Tian gao huangdi yuan

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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[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 power while the authority meant to keep them in check is absent or indifferent.

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. Psychology Press. 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Dartmouth College. "Chinese Proverbs".