Ahead of the historic meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, Ivanka Trump tweeted a quote she attributed to a supposed Chinese proverb—but people in China are struggling to figure out where it came from.
“Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it.” -Chinese Proverb
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) June 11, 2018
Many have been investigating the origin of the quote by translating each word directly and by translating the sentiment, but they’re having a hard time finding the one that makes sense. Here are some leading guesses (link in Chinese) shared on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media site:
- 说做不成的人, 不应打扰正在做的人: This is the direct translation of Ivanka’s tweet, but it’s not a Chinese proverb.
- 你行你上，不行别哔哔: This isn’t exactly a proverb but a saying that translates to: “If you can do it, go for it. If you can’t do it, then don’t criticize it.” (There’s also a Chinglish version popular on China’s internet [link in Chinese] with the same sentiment: “You can you up, no can no bb.”)
- 己所不欲，勿施于人: “Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire,” a quote from Confucius.
- 成大事者，不与众谋: A saying from Zhan Guo Ce, also known as Strategies of the Warring States, that translates as: “Those who can make big changes don’t go with the usual way common people take.”
- 吃不到葡萄说葡萄酸: A Chinese saying adapted from Aesop’s fables, it translates as: “Don’t say it’s sour grapes only because you didn’t get to taste it.”
- 愚公移山: The saying means “the foolish old man removed mountains.” It’s originated from an ancient story where a man persisted in digging and removing a mountain he found inconvenient.
- 站着说话不腰疼: This roughly translates to “easier said than done.”
- 好狗不挡道: The saying translates as “a good dog wouldn’t get in the way.”
The lack of clear origin has some thinking it’s possible Ivanka made up the so-called Chinese proverb. “I wrote a couple of American proverbs in the essay for Chinese language and literature in gaokao [college entrance exam],” one person said (link in Chinese) on Weibo, “the kind of proverbs that no American has ever heard of.”
"You can call any old shit a Chinese proverb on the internet."
— Brendan O'Kane (@bokane) June 11, 2018
In 2015, the blog Quote Investigator wrote that the quote Ivanka tweeted seemed to have evolved from a comment that appeared in a Chicago periodical in the 20th century about how society innovates and changes. A pseudo-Confucian version was fabricated in 1962—perhaps explaining why Ivanka believed it was a Chinese proverb.
Ziyi Tang contributed reporting.