Rub Your Rod

磨杵成針/móchǔchéngzhēn: Rub the rod until it becomes a needle.

This particular chengyu comes from a Tang poet named Li Bai. The Tang dynasty was a cultural high point in Chinese history, with innovations like paper money, woodblock printing, and the identification of diabetes (literally: sugar piss disease). It was a high time for art and philosophy, with Western ideas of Buddhism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism entering China for the first time.

This is one of my favorite chengyu, not just because of the dick joke, but also because it’s useful.

One can create great change through persistent action. Temper yourself, gird your loins, put in the work to become sharp. And it can mean so much more

磨杵成針is so Chinese. Confucian thought’s core principle is the cultivation of one’s innate “humanness” through hard work and rigorous study. To reform oneself into an upright human is as close as the Chinese get to sainthood.

So let’s break it down. 磨 literally means to rub with a stone. 杵 is a metal rod, or pestle. 成 means “to become.” 針 is a needle. However, there’s hidden meaning all over Chinese. The rod is described as a tool that can be used to make other tools, to beat things, and to grind things. The needle is a tool for mending and sewing together things.

Really, 磨杵成針 is motto to keep in your back pocket when you’re faced with the Resistance. If you beat it long and hard, it will become a needle that can stitch together the pieces.

Isaiah is a linguist, a student, and a musician. He likes whiskey and showtunes. Check out his music on Soundcloud or Bandcamp. His website is, where he writes personal blogs that aren't too well thought out.

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