Ivanka Trump's 'Chinese proverb' is 'definitely' not a Chinese proverb, experts say

The first daughter tweeted a saying that she said was ancient Chinese wisdom.

June 13, 2018, 1:06 PM

Ivanka Trump is finding out that it is not wise to misattribute Chinese proverbs for fear of the wrath of Twitter.

The first daughter pinned a quote to the top of her Twitter feed on June 11, shortly before the start of her father's historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it," she tweeted, attributing the quote to a "Chinese proverb."

But experts and fellow Twitter users were quick to point out that the quote was misattributed.

Experts weigh in

"That definitely is a falsely attributed proverb," Larry Herzberg, the director of Asian studies at Calvin College and a professor of Chinese language, told ABC News.

Herzberg, who has written a book on Chinese proverbs, said that the first known reference to this quote comes from an American newspaper article published in 1903. In it, the author talks about "the fast pace of change in America at the time," Herzberg added.

Isaac Stone Fish, a senior fellow at the Asia Society in New York, said that he can see why Trump may have assumed it was Chinese in origin.

"It does not seem to have any connection to China whatsoever, except that it has that sort of symmetrical, one-line-referencing-the-other line feel that a lot of Americans feel characterize Chinese proverbs," he told ABC News.

"I think there's this idea that Confucius had a lot of easily digestible wisdom, but these kind of quotes are more [like a] fortune cookie or daily inspiration calendar," he said.

Herzberg said that Trump is "not alone in" misattributing such a quote, saying "thousands of Americans" say that phrases are Chinese proverbs without any evidence for those claims.

In his experience, Herzberg feels that when someone doesn't know where a quote stems from, they guess it's from the Bible, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, or China.

"It's sort of a default," he said of the tendency to brand quotes as Chinese proverbs.

Ivanka responds

PHOTO: Ivanka Trump arrives for an event in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 7, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Ivanka Trump arrives for an event in the Rose Garden of the White House on June 7, 2018 in Washington, D.C.
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images, FILE

A day later, even Ivanka Trump appeared to acknowledge the misattribution in a different tweet.

A Canadian journalist tweeted a response to Trump, writing, "I see this quote has variously been attributed to Confucius and George Bernard Shaw, so shall we split the difference and say it was Churchill?"

The first daughter responded with "Good idea" and a winking emoji.

ABC News has reached out to representatives for Ivanka Trump for comment.

For Stone Fish, that response seems like an acknowledgment of an unintentional misstep, saying that her response "seems like a way in the digital age of winking at her error and then moving on."

And for Herzberg, who said that even though he is not a fan of the Trump family, he believes the first daughter should be given a pass on the quote debacle.

"Of all the Trumps, her father seems to have no sense of humor, but at least she does," he said.

"I think it was done in all innocence and we should use it just as a chance to acknowledge the richness and wisdom of Chinese culture," he said.

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