Historically Speaking

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Archive for July, 2016

Fishing For The Moon In The Water

Posted by Elyse Bruce on July 21, 2016

If someone tells you that your idea is nothing more than fishing for the moon in the water, they mean that you aren’t seeing things as they are, and your idea is a pipe dream.  It may sound nice and it might even look nice, but it’s not realistic in their opinion.

From June 16 to July 29, 2011 the James Cohan Art Gallery in New York City hosted an art show curated by Leo Xu, a curator and writer based in Shanghai, China.  The art show was titled, “Catch The Moon In The Water.”  The show featured artists such as Shanghai-based Zhou Tiehai; Beijing-based Guo Hongwei, Zhao Zhao, Chen Wei, Hu Xiangqian, Sun Xun and Liang Yuanwei; and Hangzhou-based Cheng Ran.

The press release stated that the title of the art show came from a poem by Chinese artist, calligrapher, scholar, government official, and poet Huang Tingjian (1045 – 1105) who lived during the Song Dynasty, and is considered one of the Four Masters of the Song Dynasty.   included this line:

Seize the flower in the mirror,
Catch the moon in the water.

IMPORTANT NOTE 1:  The Song Dynasty began in 960 A.D. through to 1279 A.D.  It was preceded by the Tang Dynasty, and was followed by the Yuan Dynasty.

In Oliver Stone’s movie “W” there’s a scene where George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr. discuss what George wants to do with his life.

GEORGE BUSH SR
Who do you think you are?  A Kennedy?  You’re a Bush.  Act like one.  You can’t even hold a job.  We always worked for our living.  It’s damned time you joined the rest of us and decided just what it is you’re gonna do with your life.

GEORGE BUSH JR  
I know, Poppy. I’m — I’m — I’m just having
a devil of a time trying to figure it out.

GEORGE BUSH SR  
Well, then figure it out soon, Junior.  Your brother Jeb graduates Phi Beta Kappa.  What did you get? Cs?  You only get one bite at the apple, you know.

GEORGE BUSH JR  
Jeb’s not me and I don’t wanna be Jeb, Poppy.  Look, what I’d really love —  I mean, what I’d really love to do is to find something in baseball.

GEORGE BUSH SR  
What? You can’t play.  Coach? You’re fishing for the moon in the water.

The movie was released in 2008 and the script was written by Stanley Weiser, but four biographers who have written about the Bush family said that while the screenplay was based in fact, there was more caricature than three-dimensional character in the main roles.  That being said, the movie provided an opportunity to talk about fishing for the moon in the water.

The question, however, is whether this idiom was one that would have been known by George Bush Sr. at the time it was inserted into the movie’s timeline.   According to the United States Foreign Broadcast Information Service, in the February 7, 1987 edition of the “Daily Report: People’s Republic of China,” an article was published with the idiom as its title.  It was listed thusly:

HK090605 Beijing RENMIN RIBAO in Chinese 7 Feb 87 p 6

[“International Jottings” by Yue Lin (2588 7207):  “Fishing For The Moon In The Water“]

While there aren’t many published references to this idiom in English, it’s a very well known saying in China.  Just as the Western world has Aesop’s fables, China has its own fables as well including this one.

One evening, a man went to the well to fetch water.  Looking into the well, he saw the moon shining back at him.

Alarmed, the man said, “I must hurry back home for my fishing rod, and fish the moon out of the well.”

Once he returned to the well, he lowered the hook in and waited for the moon to bite.  He waited and waited and waited until something tugged at the line.

The man pulled hard, but the moon pulled even harder until suddenly the line broke and the man fell flat on his back.

When he sat back up, he saw the moon was back in the sky as it should be and he was proud of his hard work.

The next day when he met his friends in the village, he proudly told them of his achievement the previous night, and not one person in the village dared tell him that the moon had always been in the sky and had never been in the well.

The fable was first recorded by Dao Shi (618 – 683) in his book, “Fa Yuan Zhu Lin (The Dharma Treasure Grove).”

Posted in Ancient Civilizations, China, Idioms from the 7th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »