Story behind the idiom: 邯郸学步 – Making oneself ridiculous by slavishly imitating others

A young man tries to copy the way people walk in another city, but only succeeds in making a fool of himself. The idiom 邯郸学步, which this story illustrates, is used to refers to copying what others do, and loses themselves in the process. HSK 3-4.

Example usage: 学习外国经验,不能邯郸学步,连我们自己成功的经验都丢了。
Translation: When learning from the experience of other countries, you can’t simply copy slavishly, or even the experience of our own successes will be lost.

Source here

Some language stuff

Couple of proper nouns here, especially place names you’ve probably never seen before, because this story is set over two thousand years ago in the Warring States period (475-221 BC), so the places mentioned no longer exist. We’ve got the State of Zhao (赵国), we’ve got the Zhao capital of Handan (邯郸), and we’ve got the State of Yan (燕国).

One of the words that comes up frequently here is 姿态 zī tài, also 姿势 zī shì, which both basically mean “posture” or “pose”, the way someone’s body is positioned or the way they carry themselves.

Another important word is 模仿 mó fǎng, to imitate.

Understand those words, and you’ll get the gist of the story.

One sentence structure to look out for is 受到…的影响. This means “to be influenced by… .” So, you could say 受到妈妈的影响, or “She is influenced by her mother.” The thing that our protagonist here is influenced by is a little harder to understand, but I will leave it up to you to sort it out. If you can’t, ask in the comments.

Want something easier?

Du Chinese has a big catalog of easy HSK 1 and HSK 2 texts for ultra-beginners. There are quite a few free practice lessons, but CRP readers get 10% off on paid accounts using the discount code CRP10.







Show English translation »
It is said that in Handan, the capital of the State of Zhao, the people there walk with a beautiful posture, and their movements are very lovely to look upon.

In the State of Yan, there was a youth who heard this legend, and he envied the people of Handan, so he went to the far-away State of Zhao, thinking to study the way Handan people walked.At first, he stood on the street the whole day, carefully researching the walking posture of everyone pedestrian, and slowly [trying to] imitate them, but he didn’t succeed.

Later, he thought perhaps he had been influenced by his old way of walking, so, he decided to forget how he used to walk. From that time forward, he studied the walking posture of Handan people even harder, but no matter how hard he studied he still couldn’t learn it, and finally he had to give up.

However, because he had forgotten his old way of walking, he couldn’t walk at all, and he had to crawl back [home]. When other saw him this way, they couldn’t help but laugh at him.

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