Chinese Idiom Explained: 指鹿为马

September 09, 2022

The popular Chinese idiom 指鹿为马 (zhǐ lù wéi mǎ) can be roughly translated as “misrepresenting facts” in English.

In this blog, we will share with you both the Chinese and the English versions of the story behind the idiom 指鹿为马 (zhǐ lù wéi mǎ), what it means, as well as how to use it in a sentence.

Let’s dive in!

zhi lu wei ma illustration


Long, long ago, Zhao Gao wanted to overthrow the throne. But he wasn’t sure how many people in Chao Zhong supported the king and how many would oppose him. So, he came up with a plan that will show off his prestige and make the opposition think twice.


One day at the royal court, Zhao Gao asked someone to bring in a deer. He said to the king: “Your majesty, I present to you a fine horse.” The king took one look and laughed, saying to Zhao Gao: “I think you are mistaken; this is a deer. How did you think this was a horse?”



Zhao Gao insisted, saying: “Your majesty, please have a closer look. It definitely is a valiant horse.” The king looked at the deer again and asked hesitantly: “Then why does this horse have antlers?”

Zhao Gao turned around and pointed at all the members of the course, shouting: “Your majesty, if you don’t believe me, then ask your court officials.”

zhi lu wei ma chinese idiom


The court officials were confused by Zhao Gao’s words and thought to themselves, Isn’t the difference between a deer and a horse obvious? But when they saw the menacing smile on Zhao Gao’s face, the officials suddenly understood his true intentions.


Those who were cowardly and with a strong conscience bowed their heads and were too frightened to speak. If they lied, they would be letting themselves down, but if they spoke the truth, they might end up being killed by Zhao Gao. Some headstrong, honest officials insisted that it was a deer, and not a horse. Some who supported Zhao Gao immediately said, “That definitely is a horse!”


In the end, Zhao Gao noted those who objected him, and killed them through various ways.

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指鹿为马的意思是:指着鹿,说是马。 This idiom literally means someone who points to a deer, calling it a horse.

比喻故意颠倒黑白,混淆是非. It is a metaphor for when people intentionally confuse things and insist that something is correct when it is not.

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zhǐ (to point)

to point- zhi- for the chinese idiom zhiluweima

鹿 (deer)

deer- lv- for the chinese idiom zhiluweima

wéi (as)

as wei- for the chinese idiom zhiluweima


ma horse- for the chinese idiom zhiluweima

例句 (Example Sentences)

Zài zhèngyì yǔ zhēnlǐ miànqián, zhǐlùwéimǎ, diāndǎo hēibái de rén zhōngjiù huì shòudào chéngfá.
In the face of justice, you cannot misrepresent the facts. Those who confuse right with wrong will always be punished.

Lǎobǎn wèile yǎnshì zìjǐ de cuòwù, bùxī zhǐlùwéimǎ, wǒ hái yǒu shé me hǎoshuō de.
To hide his mistakes, he did not hesitate to mislead everyone. There’s nothing more I can say.

Zài rújīn de shèhuì zhōng, wèile bǎozhù zìjǐ de gōngzuò, yuángōngmen zhǐ néng ēyú fèngchéng, jíshǐ lǐngdǎo zhǐlùwéimǎ, tāmen yě dé suíshēngfùhè.
In today’s society, employees must stay on the good side of their superiors to protect their job. Even if the boss is being misleading, they should still conform to their ways.

About the Writer

Zhao Laoshi

Hainan Normal University graduate; Previously taught Chinese in Indonesia. Zhao laoshi is loved for her friendly attitude in class.


Want to learn more Chinese idioms? We have more in store!


刻舟求剑 - Being stuck in your ways

乐不思蜀 - To forget where you came from

大器晚成 - Great Talent, Late Accomplishment