Proverb of the week

Sam Jo

Staff Writer




Pronunciation: gyeolchobo-eun.

Rough Translation: To repay a favour received by tying grass.


To understand what this Chinese proverb means, one must first understand the main structure of Far Eastern sayings. To start with, the majority of Chinese proverbs follow a specific type of structure known as  Sajaseong-eo, which means “Four Character Proverb”.

Unlike in English where words are composed of letters, the Chinese language is unique, for it has “characters” rather than letters. Each character carries a particular meaning in and of itself. A rough translation of this proverb would be along these lines: “To repay a favour received by tying grass”.

Indeed, this Sajaseong-eo is complex at first, but a description of the story behind it helps put it into perspective. The story told is of a general who had a concubine (or mistress) named Johyee, whom he loved dearly. Whenever he was with his two sons, he would repeat to them, “In case I die, make sure Johyee gets married to another man.”

The general eventually passed away from an illness, but before dying, he wrote a will saying he wanted his concubine to be buried with him.

The two sons did not know if they should bury the concubine or marry her to another man. They concluded that their father wasn’t in his right mind when he wanted to bury her. They married Johyee off to another man and saved her from being buried with their father.

Time passed and the elder son, Weega, became a military leader and his army was about to face a battle against opponents with a stronger military force. Yet, the night before the battle, Weega kept hearing voices that told him to fight his enemy in a specific place. The son decided to face his enemies there, where he felt he might have better luck.

The day of the battle came, and Weega saw his enemies marching towards him from the horizon. To his surprise, Weega saw an old man tying grass into big bundles all across the battlefield. Behind him, Weega’s enemies kept falling to the ground as the grass bundles became big obstacles. Weega eventually won the battle, and he returned to his home victoriously.

Before Weega went to sleep, he kept wondering who the old man who helped him win the battle was. During his sleep, Weega dreamt of that same old man who told him, “I am Johyee’s father, and I wanted to return the favour because you rescued my daughter being buried, from a tragic death.”

To better understand the proverb, this personal experience will clarify the use of this sajaseong-eo. When my uncle was younger, he was riding a motorcycle and unfortunately hit a car. He got severely injured. My uncle would have passed away if it wasn’t for a passing taxi driver who drove him to the hospital. Because of this righteous man, my uncle struggled but survived.

To this day, even after many years, my uncle’s mother, my grandmother, visits the taxi driver who saved her son’s life and thanks him for what he did. She faithfully prepares him gifts to express her gratitude. Like Johyee’s father who thanked Weega for saving his daughter, my grandmother’s gratitude and offerings are examples of “tying the grass;” of returning the favour when a priceless one was given to her.

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