Story Behind the Idiom: 失斧疑邻 – Carelessly suspecting others

You know the kind of person who loses something and immediately declares it was stolen? Yeah, that.

Been a little while since I posted, I’ve been a bit wrapped up in my new iPad app, Hanzi Reader, which is, may I say, amazing for reading practice. It’s very much like this site, except you can choose any Chinese text you like, copy-paste it into the reader, the reader analyses the text. After the analysis is complete, pushing any word in the text pops up an English and pinyin translation – truly a wonderful reading tool.

The “Story Behind the Idiom” posts are my favorite to put up, they’re not only helpful in remember idioms, they’re usually pretty interesting to read. This one is a lower intermediate text.

At the end of the first paragraph, the protagonist says, ““我早就看出那个家伙不是个好东西。” This translates to “I always thought that guy was no good.” But why use the term “东西”, or “thing”, instead of “person”? In Chinese, when you refer to a person as 东西, or “thing”, this is a form of insult. In English, an equivalent might be the phrase “you worthless thing!” So we can understand from the use of the word 东西 in this sentence that the protagonist really doesn’t like the person he’s speaking about.





Show English translation »
There once was a man who lost his axe, and though he searched all over for it he still couldn’t find it. After a while he thought it must have been that the neighbor’s son stole it, so he began to take note of the child’s expressions, words and actions and thought they were all those of a thief. Thus, he concluded that it was the neighbor’s kid that stole it, and in his heart he said, “I always thought that guy was no good.”

On the second day, when he went up the mountain to chop firewood and at the side of a tree he found his lost axe. Now he finally remembered that he’d actually forgotten it there two days before. He regretted casually suspecting his neighbor’s child. After he returned home, he took another look at the child’s behavior, words and actions, and he didn’t seem at all like a person who would steal anything. So he said, “I’ve always thought that [that kid] is not the kind of person who would steal”.     

After this, people have used the phrase “Lose the Axe and Suspect the Neighbor” to describe inventing subjective feelings and careless suspicions.

20 replies on “Story Behind the Idiom: 失斧疑邻 – Carelessly suspecting others”

Learned 11 new words from your list and ran into 10 words that were seen before but can’t remember.


Hello I just stumbled upon your blog not long ago, and found myself an incredibly helpful source for learning Chinese. I love your all your posts and your Chinese translation. Thank you so much for your hard work and please keep posting up I will look forward to it. Cheers!


The pleco pasteboard reader is pretty good too tbh. Just dont know where to go to find texts at the appropriate level for me to use with it.

Hi! Just wanted to say thanks for posting all these – they’re really helpful for those of us learning Chinese. One question – shouldn’t the 象 in this story (used twice) be 像 instead? My understanding is that 像 means “to resemble”

In this case, no. “不象是” or “象是” also means “is not like” because 象 can mean “shaped like” or “the form of”.

No. 像 should be used when one is trying to express a resemblance. 象 is an elephant. When you are actually writing an essay or smth, these two shouldnt be mixed up.

Correct me if i’m wrong. Because thats what i’ve been writing since I was young and I was taught the difference of the two characters that way when I was a toddler.

As a noun, this word does mean ‘elephant’. As a verb, it means ‘to resemble’. Please see, or any dictionary.

I found this conversation very interesting,,16341, though I’m not sure how accurate it is – perhaps the last bit might clear some of this up:

The major difference between 象 and 像 is that 象 is an elephant, like 大笨象 (big elephant), 石象 (stone elephant), etc whereas 像 means “to look like, resemble”, e.g. 好像 (seem, be like).

But the subtle difference is that 象 also refers to an abstract image, such as 印象 (impression), 形象 (personal image), 現象 (phenomenon), 異象 (abnormal phenomenon), 景象 (scene), 幻象 (illusion), 險象 (dangerous situation), whereas 像 refers to a physical image, such as 人像 (portrait), 畫像 (portrayal), 石像 (stone statue), 錄像 (video recording).

actually Traditional Chinese is truly what Chinese is. So many Simplified words are same. But they are different in Traditional ones.

I have been learning Chinese for three years now, and honestly this is the best website for practicing reading. Please keep up this great work!!!

This is just wonderful! I really enjoy reading the stories behind these 成语, and I know my Chinese reading has come on a lot since I’ve been studying your readings. Thank you so much!

First of why would a child steel an axe? … ( unless he was big child like 14 years? And maybe the guy called him child because the man was probably like 46 years old… Anyways thanks a lot a lot for all of these. ( never blame any one who you don’t really now did it) 😉

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