in Language & Culture

Hi all! In today’s Simply CSOFT, we want to help you gain a better understanding of Chinese culture by learning a series of Chinese idioms. 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 “different paths can take one to the same goal.”

different paths can take one to the same goal

异曲同工   yì​qǔ​tóng​gōng

异 = different

曲 = tune; song

同 = equally; similarly

工 = melodic

Translated literally, this chengyu means “different in approaches but equally satisfactory in results,” or “different paths can take one to the same goal.”

This specific chengyu originated from an essay by Han Yu, one of the greatest literary masters during the Tang Dynasty (circa AD 600). In this essay, Han Yu discussed two of the most renowned ancient poets: Sima Xiangru and Yang Xiong. These two poets were both from the Western Han Dynasty period (around 200 BC), but they composed with wildly differing styles (the former flamboyant and lavish, the latter direct and critical). Despite conflicting and opposing styles, the two poets were equally successful and their poems were both widely popular.

While there does not appear to be an English idiomatic equivalent, this Chinese chengyu does, however, hold connotations of “coincidence and harmony of opposites” found in the philosophical thought of Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. A good example is expressed in this aphorism of his: “The road up and the road down is [sic] one and the same.” Its meaning could also be traced back to the Roman Empire, with the popular modern saying “all roads lead to Rome.” From here we see that the ancient wisdom of the Greeks, the Romans, and the Chinese is yiqutonggong: they are like three musical instruments, unique and different to one another, yet equally melodic and appealing.

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Applied to today’s increasingly globalized world, yiqutonggong is still just as relevant as it was centuries ago. As opportunities to gain exposure to new cultures, ideologies, and methodologies become ever more prevalent, this chengyu reinforces the idea that there is more than one way to reach a given goal. Other methods may be less familiar, but that doesn’t make them any less effective. Whether applied to business or general life, this chengyu provides a novel perspective with regard to viewing, embracing, and valuing differences.

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