“To guard a tree-stump waiting for rabbits”
One of the nicest and most meaningful four character phrases in Mandarin Chinese is the phrase 守株待兔 (Shǒu zhū dài tù), — because it’s about the need to go out to seek opportunities.
This phrase has several good translations, one is “To guard a tree-stump waiting for rabbits” or “sitting by a stump waiting for a careless hare” — which come from the story of the phrase. Most four character phrases have a story or parable associated with them, in this story, one day, a farmer was working in the fields when he saw a rabbit carelessly run and bump into a tree stump accidentally, it broke its neck and was paralised, the farmer took the rabbit indoors and cooked it, having a great meal. Later on that night he was thinking to himself “wow, I don’t need to work so hard all the time anymore, all I need to do is wait for a rabbit to run and kill itself each day by the stump” so he stopped farming and merely sat at the stump waiting for rabbits to come and run into it.
This phrase satirises people who merely wait for some random stroke of luck instead of making earnest effort to pursue opportunities or what they need.
守 (Shǒu) To guard, defend, keep watch
株 (Zhū) Tree trunk
待 (Dài) To wait
兔 (Tù) Rabbit
Other good translations of this phrase: “To wait idly for opportunities” or “To trust in chance rather than show initiative”
An example in natural language:
你不能就坐在椅子上守株待兔等到你富的时候， 你必须去努力工作! (Nǐ bùnéng jiùzuò zài yǐzi shàng shǒuzhūdàitù děngdào nǐ fù de shíhou, nǐ bìxū qù nǔlì gōngzuò) Translation: “You can’t just sit in your chair, guarding a tree-stump waiting for rabbits until you are a rich man. You must go out and work diligently”