Chinese Idiom: 打草惊蛇 (dǎ cǎo jīng shé)

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打草惊蛇 (dǎ cǎo jīng shé)

If you ever encounter a snake, you best bet is to just leave it alone and run the other way, animal or human. 蛇 (shé) translates to “snake” in English. However, the story behind the proverb does not involve snakes? How can that be?

Let’s look at the story first. In ancient China, there was a local official known as Wong Lu. Wong was notorious for bribery and condoning illegal activities in his area of jurisdiction. The people grew sick of his behavior and decided to act. They submitted an indictment to Wong regarding the shenanigans of his underlings.

When Wong reviewed the indictment, he realised the crimes were identical to his and that some of them were sanctioned by himself. He grew increasingly nervous. He wrote on the indictment, “Although you only wanted to cull the grass, you have frightened away the snake hiding underneath.”

By cutting the grass, you inadvertently frighten the snake away. The meaning of the proverb is “a reckless act that alerted the enemy”. For instance: “don’t recklessly alert the enemy” “不要打草惊蛇” (bù yào dǎ cǎo jīng shé)

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