Categories
Beginner

Story Behind the Idiom: 画蛇添足 – The dangers of showing off

This is the first 成语 backstory I recall reading in class. It’s about a guy who can’t help but flaunt his superior skill in front of others, and the nasty surprise he gets as a result. This is upper-beginner, HSK 4.

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Intermediate

Story behind the idiom: 画龙点睛 – Perfect words at a critical moment

This is the legend that underpins the idiom “画龙点睛”, which typically describes the use of a couple of perfectly-chosen words or sentences, added a critical moment in written works or spoken arguments, which illuminate a deeper meaning and give the content more power. The story itself, though, it about dragons, and is only tied to that concept in the loosest way.

Categories
Beginner

Story Behind the Idiom: 盲人摸象 – To only partially understand something

This story is believed to have originated from a Buddhist sutra, the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra 《大般涅槃经》, donated to us by the content team over at Du Chinese. A challenge for HSK 2, should be smoother for HSK 3.

Categories
Intermediate

Mythology: 《精卫填海》 from the Classic of Mountains and Seas

This one’s pretty cool, guys. Today, we’re going to take look at a short text that’s almost 2000 years old. This passage comes from the 《山海经》shān hǎi jīng, or The Classic of Mountains and Seas, an ancient compendium of mythological beasts that was formalized during the Han Dynasty – that’s around the same time as the Roman Empire.

Categories
Beginner

Story Behind the Idiom: 刻舟求剑 – Being too rigid in the face of change

Yang over at Learn Mandarin Now is spoiling me with all these guest posts. I’ve been struggling to find something that suitable for beginners lately – everything I stumble across ends up being intermediate. But this is a very good place for beginners to start reading chéngyǔ (成语 idiom) stories, because you’ll get an introduction […]

Categories
Intermediate

Guest Post: Story Behind the Idiom: 塞翁失马 – A blessing in disguise

Hey hey, lookie here, an excellent guest post submitted by native Chinese speaker Yang from Learn Mandarin Now. This story tells us a bit about the Chinese chengyu (idiom),塞翁失马, which can mean “a blessing in disguise”, or can conversely mean “bad luck disguised as good”. It’s used to point out the hidden positives or negatives […]

Categories
Intermediate

Story Behind the Idiom: 专心致志 – Single-minded devotion

Story behind the Chinese idiom 专心致志 zhuān xīn zhì zhì, which means “to do something with single-minded devotion”.

Categories
Intermediate

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.

Categories
Intermediate

Story Behind the Idiom: 夜郎自大 – Thinking too highly of oneself

Here we’ll cover the back story behind the idiom “夜郎自大”, or “Yelang thinks highly of itself”. This idiom one refers to someone who has a high, but misguided, opinion of their own worth. Stick this one in the language bank for when you need to take someone down a peg (preferably while stroking your fu […]

Categories
Intermediate

Story Behind the Idiom: 鹬蚌相争 – When two parties fight and a third party benefits

This is the backstory behind the Chinese idiom 鹬蚌相争 yù bàng xiāng zhēng, which translates to “The Sandpiper and the Clam Fight Each Other”, and means “Two parties fight and a third party benefits.”

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Intermediate

Story Behind the Idiom: 一暴十寒 – Temporary diligence followed by laziness

This short tale addresses the background story behind the Chinese idiom 一暴十寒, which literally translates to “One day of sun, ten days of frost”, and which means “to bust butt for a little while and then get lazy”, or “to only work for a short time and then fail”. The story below really applies to […]

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Advanced

Story Behind the Idiom: 掩耳盗铃 – To bury one’s head in the sand

This fable describes backstory / origination of the idiom 掩耳盗铃 yǎn ěr dào líng, which literally translates as “to plug one’s ears while stealing a bell”, and meaning “to bury one’s head in the sand”, or “to deceive oneself”.

Categories
Advanced

The Story Behind the Idiom: 南辕北辙 – To act against one’s own best interest

As you’re probably aware, most Chinese idioms are 4-character constructs that make little sense unless you know the story behind them. this one, 南辕北辙, means “to do something that acts against your own best interests”.