Chinese Idiom Explained: 叶公好龙

August 20, 2022

"叶公好龙" (yè gōng hào lóng) is a popular Chinese idiom that comes from Chapter 5 of a book called Xinxu, by Liu Xiang in the Han Dynasty, and can be literally translated as “Lord Ye’s love of Dragons” in English.

In this blog, we want to share with you both the Chinese and the English retelling of the original story behind "叶公好龙" (yè gōng hào lóng), what it means, as well as how to use it in a sentence.

Let’s dive in!

chinese idiom yegonghaolong


There once a was a man called Lord Ye, who was particularly fond of dragons. Patterns and images of dragons were carved all along the beams, columns, doors and windows of his house. He even had realistic carvings of dragons on his wine vessels and wine glasses.

As time went on, Lord Ye’s infatuation with dragons slowly reached the ears of the real dragon in the heavenly palace, and the real dragon was touched: “I didn’t expect that someone in the human realm would take such a liking to me, I must go down and see him.”

The real dragon set forth for Lord Ye’s home. Its head hung at the window as he peered in, and its tail reached into the hall. When Lord Ye saw it was a real dragon, the blood drained from his face instantly, and he ran clutching his head in fear. The dragon was perplexed and left disappointed. As it turns out, Lord Ye did not actually like dragons. He only liked things that were like dragons, and not the dragon itself.

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This idiom is a metaphor for a self-proclaimed hobby or interest, but in reality it is not something you really like: it might actually be something you are scared of and repulsed by.

叶公 yè gōng (Lord Ye)

Lord Ye from the Chinese idiom Yegong haolong

hào (to like, to love)

illustration for hao from the Chinese Idiom Yegong haolong

lóng (dragon)

illustration for long from the Chinese Idiom Yegong haolong

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例句 (Example Sentences)

Nǐ bùshì shuō xǐhuān yīnyuè ma? Zhēn yāo nǐ qù tīng yīnyuè huì, nǐ yòu tuī shuō méi shíjiān, zhè yǔ yègōnghàolóng yǒu shé me qūbié?
Didn’t you say you like music? I invited you to a concert, and you claim you don’t have the time, how is this different to Lord Ye’s love of dragons?

Xǐ'ài yī jiàn shì bùnéng zhǐshì yègōnghàolóng, yào zhēnzhèng fùchū hànshuǐ yǔ nǔlì.
To like doing something, one cannot simply love dragons like Lord Ye; you need to dedicate hard work towards it.

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