Chinese Idiom Explained: 亡羊补牢

May 14, 2020

"亡羊补牢" (wáng yáng bǔ láo) is a popular Chinese idiom that comes from Strategies of the Warring States (战国策 Zhànguó cè), and can be literally translated as “To mend the fence after the sheep are lost” in English.

In this blog, we want to share with you both the Chinese and the English retelling of the original story behind "亡羊补牢" (wáng yáng bǔ láo), what it means, as well as how to use it in a sentence.

Let’s dive in!


Once upon a time, there was a man who had a few sheep. One morning he let the sheep out to graze and realised that one of his sheep was missing. As it turns outs, the sheep pen was slightly broken, leaving a little hole, allowing a wolf to crawl through and take one of the sheep. His neighbours warned him to quickly fix the sheep pen and cover up the hole. But the man replied, “The sheep is already gone, why bother fixing the pen!”


The next morning, he let the sheep out to graze and realised that another sheep was missing. As it turns out, the wolf had returned to the hole in the fence and took another sheep. He deeply regretted not listening to the advice of his neighbours and decided it’s still not too late to fix the pen. He immediately went to repair the hole in the fence. From that day onwards, he never lost a sheep again.

This idiom tells us that we shouldn't be worried about getting something wrong, we should be concerned about not being able to correct ourselves in time. Once the time’s past, we might not even have the chance to redeem ourselves.

wáng (to die)

yáng (sheep)

(to repair)

láo (sturdy)

例句 (Example Sentences):

Shéi méiyǒu shīwù, zhǐyào zhīhòu zhīdào wángyángbǔláo jiù wéi shí bù wǎn.
Everyone makes mistakes; as long we know to correct our mistakes, there's always time.

Zhè cì shì xiǎo cèyàn, méi kǎo hǎo méiguānxì, zhīdàole zìjǐ de bùzú, wángyángbǔláo, wéi shí bù wǎn.
This is only a small test, it’s okay if you don’t get a good grade. Once you know where to improve, it’s never too late, there's always time.

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