Having Fun with Chinese Chengyu

28 September 2017

Chinese Chengyu are priceless in understanding Chinese culture.

Chinese Chengyu were widely used in Classical Chinese and are still common in Chinese writing and speaking today. Most of Chengyu consist of four characters. Often the four characters reflect the moral behind the story rather than the story itself. Here are two examples:

1. 狐假虎威 (Hú jia hu wei) A fox borrows the tiger’s fierceness to scare or threaten others

The story:
A cunning fox was caught by a fierce tiger, and was about to be killed.
The fox hysterically yelled at the tiger, “You can’t eat me! I’ve been sent by the Emperor of Heaven to rule the forest! You don’t want to anger the Emperor of Heaven, do you?”
The tiger didn’t believe the fox.
“If you don’t believe me, why not follow me into the forest and see how other animals react when they see me?” said the fox.
With great suspicion and doubt, the tiger followed the fox into the forest as the fox took the lead. As they approached other animals, they all ran away in fear. The fox simply pretended that the other animals were afraid of him, and not the tiger. The tiger, however, thought the fox was telling the truth, and did not figure out that the animals were actually afraid of him.
Having Fun with Chinese Chengyu (Link to News)

The moral:

This Chengyu is used to indicate someone who is using influential people’s power to bully or pressure others.



(Laoban de zhí zi chángcháng hújiahuwei, zài gongsi li mìnglìng qíta yuángong tì ta paotui.)
The nephew of the boss always orders other staff in the company to run errands for him, making use of his uncle’s power.


2. 井底之蛙 (jing di zhi wa) The frog at the bottom of the well

The story:
A frog once lived at the bottom of a well. From here, the most he could see was the small piece of at the well’s opening. He never knew how broad and beautiful the outside world was.
One day, a sea turtle showed up at the well entrance and looked down. When the frog saw the visitor, he proudly showed off to the sea turtle, “Hey, I am the host of this well, and I am so happy in here. Why don’t you come inside and visit my place?”
The sea turtle said to the frog, “Have you ever lived in the ocean and experienced swimming freely in the sea? The ocean has no boundary, and the scenery is spectacular. Living in the ocean is real happiness.”
Then the sea turtle left, leaving the speechless frog at the bottom of the well.

The moral:
This Chengyu is commonly used to describe someone who is short-sighted and has a narrow and limited view of the world.


别再当井底之蛙了! 我们应该出去看看这个世界。

(Bié zài dang jingdizhiwale! wo men yinggai chuqù kàn kàn zhège shìjiè.)
Don’t be the frog at the bottom of the well! We should go out and see this world.
A lot of Chengyu stories are very interesting and some also offer a little gem of Chinese wisdom, so they do help spice up your language a little bit. Have fun with them and try to use them with your friends – it’s always good fun to see their reactions!


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