骑虎难下 - To have a bull by the tail

May 16, 2020

qí hǔ nán xià

To have a bear by the tail

Every language has idioms, sayings, or set phrases. Chinese is no different. In Chinese, an idiom is called 成语 (chéng yŭ) and is usually composed of four characters.

Today, we want to share the story behind the popular idiom “骑虎难下" (qí hǔ nán xià) with you. This idiom comes from the Book of Jin, in the Biography of Wen Jiao, and the following story is a retelling of the original story. It is roughly translated as “it’s hard to get off when riding a tiger” 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…

从前有一个猎户,他常上山打猎。有一次他在打猎的时候,遇到了一只凶猛的老虎,咄咄逼人,面目狰狞,好像一下子就要把猎户吃掉。情急之下,猎户一下子爬到了树上,可是老虎好像是饿急了,一直在树下等着树上的猎户。

此时的猎户吓得魂飞魄散,不知所措,就在慌忙之中,猎户一下子把树枝给压断了,掉下来时,刚好骑在了老虎的背上,慌忙中,猎户就紧紧地抓住了老虎的脖子,这一下老虎也吓了一跳,就慌不择路地到处逃窜,一会儿往东跑,一会儿往西跑,想把身上的人给扔掉。

老虎飞一般地跑,一下子跑到了一个集镇上,好多人看到后,也感到非常的吃惊,在不停地议论说:这个家伙真有本事,敢骑老虎!谁知道,虎背上的猎户怯生生地说:“你们一点儿也不明白我现在的处境啊,我现在是骑虎难下呀!”

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!"


骑虎难下的意思是骑在老虎背上不能下来,用来比喻做事情进行到中途遇到困难,迫于形势又无法中止不能停止,做也不是,不做也不是,无奈只好硬着头皮做下去
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

骑着
(qí zhe; Riding)


Tiger

老虎
(lǎo hǔ; Tiger)


nán
Difficult

很难
(hěn nán; very difficult)

xià
Down

下来
(xià lai; to come down)

例句

工程已进行了一半,他却要撤资,搞得我们骑虎难下。

Example Sentence:

The project is halfway through in operation, and yet he wants to withdraw his funding and leave us as if we have a bear by the tail.

他其实没有能力做好这件事,但因为话已出口,只得硬着头皮干下去,真是骑虎难下。

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?

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