Chinese chengyu – 談虎色變

Chinese chengyu – 談虎色變

The chéngyǔ 谈虎色变 (tán hǔ sè biàn) is broken down in into the four words –  talk to(谈tán ) tiger (虎hǔ) color (色sè) change (变biàn). This is often translated to “one’s expression changes when ‘tiger’ is mentioned.’’

Once upon a time, there was man talking to his fellow villagers (村民 cūnmín) about the dangers of tigers. The storyteller went into great detail about all the ways a tiger could injure a man.In the crowd was a man who had previously been attacked by a tiger and almost lost his life. Hearing the storyteller just mention the word ‘tiger,’ the man’s face turned pale (苍白 cāngbái) and he felt a deep sense of dread.

The current meaning of 谈虎色变 (tán hǔ sè biàn) is to become pale and frightened the instant a certain danger is mentioned. Modern examples typically don’t include Tigers as many dangerous scenarios, like natural disasters, or personal dangers, like bullies.


谈虎色变 (tán hǔ sè biàn) Vocabulary

Chinese Pinyin English
tán to talk to
color/ face
biàn to change
村民 cūnmín villagers
苍白 cāngbái pale

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