Mandarin Chinese Idioms (1) 画蛇添足 To paint feet on a snake

In this post I will give you a Chengyu or 4 character idiom which will help you sound more fluent when speaking Mandarin and be able to understand more complex structures in intermediate reading passages.

Our first one will be: 画蛇添足


huà shé tiān zú

Lit. To paint feet on a snake

Meaning: To overdo something / To do something unnecessary to impress


This Chengyu is very famous.  It came about through a story of someone in a drawing competition who wanted to win.  In the competition he finished drawing the snake so quickly that he began drawing legs on it to show off.  He eventually lost the competition as the others then had a chance to finish.

It compares to our story of the tortoise and the hare/rabbit.

Use it in the following way:


wǒ de péngyou yīng le nàge bǐsài dànshi jíxù pǎo bù, tā huà shé tiān zú.

My friend won the race but continued running, he’s showing off / running unnecessarily / making a fool of himself

See this article for further reading:




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