Záo bì tōu guāng
Translation: Cutting a wall to steal light.
Meaning: Study hard in difficult conditions.
This proverb comes from a story recorded in the novel Xijing zaji 西京杂记 (Miscellanies of the Western Capital). Its authorship is uncertain: Some historians credit the Western Han 西汉dynasty (206 bce–9 ce) astronomer, historian, and editor Liu Xin (ca. 50 bce–23 ce), while others attribute it to the Jin 晋dynasty (263–420 ce) Daoist alchemist and writer Ge Hong (283–343 ce).
Kuang Heng, a famous scholar in Chinese history, came from a poor peasant family. When he was young, he had no money to buy books. Neither could he afford to buy candles to read in the evening. But the persevering student found a solution to each of his predicaments. He went to work as a farmhand for a rich peasant named Wen Bushi, who was known to have a large collection of books. When payday came, Kuang Heng declined monetary payment from Wen. He asked him if instead he could lend all of the books Wen had, so he could read them at home. Wen was surprised, but gladly consented to his request.