Thoughts for My People

Bluer than indigo

“From indigo comes blue, but bluer than indigo” is a phrase from an old Chinese writing. (It is a bit of a tongue twister when read in my mother tongue!) It refers to the process by which the colour blue used to be produced in the olden days – extracts from the plant indigo is applied over and over to produce increasingly brighter hue of blue.


The dying process is one of the well-known (but sadly fading) traditional methods in my homeland. I luckily had a chance to see a demonstration once a few years ago. The indigo extracts do have a hint of blue in them, but seemed much closer to black. But when cloths were taken out of them, they gradually turned blue over time. It is just an oxidation reaction, but it sure looked magical! And with incremental application, the colour grew even bluer and appeared more majestic.


The phrase is interpreted to mean that products can become bigger and better than the original with continuous improvement, i.e., apprentices can become wiser than their masters with continuous effort. It is used to encourage novices to aim high and try hard, but is also used to instill humility in experts.


Maybe there is always more to learn, even when we think we have mastered something.

Maybe there will come a day when those who were once students have something to teach us.

Maybe we can be proud, but should never be satisfied, with our achievements, if we are to continue growing and being successful.


Yesterday in my homeland, a group of experts made a decision that, oddly enough, involved indigo. They appeared very proud with the decision and how they achieved it. But I hope they are not satisfied, because neither the decision itself nor the decision-making process were wholeheartedly welcomed. I hope they are humble enough learn from our criticisms and will continue to prove to us that their decision was the right one by leading it to success.


Only time will tell, but I sure hope that this indigo will result in a blue bluer than indigo.


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