The Chinese idiom that translates as, literally, “high pillow, no worries,” refers to the calm and confident feeling of being able to fluff up one’s pillows to go to sleep without any anguish or concern.
The idiom originates from a story about the wisdom of always being prepared and having options so that one can rest easy and be ready to face any difficulty that may arise.
The story is about Meng Changjun, who was a prime minister of the state of Qi during the Warring States Period (475–221 B.C.), and Feng Xuan, who was a guest in Meng’s home.
As the story goes, Meng was a very generous man who constantly had houseguests staying at his residence, including many who stayed for long periods of time. Feng was one of them.
Unlike the other guests, Feng was not very vocal about what he could offer Meng in return.
One day, Meng sent Feng to the Xue region to collect rent from the local citizens. This opportunity let Feng find a way to repay Meng.
Feng showed the statements of accounts to the Xue residents, but instead of asking for payment, he burned the documents in front of the debtors.
Feng then hosted a banquet and told the locals that Meng had ordered all their debts to be forgiven.
“Meng is a good master. He is not concerned about this money and just wishes to help all of you improve your lives,” Feng said.
The people cheered, grateful for Meng’s generosity.
Feng thus helped Meng establish a good reputation in the Xue region and gain the residents’ loyalty and gratitude. However, Meng did not understand and was quite displeased instead. Nevertheless, he allowed Feng to continue staying at his home.
Later, the new king of Qi removed Meng from his post and sent him to live in the Xue region.
When Meng arrived with his family, he received a warm and unexpected welcome from the local residents, who recalled his earlier generosity and wanted to repay his kindness.
Meng realized then the good that Feng had done for him. Yet, Feng told Meng that it was not enough. He wanted to help Meng win back his position in Qi.
Feng had a plan. He visited the king of Wei and told him that Meng was extremely capable and would be very useful to Wei. Meng was soon offered an important ministerial position in the Wei court.
When the new king of Qi heard the news, he was worried and promised to reinstate Meng in his former position in Qi.
With these two options in place, Feng advised Meng to politely refuse the Wei position.
Feng also suggested that Meng advise the Qi king to transport the memorial tablets for Qi’s ancestors to Xue and to build an ancestral temple in the Xue region, as the presence of such a sacred shrine would ensure the safety of the region.
After the temple was built, Feng told Meng: “You now have three places where you can live worry-free. Now, you can fluff up the pillows and sleep well.”
Feng’s words thus became the Chinese idiom “fluffing up the pillows for sleep with no worries,” conveying the idea of being able to live a peaceful life without anxiety.
The phrase also describes a situation in which all matters and concerns in one’s life have been attended to with great care and thoughtfulness, and thus one can rest easy and feel secure, with nothing to fear or worry about.
Additionally, the idiom suggests that it is wise not to be conceited or complacent in life, but to always be prepared and have options and contingency plans in place.
Note: This idiom originated from a story about Meng and Feng recorded in the “Intrigues of the Warring States,” a famous ancient Chinese historical work that sheds light on the historical and social characteristics of the Warring States Period.