Chinese Idiom Explained: 骑虎难下

May 16, 2020

“骑虎难下 qí hǔ nán xià” is a popular Chinese idiom that comes from the Book of Jin in the Biography of Wen Jiao, which can be roughly translated as “it’s hard to get off when riding a tiger” in English.

In this blog, we want to share with you both the Chinese and the English retelling of the original story behind “骑虎难下 qí hǔ nán xià”, what it means, as well as how to use it in a sentence.

Let’s dive in!


Once upon of time, there was a hunter who often went up to the mountain to go hunting. Once when he was out hunting, he came across a vicious tiger. With its domineering attitude and ferocious features, it seemed as if it was ready to eat the hunter with one bite. Under pressure, the hunter immediately climbed a tree nearby. But the tiger seemed especially hungry and kept waiting at the tree for the hunter.


The hunter was frightened out of his wits and he was at a loss. In his state of frenzy, the branch under him snapped off, and he landed straight on the back of the tiger. Panicking, the hunter grabbed the tiger’s neck with a firm grip. This made the tiger jump in fear, frantically choosing any direction, heading east at one point, then heading west at another, desperately trying to get rid of the man on his back.


The tiger ran like the wind towards a market town nearby. Many of the townspeople saw and were in awe saying: “This man sure is brave, willing to ride a tiger!” Who would have guessed, the hunter timidly said: “You guys do not understand the predicament I am in! I can’t get off!"

This idiom tells us that when you ride a tiger, you can’t just get off. It is a metaphor for when things get tough, and you’re feeling the pressure, and there’s no way to stop it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and you have no choice but to just keep your head down and get on with it.

(to ride)

骑 qi ride, riding, horse riding



nán (difficult)

数 shu-numbers

xià (down)

Downward dog pose in Chinese

例句 (Example Sentence):

Gōngchéng yǐ jìnxíngle yībàn, tā què yào chèzī, gǎo dé wǒmen qíhǔnánxià.
The project is halfway through in operation, and yet he wants to withdraw his funding and leave us as if we have a bull by the tail.

Tā qíshí méiyǒu nénglì zuò hǎo zhè jiàn shì, dàn yīnwèi huà yǐ chūkǒu, zhǐdé yìngzhe tóupí gàn xiàqù, zhēnshi qíhǔnánxià.
He actually can’t do this properly, but since he already said he would, he can only buckle down and get it done, there’s no way to stop now.

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