Exploring Chinese Idioms: Watering Melon Fields

A man hugging a woman.

This Chinese idiom teaches us about countering malice with kindness. (Image: Josh Willink via Pexels)

Among popular Chinese idioms is a saying that goes like this: “Irrigating the neighboring state’s melon fields” or simply “Watering melon fields.” This Chinese idiom actually has nothing to do with agriculture or melons, rather, it is advice on using kindness to deal with malice. The saying originates from a conflict that took place in the 8th century BCE.

Chinese idioms came from historical events

The conflict

During the Spring and Autumn period that spanned between 771 BCE and 476 BCE, there lived a magistrate named Song Jiu, who belonged to the Liang state. He was tasked with overseeing an area that bordered the state of Chu. Both kingdoms had set up their own sentries at the border to prevent the other from mounting an invasion. Since there were no major wars, soldiers on both fronts took to growing watermelons on their land. The Liang soldiers worked very hard on the field, watering and fertilizing the land properly. As a consequence, their melons grew big and were bountiful.

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But since the soldiers from the Chu side were lazy, they never took proper care of the land, and the melons there were fewer in number and tiny. When the Chu county magistrate found this out, he was furious and criticized the head of the sentry. The head got angry, took some soldiers during the night, and destroyed the melons on the Liang side. When soldiers from Liang found out what had been done to their field, they sought revenge and wanted to destroy the melons on the Chu side. The sentry head of Liang approached Song Jiu for advice.

Chinese idioms are based on everyday situations.
The Chu sentries were angry at the big watermelons in the Liang fields. (Image: congerdesign via Pixabay)

The solution

Instead of approving a revenge attack, Song instructed the sentry head on the value of kindness. “Evil will only beget evil. If you should retaliate against their crimes, you would only make things worse. If my son had a melon field, I’d ask him to irrigate the Chu people’s melon fields at night and keep his good deed a secret,” Song Jiu said, according to Clear Harmony.

The Liang sentry implemented Song’s advice and began irrigating the Chu side’s land secretly during the night. Eventually, the melons on the Chu farms turned out to be big. The produce was also bountiful. Chu soldiers were confused at the events, wondering how the melon output turned out to be excellent despite them never actually doing any proper work. They conducted an investigation and soon found out the deeds of the Liang soldiers.

The news eventually reached the King of the Chu, who felt ashamed and angry at the way his soldiers had acted. He criticized his soldiers for destroying the melon fields of Liang and declared that the people of Liang had a bigger heart in comparison to them. The Chu king gifted Liang a lot of money and asked that they become friendly. The two states thus forged an alliance.

Try acting kind toward others and your conflicts might be settled.
Try acting kind toward others and your conflicts might be settled. (Image: RachelScottYoga via Pixabay)

All this was possible thanks to Song Jiu’s timely advice of using kindness to conquer enemies rather than returning hatred with hatred. He clearly realized that using violence to counter violence will only bring misery to both sides. In your daily life, you will have gone through numerous such occasions when hatred between you and someone else kept blazing because both sides never wanted to compromise. Try being kind, using the tactic of “watering melon fields,” and you might be surprised how fast everything gets resolved.

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