Hi all! In today’s Simply CSOFT, we want to help you gain a better understanding of Chinese culture by learning a Chinese proverb. Understanding Chinese traditions and customs can go a long way, especially if you are thinking of expanding your business to the Middle Kingdom.  Today we are going to learn a Chinese proverb that says “To spur on a swift horse.”

Learning Chinese through Idioms

Kuài mǎ jiā biān (快马加鞭)


In etymological terms, kuai (快) means “fast,” ma (马) means “horse,” jia (加) means “to increase,” and bian (鞭) means “whip.” The idiom derives from the story of Geng Zhu, a disciple of the great Chinese thinker Mo Zi (墨子). Geng Zhu was an exceptional student, but his teacher often scolded him because he was lazy and didn’t take his schooling seriously. One day, Geng Zhu asked what seemed like a lofty question, “Teacher, is there really nothing that I do better than the others?” Mo Zi replied, “Suppose I am setting off for Taihang Mountain and I need a horse and an ox to take me on my journey. Which of them would you choose to spur with a whip?“

“The horse,” Geng Zhu answered unhesitatingly.  “The horse deserves encouragement because it’s capable of great speed.”  Mo Zi nodded in agreement and affirmed that Geng Zhu also had an exceptional ability and the potential to excel beyond his peers. Geng Zhu finally realized his potential and, from then on, began to work hard.


The idiom is often used as a metaphor to support others towards whatever goal they aspire to. It could also mean more literally spurring a horse that’s already going very fast in order to speed up even more. The idiom, then, becomes an encouragement for us to go at full speed towards our goals. It also implies that highly gifted people need only a slight reminder in order to awaken them from their uninspired state. The ‘whip’ that is used to spur on a horse can represent many things: a word of inspiration, a reprimand, a reminder, or sometimes just a little nudge. We can always use some of that when faced with difficult tasks—e.g. losing weight, giving up a bad habit, or re-discovering education.

Related:  How to Translate Metaphors and Idioms

In Chinese culture, horses are associated with positivity representing health, strength, speed, persistence, and talent. Therefore, horses are often used in many Chinese phrases and idioms. In character combinations, the Chinese character for horse, 馬 (mǎ), forms words related to power and movement, such as 馬力 (mǎlì), “horsepower,” and 馬達 (mǎdá), “motor.”

Other idioms involving horses include lǎomǎshìtú (老马识途), which translates to “an old horse knows its way,” and sǐmǎdàngzuòhuómǎyī (死马当作活马医), which literally means “treating a dead horse as if it were alive.” With 2014 being the Year of the Horse, many Chinese also prefer auspicious idioms such as mǎdàochénggong (馬到成功), which is used to wish someone an instant success or immediate victory, and lóngmăjīngshéng, which translates to “may you be as energetic as a dragon or horse.”


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