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Ivanka Trump Tweeted A "Chinese Proverb." But No One In China Is Sure If It Even Exists.

Those who tweet Chinese proverbs should not forget to research Chinese proverbs.

Posted on June 12, 2018, at 9:34 a.m. ET

Ernesto Benavides / AFP / Getty Images

SINGAPORE — Ahead of President Donald Trump's landmark summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, his daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump tweeted out a pithy "Chinese proverb" that quickly went viral, gaining more than 24,000 retweets.

"Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it," she wrote on Monday.

“Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it.” -Chinese Proverb

The problem is that, even in China, no one can seem to agree on what actual proverb this is referring to or whether it even exists at all. The question has Chinese social media users particularly confused.

It's a question that's particularly important to China because Ivanka — who's called Yi Wan Ka in the country — has developed a cult following among young Chinese women.

Users of Weibo, China's equivalent to Twitter, cited dozens of proverbs Ivanka could have been referring to, ranging from "those who remain silent during a chess match are individuals with real class, while those who say too much after a few drinks are weasels" to "empty talk will only destroy a country, but real action can help strengthen a country."

"The Chinese language is really broad and profound," said one user who cited nine different possible proverbs.


Another user tried to crowdsource the issue, inviting followers to add suggestions. "After looking through all dictionaries, I still can't figure out the Chinese proverb that she tried to translate," the user said.


Others on the site suggested it could be an idiom that goes "people talk; donkeys fight."

China's state-owned Global Times tabloid — famous for its nationalistic editorial page — conducted an investigation of sorts into the issue in an online article, tracing the use of the expression back to 1903.

"Though the wisdom of the masses is very flashy, we have no choice but to inform everyone, the truth is that the phrase quoted by Ivanka doesn't have much of a relationship to China," the paper said.

Mandarin Chinese has thousands of four- and eight-character proverbs — called chengyu or suyu — that are fiendishly difficult to translate and can sometimes frustrate even native speakers of the language.

Daily Show comedian Ronny Chieng had a simpler theory, echoing many others in China. "This is not a Chinese proverb," he tweeted.


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.