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Idioms Lesson 39
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Mend the fold after a sheep is lost

During the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), the State of Chu became less powerful during the reign of King Xiang. The king and his important court officials were dissolute and incompetent and indulged themselves in luxury and excessive pleasure. Zhuang Xin, one of the ministers, foresaw that the country would soon be in danger. One day, he remonstrated with the king: "Your Majesty, wherever you go, you're always surrounded by people who flatter you. They do everything to make you happy so that you forget to tend to state affairs. If you go on like this, sooner or later, the country will perish."

The King of Chu flew into a rage. "How dare you! You even use such vicious words to curse my country and mean to arouse resentment among the people!" Zhuang Xin explained, "I dare not curse the State of Chu. But I really have a premonition that Chu is facing great danger." Seeing that the king was especially fond of those corrupt officials and trusted them in everything, the minister thought Chu was bound for extinction. So he asked the king to let him leave Chu. He wanted to go to the State of Zhao and stay there for a while.

The king gave him the leave. Five months later, the King of Qin sent his troops to invade Chu and occupied a large tract of its territory. The King of Chu himself went into exile. Now, the king remembered Zhuang Xin's words. He sent his men to fetch him. Seeing Zhuang Xin again, the king asked him, "What can I do now?"

Zhuang Xin replied, "It's not too late if you mend the sheepfold when finding a sheep is missing." He then made some good suggestions to rehabilitate the state and recover the lost land. The king was very pleased.

The idiom "Mend the fold after a sheep is lost" comes from Zhuang Xin's answer to the king. We still use this metaphor to advise someone that even when he has made a mistake and suffered losses, he can still remedy it by drawing lessons from the mistake.

wáng yáng bǔ láo


       楚王大怒:“大胆!你居然用这样恶毒的话来诅咒我的国家,蓄意挑起人民的不满!” 庄辛解释说:“我不敢诅咒楚国,但我可以预言楚国正面临着巨大的危险。” 庄辛见楚王如此宠信那些腐败的大臣,相信楚国必定要亡国。于是他请求楚王让他离开楚国,到赵国居住一段时间。




tiān yá hăi jiăo
end of the earth; remotest corners of the earth

shān qióng shuǐ jìn
where the mountains and the rivers end – be at the end of one's rope or resources; be in predicament

dǐng tiān lì dì
of titanic, noble stature; of the highest order; of dauntless spirit

kōng qián jué hòu
unprecedented and unrepeatable; unique

wú qióng wú jìn
infinite; boundless; endless; limitless

yīng yŏu jìn yŏu
have everything that one expects to find

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