The idiom 刮目相看 (guā mù xiāng kàn), translated as “look at a person with new eyes,” originates from a description of Lü Meng(1), the outstanding general of the Wu state in the Chinese historical text Records of the Three Kingdoms(2).
When Lü Meng was young, he did not like to read. Instead, he was very fond of practicing martial skills. After becoming a general, he still disliked reading, so his peers often looked at him as just a mere warrior.
One day, Sun Quan, the king of the state of Wu, said to him: “As a general, you have to constantly enrich your knowledge.
Lü Meng replied: “I am too busy with military matters and I have no time to read.”
“I am not asking you to become a scholar,” the king said, encouragingly. “Reading more can help expand your vision and enrich your wisdom. You say you are too busy to read. As the king, I have many more matters to handle, compared to you. However, I still find time to read and improve myself.”
Hearing this, Lü Meng was inspired and he started to read in earnest. Gradually, his knowledge became very broad and he became an even better military strategist.
One day, the Wu commander-in-chief was passing through. He did not want to visit Lü Meng as he thought he could not discuss military affairs with Lü who was known to be illiterate. His assistant advised him to visit Lü Meng, saying that he had become quite a knowledgeable person.
The commander-in-chief paid a visit to Lü Meng. While relaxing and drinking wine, they discussed possible battle with the Shu state. Lü Meng offered some advice and suggested strategies that could win a war.
The commander-in-chief was greatly surprised by Lü Meng’s incredible improvement. He commented: “I thought you were a man who knew nothing but fighting on the battlefield, but now I see you are both knowledgeable and wise. I have to say, you are no longer the person I knew.”
Lü Meng replied, “When regarding a determined man, if you have not seen him for three days, you should see that man with new eyes.”
The idiom “look at a person with new eyes” originally meant to look at someone in a new, more favorable light, and is now used to praise someone who has made great improvement.
- Lu Meng (吕蒙) lived A.D. 178–220. He was a military general in service to Sun Quan, the king of the state of Wu, during the Three Kingdoms period (A.D. 220–280).
- The historical text “Records of the Three Kingdoms,” also known as “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” covers the history of the late Eastern Han (184 B.C.–A.D. 220) and the Three Kingdoms period (A.D. 220–280). It was first written in the 3rd century by Chen Shou. In the 14th century, Luo Guanzhong rewrote it as the novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms.”