Jun 13, 2018, 1:06 PM ET

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


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

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

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.

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

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  • lookingahead

    Looks like making it up as you go is a family trait.

  • marynaylor

    Tiny Buddha quotes list this as a Chinese Proverb. Also, I think it's a shame how people who disagree with Trump try to get at him by using brutal verbal assaults against his family.

  • New_Amerika

    Any excuse the MSM gets to [email protected] on the Trump family. Pathetic.

  • gs12

    Like, omg, like. Now what do we do. Hair on fire anyone?

  • Thomas

    Next, I supposed Ivanka will be accused of cultural appropriation?

  • Thomas

    "I did not say half the things people claim" -- Confucius.

  • Robert Eric Oberlies

    Maybe it was something she heard the Late David Carradine say, on a rerun of ‘Kung Fu’. There’s a plug for you. Moving on.

  • katerant

    "Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it,"

    Raccoon proverb

  • MickC

    I'm no fan of the Trumps, but who can prove someone in China never said it?
    My Chinese raised-in-Shanghai piano teacher told me what she said was a Chinese story, though I knew it as an ancient European story.
    A dying Chinese father's five whose sons asked him how they could withstand robbers, etc. after he was gone. He told each to get two chopsticks. He had each break one. He then told them to put the other 5 together and try to break them and they couldn't. Similarly, if they all stayed together they couldn't be broken. The lesson to me was that all five fingers on each hand have to work together on the piano or they won't play well.
    Of course, I recognized this is one of Aesop's Fables from ancient Greece, where branches replaced the chopsticks and the famous moral of the story is: "United we stand. Divided we fall."
    But I never corrected my Chinese teacher: who can say Aesop didn't hear it from a Chinese traveler?

  • Financial Man

    Who cares about this non-issue? ABC News used to be a competent organization.

  • Ptah

    The World would be a much better place if Twitter banned anyone named Trump for the duration. It would probably even be better for them.

  • SG

    can't be done and shouldn't be done are two very different things.

  • ycplum

    Looks like an honest mistake than many could have made. It isn't like she does this every second tweet.

  • lou g

    Like father, like daughter; ugh!

  • Gimme__A__break

    This is news? ABC reached out for a comment? Wow.

  • Realpshep

    Does any Trump research and think before tweeting/speaking?

  • Lois E. Winters

    How many times do we all in the past make some statement or other and claim it is according to some famous Chinese proverb? Big deal. This shouldn't even be news.

  • Sanfran

    She's obviously a chip off the old block. This is a woman that copies the designs of others and doesn't have an original bone in her body. She is a master at compartmentalizing...how else can she show her face without complete and utter embarrassment. Complete sociopath and narcissist.

  • Eagle1000

    Everyone should stop trolling first family-including media thugs, just let them be.

  • John Wilson

    OK, I'm very much an anti-Trump guy, but this kind of innocent mistake is just not news. I'd hate to think that every offhand reference I make will be "fact checked" when not a matter of substance.

    And this is coming from a guy that has no problem with Samantha Bee's recent comments.

  • blantona1

    "Quote debacle"....really, a debacle? For crying out loud its a mis-attributed quote not the pushing of the nuke button....people not everything is a big hairy deal.

  • General Zod

    I'll give you another proverb then: When a wise man points at the moon, the imbecile examines the finger.

  • Indy

    Truly despise the tump but don't like seeing women being attacked like this because of something so minor, we don't need to be even worse than the ones we choose to criticize, imo.

  • TexasVulcan

    Also, don't ever claim that Calgon is "ancient Chinese secret".

  • SHM1026

    Misattributing a quote is no big deal. Representing her father, who is a blithering moron on his best day, is a much more significant issue. It may take a few years, but I look forward to the day that all the damage done by Donny Dum Dum has finally been undone.

  • UnaMasYup

    She proves that evil can be ugly (Donald) or beautiful.

  • B-K KnightRider

    What'd she do, find it in a fortune cookie and decide it was a Chinese proverb?

  • Steve1956

    North Korean proverb. "Donald Trump is a dotard that we play like a cheap violin."