During the Western Han Dynasty there was a statesman named Sun Jing who studied very hard at his early age. He often studied from morning till evening, but because he was studying for so long that it was easy to doze off. As not to impede his study, he used a rope to tie his hair to the house beam so that if he fell asleep it would pull on his hair and he would immediately come awake.

During the Warring States period there was another statesman called Su Qin. He often studied until very late, and in order not to fall asleep he prepared an awl. Whenever he felt sleepy, he would poke himself in the leg with it and then continued to study.

"悬(xuán)" means "to hang"; "梁(liáng)" means the "house beam"; "刺(cì)" means "to pierce"; "股(gǔ)" means "legs". The idiom "悬梁刺股(xuán liáng cì gǔ)" describes somebody working very hard and grinding away at his/her studies.