Phrasebook: as Different as Jing and Wei

Phonetic transcription: jīng wèi fēn míng

An encyclopedic explanation:

泾渭分明是一个成语,源自一大自然景观。渭河是黄河的最大支流,泾河又是渭河的最大支流,泾河和渭河在古城西安北郊交汇时,由于含沙量不同,呈现出一清一 浊,清水浊水同流一河互不相融的奇特景观,形成了一道非常明显的界限,成为关中八景之一而闻名天下。后人就用泾河之水流入渭河时清浊不混来比喻界限清楚或 是非分明,也用来比喻人品的清浊,比喻对待同一事物表现出来的两种截然不同的态度。

As clearly different as Jing and Wei is a proverb, based on a natural landscape. The Wei river is the Yellow River’s biggest tributary. The Jing river in turn is the Wei river’s biggest tributary. The place where the Jing and Wei river converge, at the northern suburbs of the ancient city of Xi’an, they are taking on both clear and muddy patches, because of the different quantities of sands they carry, the scene of their waters that don’t blend together, instead featuring obvious boundaries between each other, makes their junction one of the Eight Scenic Spots of the Guanzhong Plain, and known all over the world. Later generations applied the anology of the two rivers’ unmixing waters to (the ideas) of clear boundaries or on unclear distinctions, but also to the moral qualities of people, or to two sharply different behaviors in treatment of identical things.

Baidu Baike

An example of how As different as Jing and Wei is used as a referral to different moral qualities of people can be found in the following translation exercise. The translation is a fable, about the fisherman and the demon (or about Understanding the Devil / Giving the Devil his Due):

一位渔夫从大海里捞上来一只密封的瓶子, 他打开了瓶口,瓶子中冒出了魔鬼。魔鬼不但不思报恩,却扬言杀死渔夫……当然,聪明的渔夫并没有死,他机智地使魔鬼重新回到了瓶中,又将瓶子投回了大海。

A fisherman pulled a sealed bottle from the sea and when he opened it, a demon came out of it. The demon not only refused to repay the fisherman’s kindness, but instead threatened to kill him. Of course, the intelligent fisherman didn’t die, but ingeniously made the demon get back into the bottle, then throwing it back into the sea.
Same as most other fables, this one teaches  to abandon evil for the principle of goodness. The good fisherman with his cleverness, and the brutal demon in his stupidity are as clearly distinct in this story at one glance, as are Jing and Wei.

College English Translation Course, Heilongjiang People’s Publishing House, July 2006

Previous Phrasebook Entry: zhū bā jiè dào dǎ yī pá, June 17, 2010

Can you Speak Zhongwen, 活龍翻译博客, comments, September 2010

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