China IQ -中華智商 & True Knowledge (是知也)


At the heart of the China IQ (中華智商, zhōnghuá zhìshāng) mission is to expand knowledge learning of China beyond the superficial level that currently exists.  Much of the information out there that is presented by the journalism industry is one-sided and prepared by people with little to no experience with this country.  With true knowledge as a central theme to this blog, I would like to share a very ancient and special phrase (predates Jesus) in Chinese:


The translation of this saying is: “you say you know what you know, and you say you don’t know what you don’t know, that is true knowledge/wisdom.”  The pronunciation of these characters is as follows:

zhī zhī wéi zhī zhī, bù zhī wéi bù zhī, shì zhī yě

This is a very well-known saying in contemporary China, a saying that comes from ancient times.  It originally appeared in the Analects of Confucius, written between 500 – 220 BC, and was used by Confucius in a conversation between himself and his student named Yóu (由).  As a lǎo wài in China, using this phrase appropriately would win you points with the locals, and should be learnt by advanced-level learners of Mandarin Chinese.

Its use is multifaceted.  First use: when a prideful person is found to always say “I know, I know, I know,” in a conversation, especially because they don’t want to seem ignorant.  Second use: when a person is being deceptive by saying that they are not aware of something (especially children can behave this way by saying “I didn’t know that was a rule.”).  Third use: to give confidence or encouragement to someone because they do actually posses true knowledge/wisdom.


Beautifully done calligraphy of the phrase

My challenge to you is to memorize this phrase and use it with a native Mandarin speaker!  It is not as hard as you think, it is only five unique sounds to memorize!