Don’t Blame the Chinese

June 4, 2014 — 1 Comment

Some time ago I posted a picture of a man’s shirt which read, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach him to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” At the time, I could not find the author of this quote. I read many places where it was some ancient Chinese proverb (which is who people blame if they don’t really know) and others just ascribe it to “Anonymous,” whoever he is.


However, I recently came across a webpage from the United Kingdom that has some interesting information concerning the origin of this quote:

“Anne Isabella Ritchie, the daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, (who, if her photograph is any guide, was a studious young woman) wrote a story titled Mrs. Dymond, sometime in the 1880s and it includes this line.”

“He certainly doesn’t practise his precepts, but I suppose the patron meant that if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour; if you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.”


Oh, How the Phrase Has Changed Over the Years

The saying has most commonly morphed into wording similar to what we saw on the man’s shirt. But there are a number of modified versions floating in cyberspace that I thought were humorous. Such as:

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you get rid of him on weekends.

Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for life. Give a man someone else’s fish and he’ll vote for you.

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll bore you for a lifetime.

Give a man a fish: feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish: Feed him for a lifetime. Teach a woman to fish: Feed the whole family!

There are more, but you get the point! With these in mind, it is interesting to understand that the origin may in fact date back to the 1880’s from the capable pen of Ma’am Anne Isabella Ritchie. If she only knew how twisted her little “Chinese” proverb would become.

Moral of This Post?

Give the Chinese a break. They can’t be blamed (or given credit) for this one.


One response to Don’t Blame the Chinese

  1. I read that it the original saying is attributable to the founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, somewhere between the 4th & 6th century, B.C. Perhaps Ms. Ritchie was well-read (& liberal) enough to be familiar with his teaching. This proverb reminds me of something far more important: where to get water from a well that never runs dry! (John 4:10) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

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