Chinese Idiom: 对症下药 - To tailor a solution to a problem

July 19, 2022

Today, we want to share the story behind the popular idiom “对症下药" (duì zhèng xià yào).

It is roughly translated as “prescribe medicine based on the illness” 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…

对症下药

从前,大概在距今一千九百多年前的东汉时期,有一位著名的医生叫华佗。他给人看病时,会根据病人的不同情况,开出不同的药方,无论什么病他都能治好。因此,人们都称他为“神医”。

During the Eastern Han dynasty, about 1900 years ago, there was a doctor named Huà Tuó. When he treated his patients, he treated them differently based on their symptoms, prescribing specific medicines. It didn't matter what type of illness it was, he was always able to treat it. So, he became known as the “mighty doctor.”

有一天,来了两个病人,一个叫倪寻,一个叫李延,他们的症状一样,都是头疼、发烧、乏力。华佗分别询问了他们的病情以及最近的饮食情况,又给他们把了脉,并给各自开了药。给倪寻开的是泻药,给李延开的是发汗药。

One day, two patients showed up. One was called Ní Xún, the other was Lǐ Yán. They both had the same symptoms - a headache and a fever. Huà Tuó asked about their symptoms separately, enquired about their eating habits, checked their pulse, and prescribed them medicine individually. Ní Xún got a laxative, and Lǐ Yán got a sudorific (to induce sweating).

倪寻和李延看到药方后,感到十分奇怪,便问华陀:“医生,您是不是开错药了?我们两个人的症状都是头疼和发烧,得的是一样的病,为什么给我们吃的药却不同?” 华陀笑着回答:“你俩虽然看上去是一样的病,但是倪寻的病因是在身体内部,是由积食引起的,应该吃泻药;而李延的病因却是在身体外部,是由着凉引起的,应该吃发汗药。症状相同,病因不同,当然要根据具体的情况,给你俩吃不同的药了。”

Ní Xún and Lǐ Yán saw their prescriptions and were puzzled. They asked Huà Tuó: “Doctor, did you prescribe the right medicine? We both have a headache and fever, it must be the same illness. Why do we have different medicines?” Huà Tuó smiled and said: “It may look like you have the same illness, but it has different causes. Ní Xún's illness is internal, his symptoms come from indigestion, so he needs a laxative. As for Lǐ Yán, your illness is external, you’ve caught a cold, so you need a sudorific. The symptoms may be the same, but the causes are different. We should prescribe medicine based on your specific illness, that's why you have different prescriptions.”

倪寻和李延二人觉得华佗说得非常有道理,于是都很放心地把药拿回家吃了,没过多久,两人的病果然都完全好了。之后人们就把根据病人的具体情况,开不同的药称为“对症下药”。

Ní Xún and Lǐ Yán both thought this was very logical and felt confident with the diagnosis. Not long after, they both made a full recovery. From then on, when people are prescribed medicine for their specific symptoms, we call this “duì zhèng xià yào

对症下药

这个故事也告诉我们,在生活中,面对问题时,我们要根据具体情况,采取恰当、有效的方法解决。

This story tells us that we need to tailor the solution to the problem.

duì (to match)

对>to match

zhèng (illness)

症ILLNESS

xià (prescribe, down)

下 PRESCRIBE,DOWN

yào (medicine)

药medicine

例句 (Example Sentences):

了解中小学生心理问题产生的原因,对症下药地进行心理指导教育,有助于中小学生的健康成长。 Liǎojiě zhōng xiǎoxuéshēng xīnlǐ wèntí chǎnshēng de yuányīn, duìzhèngxiàyào de jìnxíng xīnlǐ zhǐdǎo jiàoyù, yǒu zhù yú zhōng xiǎoxuéshēng de jiànkāng chéngzhǎng. Understanding a student’s mental wellbeing and providing appropriate support will help our pupil's development.

遇到问题时,首先要找问题背后的原因,只有找出原因,才能对症下药。
Yù dào wèntí shí, shǒuxiān yào zhǎo wèntí bèihòu de yuányīn, zhǐyǒu zhǎo chū yuányīn, cáinéng duìzhèngxiàyào.
When met with a problem, we need to first understand the cause. Only when we know how it started can we remedy the situation appropriately.

医生详细询问了他的病情以后,对症下药,治好了他的病。
Yīshēng xiángxì xúnwènle tā de bìngqíng yǐhòu, duìzhèngxiàyào, zhì hǎole tā de bìng.
After the doctor asked about his symptoms, he prescribed the medicine that fit the cause and cured his illness.

他当老板以后,对公司存在的所有问题都进行了深入调查,找出了亏损的主要原因,然后对症下药,逐一解决。
Tā dāng lǎobǎn yǐhòu, duì gōngsī cúnzài de suǒyǒu wèntí dōu jìnxíngle shēnrù diàochá, zhǎo chūle kuīsǔn de zhǔyào yuányīn, ránhòu duìzhèngxiàyào, zhúyī jiějué.
After I become the boss, I looked into the problems that the company was having. I found why they were losing money and resolved the situation based on the cause.


How would you use the idiom? Do you have an idiom you'd like us to explain?

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.

HOU LAOSHI CY