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A tourism-related twitter account tweeted:

Better to see something once, than to hear about it a thousand times. (Asian Proverb)

Is this a phrase that has been used a reasonable number of times in Asian countries before it was called an "Asian Proverb"?

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    This is unclear. What does it mean to say it is a proverb? What does it mean to say it is real? – Oddthinking Jul 19 '15 at 4:46
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    @Oddthinking how is the current question? – Andrew Grimm Jul 19 '15 at 7:34
  • @blutorange: That sounds like an answer, rather than a comment. – Oddthinking Jul 19 '15 at 16:25
  • @blutorange if they got the number "wrong" but it's otherwise authentic, that's definitely an answer. – Andrew Grimm Jul 19 '15 at 21:47
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Almost, but not a thousand times.

In Japanese there is the following proverb:

百聞は一見に如かず

hyakubun wa ikken ni sikazu

'A hundred listeninings do not [equal|compare with] one look'.

"One picture is worth a thousand [ten thousand] words."|"There's nothing like seeing for oneself." | "Seeing for oneself is (far) better than hearing about something."

( English wiktionary / major Japanese dictionary / JMdict )

There are 34 hits for this proverb in the balanced corpus of Japanese.

We may or may not use a thousand times in English, but the Japanese proverb literally mentions a hundred times: 百聞 (: hundred, : listen, hear)

Of course it is rather unimportant whether it is exactly a hundred times or not, a hundred times is a lot and 百聞 metaphorically stands for very many times. The English ten thousand words works pretty much the same.

Finally, as some Japanese dictionaries already mention, this proverb was imported from the Chinese 百聞不如一見. ( Chinese-English dictionary / Chinese dictionary / wiktionary )

Note that Japanese uses the same kanji (Chinese characters) but in a different order, as well as some Japanese-only glyphs. This is to adjust for the different grammar and word order of Japanese.

According to wiktionary, this proverb exists in Korean and Vietnamese as well, which is not surprising at all considering the major influence of China and the Chinese culture in the past.

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There are many cases of the quote being used before the world wide web became a major thing.

Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, 1988-1989 has the following:

General Secretary Gorbachev mentioned on Sunday a wonderful phrase you have in Russian for this: “Better to see something once than to hear about it a hundred times.”

Soviet Literature, Issues 1-6, from Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1974 - Russian literature

has

text below

... I had, therefore, been prepared, though but theoretically, for the plethora of colours and tints I would see up in space. How true the saying that it's better to see something once than hear it described a hundred times over. Though, in fact, I had not only heard Alexei Leonov's account but had also seen his excellently drawn illustrations to it. Still, when for the first time in my life I looked with my own ...

The Beginner's Guide to C++, from 1994, by the Russian-sounding name Oleg Yaroshenko also uses the phrase.

FBIS Daily Report: Central Eurasia, Issues 241-252, published in 1992, quotes someone saying that both the Russians and the Chinese have this expression.

There's a couple of scenarios I can think of:

  1. The phrase is genuine, and is of Russian or Asian origin.
  2. The phrase isn't genuine, but was made popular by US President Ronald Regan. It's a bit reminiscent of Trust, but verify. However, this would require Russians themselves repeating the new phrase.
  3. The citations on Google books are bogus, at least with regards to which year they're published in.
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    The Russian variant "лучше один раз увидеть, чем сто раз услышать" appears a couple of times in 20's and then the usage rises sharply in 50's (books.google.com/ngrams/…) Many early mentions have 1000 instead of 100 and refer to it as "Chinese proverb". – sashkello Jul 22 '15 at 0:46

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