“A long road tests the strength of a horse” is a proverb commonly used by Chinese people.
It is the first part of the saying “路遙知馬力, 日久見人心” (“lù yáo zhī mǎ lì, rì jiǔ jiàn rén xīn”), which literally means “as a long road tests the strength of a horse, so time reveals a person’s heart.”
Chinese proverbs, like Chinese idioms, have layer upon layer of wisdom. They are sayings that are full of advice for people to follow in their daily lives. Often, they originate within families, and sometimes from street vendors and other common folk from all walks of life.
The use of this phrase can be traced to the first act of the opera “Repaying One’s Kindness (also translated as repaying an obligation)” written during the Yuan Dynasty (A.D. 1279–1368).
Xu, the hero of the tale, says to Li, a woman who helps him in a difficult situation and even gives him a gold hairpin before he sets off: “Sister, thank you for helping me. I wish for you a long and prosperous life. In the future, I will repay your kindness when you need help, just as it is said that a long road will test the strength of a horse, thus time will prove the nature of a person’s heart.”
The phrase can also be found in the twentieth chapter of the novel “The Investiture of the Gods (also known as the “Legend of Deification”)” from the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368–1644).
Minister Fei Zhong said to King Zhou: “I secretly dispatched one of my trusted subordinates to enquire about Fang Zhichang. It turns out that he is indeed royalty, just as the saying goes: as a long road tests the strength of a horse, so time reveals a person’s heart.”
Nowadays, the proverb is used to describe a person’s true character or capability that is revealed after a long period of testing.