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.

Read Simplified Chinese: Read Chinese CharactersThe “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.

Click to Listen

斧子 – fǔ zi – Axe
邻居 – lín jū – Neighbor
言行 – yán xíng – Words and Actions
神情 – shén qíng – Look, expression
断定 – duàn dìng – To conclude
家伙 – jiā huo – Guy, chap
砍柴 – kǎn chái – Chop firewood
怀疑 – huán yí – To doubt, to suspect
根本 – gēn běn – At all, in any way
胡乱 – hú luàn – Careless, reckless
猜疑 – cāi yí – Suspicious




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.

21 comments to "Story Behind the Idiom: Lose the Axe, Suspect the Neighbor"

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


  2. 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!

  3. Yes, great work, love this blog!

  4. You’re welcome, everyone! Thanks for the positive feedback.

  5. Reply graemegraeme says: May 21, 2013 at 12:06 pm


    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.

  6. 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”.

  7. Ah, cool. Thanks for the clarification :)

    • 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).

  8. how do i spot the diffrent words? there are no spaces betwen words

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

  10. These are so much fun to read, I can see why they are so useful, I really like this Chengyu.

  11. 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!!!

  12. How can I get hanzireader? I can’t find it in AppStore, and the support e-mail doesn’t work.

  13. Reply Patrick McAsey says: May 7, 2015 at 2:38 am

    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!

  14. 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) ;)

  15. This blog is a very good material for learning Mandarin. Thanks…

  16. Reply Ngọc Diệp says: November 20, 2019 at 2:26 am

    Lose the Axe ,Suspect the neighbor and stole together They should doing business together (business furniture products)

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