Visiting the Thatched Hut of Zhuge Liang

by Ben Schutz 21. November 2012 21:19

The Chinese idiom 三顾茅庐 (san1 gu4 mao2 lu2) literally means Liu Bei makes three calls at the thatched cottage to request Zhuge Liang to take up a responsible post. The idiom comes from 《出师表》 created by Zhuge Liang in the Three-Kingdoms Period (AD 220-280).

Before becoming ruler of the Kingdom of Shu, Liu Bei pulled out all the stops trying to find the most talented people to help him in his cause of unifying China. While conducting this search, Liu heard on the grapevine of a highly-gifted strategist and scholar by the name of Zhuge Liang living in seclusion in a thatched hut in Longzhong. He decided to pay this scholar a visit.

When Liu and his two closest friends arrived at the thatched hut, they were told by Zhuge's houseboy that the master of the house was away for several weeks. Very disappointed, they left the hut empty-handed. A few months later, Liu and his friends returned to the hut again - this time during a heavy snowstorm. But, once again they were told that Zhuge was not home.

Because neither of these two visits had borne fruit, Liu's friends tried to persuade him that to continue calling would be a fruitless exercise, akin to ploughing the sand. One of them even suggested that Zhuge's failure to make a return call was a sign of his impoliteness. However, Liu could not be dissuaded from continuing to seek out the scholar. He went to the thatched cottage in Longzhong a third time - this time alone.

Zhuge Liang, moved by Liu's sincerity and never say die attitude, personally met him at the entrance of the village. The two men had a long discussion regarding the military turmoil in China and together they devised a long-term plan to unify the country. Zhuge became Liu's top military adviser and later the prime minister of Liu's regime.

Today, 三顾茅庐 (san1 gu4 mao2 lu2) is a very popular Chinese idiom used to refer to someone who repeatedly requests another to take up a position of responsibility. I have been unable to think of an equivalent English idiom - if you can think of one, please let me know.

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