Spilt water can’t be gathered - What’s done can not be undone
Literal Meaning: Spilt water can’t be gathered.
Metaphorical Meaning: What’s done can not be undone.
At the end of the Shang Dynasty (1562 B.C-1066 B.C), there was an intelligent man named Jiang Shang (also known as Jiang Ziya). People usually called him Jiang Taigong. He assisted Emperor Wen and his son Emperor Wu of the Zhou Dynasty (1066 B.C-256 B.C) to conquer the Shang Dynasty and contributed a lot to the building of the Zhou Dynasty. Then he was entitled as the lord of Qi Area (current Shandong). He was also the ancestor of the State Qi in the Spring and Fall Period (770 B.C-476 B.C).
Jiang used to take a small post in the Shang Dynasty. However, he resigned because he didn’t like the cruel rule of Emperor Zhou. He lived in a remote place by the Weishui River in Shaanxi after his resign. In order to gain the attention of the leader of Zhou Clan Ji Fa (Emperor Wen) and the opportunity to work for him, he usually pretended to fish by a small river with a fish pole without bait.
Because Jiang spent all his days in fishing, his family had problems in life. His wife, with the surname of Ma, began to feel averse because he was poor. She didn’t want to live with him and decided to leave. Jiang tried to persuade her not to dot that and said that he would let her live a good life sooner or later. However, Ma thought he was boasting and cheating her. She refused to give up the willing to leave. Jiang had no way but let her go.
Years later, Jiang got trust from Emperor Wen and helped Emperor Wu to defeat the army of Emperor Zhou of the Shang Dynasty. Emperor Wu entitled him the premier and the lord of Qi Area. He became rich and preeminent. His former wife regretted to leave him after seeing that. She found Jiang and wanted to recover their marriage.
Jiang knew the nature of this woman. He didn’t want to remarry her, so he spilt a bowl of water onto the field and told her to gather the water back to the bowl.
Ma hurriedly groveled on the field to gather the water. However, what she got was only mud. Jiang told her coldly: “You have left me so we cannot remarry, just like the spilt water which is impossible to re-gather.”
Source: CHINA BUSINESS FOCUS