How to Chinese

中国成语 Chinese idioms in English【Part 2】!


上次我们发布了“中国成语 Chinese idioms in English【Part 1】”的文章。

Last time we published "中国成语 Chinese idioms in English【Part 1】"。

Here comes the "part 2"!


One's expression changes when "tiger" is mentioned


Chinese Pinyin English
tán to talk to
color/ face
biàn to change


Once upon a time, there was man talking to his fellow villagers (村民 cūnmín) about the dangers of tigers. The storyteller went into great detail about all the ways a tiger could injure a man.In the crowd was a man who had previously been attacked by a tiger and almost lost his life. Hearing the storyteller just mention the word ‘tiger,’ the man’s face turned pale (苍白 cāngbái) and he felt a deep sense of dread.

谈虎色变 (tán hǔ sè biàn)当前的意思是,一提到危险,脸色就变得苍白、害怕。现代的例子通常不指老虎,而是自然灾害,或者人身危险,比如恶霸。

The current meaning of 谈虎色变 (tán hǔ sè biàn) is to become pale and frightened the instant a certain danger is mentioned. Modern examples typically don’t include Tigers as many dangerous scenarios, like natural disasters, or personal dangers, like bullies.


Holding a tree and waiting for a rabbit


shǒu adj. hold
zhū n. plant
dài v. wait
n. rabbit


During the Spring and Autumn period, there was a farmer (农民 Nóngmín) who had a tree in his field. He would frequently rest under a tree after a long day of working.


One day, he was working in the field and saw a scared rabbit come running past him, crash into that tree, and die suddenly. The farmer was overjoyed! He had just gotten a free dinner without having to put in any work.


While eating rabbit stew that night, the farmer had a thought. “Why even bother farming, when I have a tree that rabbits just ran into?” The farmer really liked this thought and from that day forth, he abandoned his plow to simply sit by the tree and wait for another rabbit to run into it and die.


However, to the farmer’s surprise, no more rabbits crashed into the tree again ever again. Overtime, the farmer ended up with barren fields, impoverished, and the laughing stock of the village.


The idiom “holding the tree, waiting for rabbit” is similar to the English expression “waiting for something to fall into one’s lap.” It is the folly of relying on luck and not putting in the necessary effort. The chéngyǔ can be used even more literally in situations where someone expecting something to happen the exact way as it has in the past.


Many Wolves, Little Meat


Láng n. wolf
duō adj. many
ròu n. meat
shǎo adj. less


You’ll hear this chengyu come up often when talking about areas of fierce competition (竞争 jìngzhēng). Common examples in China, would be when applying for a job that has a lot of candidates and a limited number of positions.


Have you ever been in a situation with too many wolves and too little meat?


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