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Chinese Idiom Specials: Covering One’s Ears While Stealing

Idioms are integral parts of a language. After all, idioms are merely creative ways to express a thought. Every language in the world contains its unique idioms. However, Idioms are more than just creative articulation. It also plays a critical role in language learning. Learning idioms immerses a person in the cultural and local semantics of a language. That is imperative for it enables people to understand local contexts effectively. Not only will that boost your understanding of the language, but it will also enhance your conversation with native speakers. 

Luckily, Mandarin is full of idioms. There are a plethora of idiomatic expressions, some even date back to ancient times. These expressions have become an inextricable part of the Chinese language. Incredibly so, almost everyone uses idioms in daily conversations. 

Thereby, today, we are delving into the world of idioms. Today, we are examining the famous Chinese idiom 掩耳盗 (yǎn ěr dào líng)  Covering One’s Ears While Stealing a Bell. 

Before examining what the idiom means, let us first read the story where it originated:

Origin of 掩耳盗 yǎn ěr dào líng Covering One’s Ears While Stealing a Bell. 

In the Spring and Autumn Period, the Jin Dynasty aristocrat Zhi Bo destroyed the Fan family.

Someone took the opportunity to rush to Fan’s house to steal something, and saw a big clock hanging in the yard. The bell is made of high-quality bronze, with exquisite shapes and patterns. The thief was very happy, and wanted to carry this exquisite clock back to his home.But the clock was so big and heavy that it couldn’t move. He thought about it, but there was only one way, and that was to break the clock and then move it home separately.

The thief found a sledgehammer and slammed it at the clock desperately. There was a loud noise that shocked him. ”The thief thought: “This is bad. Isn’t this bell telling people that I’m stealing the bell here?”

He was anxious, and he threw himself on the bell, opening his arms to cover the bell, but how can the bell sound be covered? The sound of the bell still spreads leisurely into the distance. The more he listened, the more frightened he became, and he kept covering his ears with his hands.

“Hey, the bell has become smaller and you can’t hear it!” The thief was happy,

“It’s wonderful! Can’t you hear the bell if you cover your ears?”

He immediately found two cloth balls and plugged his ears and thought, no one can hear the bell now. So he let go and slammed the bell, once and again, the bell sounded loudly and spread far away. But as soon as he takes off the bell, the owner opens the door. “What are you doing?” the owner says angrily, and calling someone to catch the thief.

Later, people have used the set phrase “plugging one’s ears while stealing a bell” to refer to the ignorance and foolishness of the person who deceives himself as well as others.

This idiomatic is quite insightful. It tells people that deceiving yourself to deceive others will only result to a cycle of lies that will self-destruct in the end. It portrays the digital world perfectly. The next time you caught a person lying through their teeth trying to manipulate people. You can undoubtedly say, “they are plugging their ears while stealing a bell.”

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