The sky is falling

by Ben Schutz 22. October 2012 00:25

The Chinese idiom 杞人忧天 (qi3 ren2 you1 tian1) literally means the man of Qi who fears that the sky might fall down. It comes from a story (《列子·天瑞》written by Lie Yukou during the Warring States Period) about a man living in the State of Qi during the Zhou Dynasty (more than 3,000 years ago).

This man living in the State of Qi was plagued by the fear that one day the sky might fall down and the earth might collapse. He was so tied up in knots by this fear that he could not eat or sleep. His friends became very concerned about his mental health and one of them eventually decided to have a heart to heart with the man. This friend said:

You do not need to worry about the sky falling. It is just a mass of air and every second of it is moved around by the many people who inhale and exhale it. Furthermore, the earth is a very solid structure, made of huge masses of rock and soil. These rocks and soil extend into every corner. People walk, live and work on these masses every day. It is simply not possible for the earth to collapse.

Thanks to his friends earnest words, the man from Qi came to realise that his fear were completely unfounded. He began to live a normal life again. His wife and family was very grateful for this change in his attitudes.

Today, Chinese speakers use the idiom 杞人忧天 (qi3 ren2 you1 tian1) to describe anyone who entertains unnecessary worries. English speakers have an equivalent idiomatic expression. They would describe unnecessarily anxious people as being liable to get all worked up over nothing.

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