Jīngwèi tián hǎi
Translation: Jingwei tries to fill up the sea.
Meaning: Set on achieving one’s goal despite daunting difficulties.
The proverb comes from a story in the Shan hai jing (Classic of the Mountains and Seas). Compiled between the 4th century BCE and the early Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), Shan hai jing is a fabled geographical and cultural account of China prior to the Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE).
In a thick forest on Mount Fajiu there lived a bird named Jingwei. She was in fact the incarnation of Emperor Yan’s youngest daughter. She had gone to swim in the sea but never emerged. The spirit of the drowned princess turned into the bird Jingwei. To avenge her death, she attempted the impossible: She picked up pebbles and twigs from Mount Fajiu and dropped them into the sea, in the hope of filling it up. She flew back and forth and never stopped working, until one day she died of exhaustion.