? Then the English translation comes out: He who has never been to the Great Wall is not a true man.
    ==>He who has never got the spirit of human is (of course) not a true man!

    I agree with the others’ opinions too. The common understanding of that sentence is: The Great Wall is a must see (If you come to Beijing but fail to visit the Great Wall, your will be as regretful as you are not a true man.) In short, “been to the Great Wall” have numerous meanings, because the Great Wall can be the metaphor for the spirit of Chinese. And different people have different understandings.
     

    rydell

    Senior Member
    Spanish
    [Moderator's Note: Merged with a previous thread]
    Hi everyone,

    How can I say "If you didn´t climb the Great Wall you are not a man"? 毛泽东说了: 如果你没登长城,就不是男阿! could it be an option?


    真麻烦你们。
     

    hx1997

    Senior Member
    汉语普通话 Chinese - Mandarin
    Hi. The original saying was in Chinese: 不到长城非好汉. 毛泽东 was Chinese, after all.
     

    Enno

    Member
    Chinese - Mainland China
    There might be different understandings. As what I've been taught as a child, it is that the Great Wall is so steep and long and hard to climb, that if you've finished the steps you've really done something, thus becoming a 好汉 a.k.a. a courageous and respectable man.
     

    Skatinginbc

    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    But what 毛泽东 wrote was 到 "reach" (不到长城非好汉), not 登 "climb", 踏 "step", or any other words that imply having climbed up and stepped on top of the Great Wall. Reaching (到) the Great Wall reminds me of reaching the Yellow River (e.g., 不到黃河心不死) or facing other great obstacles (e.g., 不到烏江不肯休, 船到江心補漏遲). To me, "到 + place" (e.g., 到橋頭 as in 船到橋頭自然直) usually connotes meeting an obstacle, rather than having conquered it.
     

    fyl

    Senior Member
    Mandarin Chinese
    清平乐 六盘山
    天高云淡,望断南飞雁。不到长城非好汉,屈指行程二万
    六盘山上高峰,红旗漫卷西风。今日长缨在手,何时缚住苍龙?

    I think this has to be related to 红军长征. As for what 长城 refers to, different websites have different explanations, but personally I guess it can be the real great wall (to refer to where they reached in 长征), as there seems to be a piece of 长城 in 宁厦固原 (where 六盘山 is) : 固原秦长城_百度百科
     
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    Enno

    Member
    Chinese - Mainland China
    But what 毛泽东 wrote was 到 "reach" (不到长城非好汉), not 登 "climb", 踏 "step", or any other words that imply having climbed up and stepped on top of the Great Wall. Reaching (到) the Great Wall reminds me of reaching the Yellow River (e.g., 不到黃河心不死) or facing other great obstacles (e.g., 不到烏江不肯休, 船到江心補漏遲). To me, "到 + place" (e.g., 到橋頭 as in 船到橋頭自然直) usually connotes meeting an obstacle, rather than having conquered it.
    I agree with you, Skatinginbc, that the verb should be “reach” instead of “climb” or “conquer”. And after googling a bit for the original source of the sentence, I think there has been a change, or sort of misunderstandings I’d say, in the meaning of it. Originally in his text, Mao, with the Red Army during the Long March, is basically saying that reaching the Great Wall is a hard task but we must do it, otherwise we’re not 好汉. Its original connotation is not to fear and to conquer obstacles to reach a destination/goal. Yet today people would understand it in other (kinda mistaken) ways, either reserving part of its connotation but using it in a different context (like in the one I was taught), or simply seeing it as a tourist slogan.
    However, I don’t agree that “到” alone or “到+place” indicates an obstacle. As a verb, it’s simply “reach”, “arrive” or “get to”. Thing is the places in all your examples are sort of obstacles.
     
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