Heaven is high and the emperor is far away

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Tian gao, Huangdi yuan (Chinese:  皇帝 , p  Tiān gāo, huángdì yuǎn) is a Chinese proverb typically translated "Heaven is high and the emperor is far away". The saying is thought to have come from Zhejiang province in the Yuan Dynasty. [1]


Connections between the Chinese Central Government in Beijing and the people has historically been weak, with much regional autonomy and little loyalty. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] The proverb has thus come to generally mean that central authorities have little influence over local affairs, and it is often used in reference to corruption. [1]

The saying, as it is considered in China, has multiple meanings. Often it involves something minor such as walking on the grass when no one is watching, ignoring a command because the father is far away, cutting timber when not permitted, or ignoring the one-child policy [ citation needed ]. It is also used to describe a lawless place far from the authorities. [7]

The original variation is also still heard: 山高皇帝远 shān gāo, huángdì yuǎn, meaning "the mountains are high and the emperor is far away". [8]

Russian similarity

In Russian, there exists a directly similar proverb: до бога высоко, до царя далеко do boga vysoko, do czarya daleko, with a usually omitted rhyming continuation of а до меня близко - кланяйся мне низко a do menya blizko - klanyaysa mne nizko, which can be translated as "God is high, and the czar is far away (while I am near, so bow deeply to me)". In its short form, it is typically used to say there is no hope for external aid; while the full form describes lower echelons of bureaucracy abusing their power while the authority meant to keep them in check is absent or indifferent.

Also, Бог высок и царь очень далёк (Bog vysok i tsar' dalyok, "God is on high and the tsar is very far away").

See also

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