一叶障目,不见泰山

-《鹖冠子·天则》



“The eyes were hidden by a leaf, and even a mountain can hardly to see.”

It is often used to describe someone who is blinded by the minute details that he or she cannot see the whole and the essence of the thing.

There is a story comes from an Chinese anecdote book from the third century-most of the stories in the book is funny but also has strong social significance-explained the meaning of that sentence in a concrete and funny way.




Original Text:

“楚人居贫,读《淮南子》,得“螳螂伺蝉自障叶,可以隐形”,大喜。遂于树下仰望,欲觅螳螂伺蝉自障叶。偶见之,即缘而摘之,然不慎叶落树下。树下先有落叶,不能具分辨,乃扫取数斗归,一一以叶自障,问其妻曰:“汝见我不?”妻始时恒答言:“见”,竟日乃厌倦不堪,绐云:“不见。”楚人嘿然大喜,明日赍叶入市,对面取人物。吏遂缚而诣官。县官受辞,自说本末。官大笑,放而不治。” 

《笑林》

Translation:

“A man in the state of chu whose family was poor. When he read a very famous book--Huai Nan Zi, he saw a record that: when the mantis was catching the cicada, it covered its body with leaves, so that the cicada could not see it. He was so happy that he ran to the bottom of a tree and looked up, hoping to find the mantis used to cover his leaves when catching cicadas. He took the leaf off when he finally found it but the leaf unexpectedly falls on the ground. There were already leaves under the trees, which were no longer recognizable. So he simply swept up all the leaves, and collected a full bucket of home. 
The man took leaves one by one to cover his eyes and asked his wife, "can you still see me?" At first, he’s wife kept saying, "yes." Later, toss about a whole day, his wife then tired, very impatient, then cheat him to say: "can't see!" Hearing this, the man was secretly overjoyed. He hurriedly put the selected leaves in his bosom and ran to the street. He held the leaves, as if no one was watching, to take other people's goods, but of course he was caught on the spot and escorted to the county. When the magistrate interrogated him, he gave an honest account of the matter. The county magistrate laughed and let him go, didn’t convict him.”