Let Her Sleep For When She Wakes She Will Shake the World: Origins and Meaning

Napoléon in Sainte-Hélène, by Franz Josef Sandmann.
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    A quick look through Etsy will reveal countless inspirational boards emblazoned with the seemingly feminist quote, “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” Or, sometimes, people will mix things up and instead claim, “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will move mountains.” Despite how prominent this expression is across sites like Etsy and Pinterest, it far predates the Internet.

    Origins of Let Her Sleep

    Someone on Pinterest didn’t just randomly generate this quote. So, who should we credit for this expression? Surely some inspirational self-help guru or prominent feminist, right? Right? Wrong. This phrase is often credited to none other than Napoléon Bonaparte, French military leader and self-declared Emperor.

    Despite his reputation as a fierce commander, Napoléon was also quite the romantic. He often wrote now-famous love letters to his first wife, Joséphine. Nowhere in these letters, though, can you find the let her sleep expression. In fact, this phrase actually isn’t related to a woman at all. The subject of this quote? It’s actually China.

    Meaning of Let Her Sleep

    Napoléon is once said to have commented, “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will move the world.” An avid student of history and astute tactician, he recognized the potential for China to become an economic powerhouse that could dominate global markets. So, the original meaning of the phrase doesn’t quite match up with its modern feminist spin. But hey—that’s language and semantics for you.

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