Learning to Walk

by Ben Schutz 20. May 2012 22:59

The Chinese idiom 邯郸学步 (han2 dan1 xue2 bu4) literally means learning the way they walk in Handan.

Legend has it that the people living in a place called Handan in the State of Zhao had a unique, beautiful way of walking. When he heard about this, a youngster from the State of Yan decided to travel to Handan to learn the art. However, after repeated attempts to copy the locals, the youngster failed to get the hang of it.

He decided that he needed to go back to basics and learn the Handan method from scratch. So, the following day he began to mimick the steps of toddlers living in Handan, rather than the adults. But, the situation went from bad to worse. Now, every time he took a step he had to think how to put his foot, how long his stride should be and how to move his head, body and arms. Eventually, he found that he was not only unable to mimick the people in Handan, but he had forgotten how to walk at all and he had to crawl all the way home.

Today, the Chinese idiom 邯郸学步 (han2 dan1 xue2 bu4) is used to describe people who slavishly imitate others and as a result lose their own originality. I have not been able to think of an English idiom with an equivalent meaning.

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