Heaven is high and the emperor is far away

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Heaven is high and the emperor is far away
Traditional Chinese皇帝
Simplified Chinese皇帝
Mountains are high and the emperor is far away
Traditional Chinese皇帝
Simplified Chinese皇帝

Heaven is high and the emperor is far away is a Chinese proverb thought to have originated from Zhejiang during the Yuan dynasty.[1]

The Chinese Central Government in Beijing exercised little direct oversight on the affairs of lower-level governments, allowing much regional autonomy in the country.[2][3][4][5][6] The proverb had 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. Nowadays, it may be used to describe a lawless place far from the authorities.[7]

The original variation, "the mountains are high, and the emperor is far away", is also still heard (山高皇帝远).[8]

Russian similarity[edit]

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 immediate power while the authority meant to keep them in check is distant or otherwise unable to intervene.

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[edit]


  1. ^ a b My China Connection" Heaven is high and the emperor is far away".
  2. ^ Samovar, Larry (2009). Communication Between Cultures. Cengage. p. 70. ISBN 978-0495567448.
  3. ^ Fairbrother, Gregory (2003). Toward critical patriotism: student resistance to political education in Hong Kong and China. Hong Kong University Press. p. 3. ISBN 9789622096233.
  4. ^ Ringmar, Erik (2005). The mechanics of modernity in Europe and East Asia: the institutional origins of social change and stagnation. Palgrave. p. 160. ISBN 9780203338582.
  5. ^ Zhao, Suisheng (2006). Debating political reform in China: rule of law vs. democratization. M.E. Sharpe. p. 24. ISBN 9780765641373.
  6. ^ Haft, Jeremy (2007). All the tea in China: how to buy, sell, and make money on the mainland. Penguin. p. 49. ISBN 9781591841593.
  7. ^ Kane, D. (2006). The Chinese Language: Its History and Current Usage. Tuttle Publishing. p. 175. ISBN 9780804838535. Retrieved 2015-02-26.
  8. ^ Dartmouth College. "Chinese Proverbs Archived 2017-05-07 at the Wayback Machine".