Today, we want to share the story behind the popular idiom “本末倒置" (běn mò dào zhì).
It is roughly translated as “to have the orders reversed” or "to have it backwards" in English. We have included both the Chinese and the English versions of the story below.
Now, let's find out what it really means…
During the Warring States period, the king of Qi, a state in ancient China, sent a diplomat to reach out to the neighbouring state, Zhao.
When the diplomat arrived at Zhao, he respectfully presented the king of Zhao with a handwritten letter. But the king of Zhao was far more concerned with the people of Qi than their king. So without even looking at the letter, he immediately asked the diplomat: 'How are your people? How was the harvest this year? Are your people at ease? Is your emperor in good health?'
The diplomat heard this and was not impressed. He asked the king: 'My king sent me here to reach out to you. You haven't even read the letter he wrote for you. You ask about our harvest, our people, and ask about our emperor at the very end. Are the commoners more important than the emperor? Don't you have it backwards?'
The emperor of Zhao laughed and explained: 'Hunger breeds discontentment. Without grain, what will the common people survive on? Without the people, how will there be a kingdom? So if I ask about your people first, I don't have it backwards at all.'
The diplomat heard this and was so ashamed he couldn't say another word.
This idiom tells us that we need to understand what is important and what is not. It is a metaphor for not confusing the insignificant for the significant and reminds us not to reverse the roles.
本 běn （root, basis）
末 mò (end, final stages)
倒 dào (change, reverse)
置 zhì (position)
例句 (Example Sentences)
Wèile zhuànqián ér bùgù zìjǐ de shēntǐ jiànkāng, zhēnshi běnmòdàozhì.
Putting money before health is illogical.
Zuò rènhé gōngzuò, dōu fēnqīng zhǔ cì, qīngzhòng, yīdìng bùnéng běnmòdàozhì.
When you approach any job, you need to understand how things are done, don't mess up the order.
Mǎi fáng zǐ zhīqián xiān mǎile suǒyǒu de jiājù, zhè shì bùshì yīcì běnmòdàozhì de zuòfǎ?
Buying furniture before buying the house - isn't that illogical?
Zuòwéi xuéshēng, yīnggāi hǎo hào xuéxí, qiān wàn bùyào běnmòdàozhì, bǎwán fàng zài shǒuwèi.
As a student, your studies should come first, do not confuse things and think entertainment is more important.
About the Writer
Hou Laoshi Inner Mongolia University For Nationalities graduate; 10+ years experience in teaching Chinese. Hou laoshi is loved for her caring and patient teaching style.
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