dǎ cǎo jīng shé (da cao jing she)
beat the grass to startle the snake (act rashly and alert the enemy)

During the Tang dynasty, there lived a corrupt county magistrate named Wang Lu. The people made an indirect attack on him by accusing his bookkeeper of embezzlement. Without thinking Wang wrote, "By merely beating the grass, you have startled the snake within".

Conversely, describes the stratagem of launching a brief, direct attack to get the enemy to reveal their strategy.

When you cannot detect the opponent's plans launch a direct, but brief, attack and observe your opponent reactions. His behavior will reveal his strategy.


Do something unaimed, but spectacular ("hitting the grass") to provoke a response of the enemy ("startle the snake"), thereby giving away his plans or position, or just taunt him. Do something unusual, strange, and unexpected as this will arouse the enemy's suspicion and disrupt his thinking. More widely used as "[Do not] startle the snake by hitting the grass". An imprudent act will give your position or intentions away to the enemy.

Qin Dynasty

The notorious eunuch Zhao Gao is credited with helping to bring down the house of Qin ending China’s first and shortest imperial dynasty. After the first emperor died he conspired with the chief minister Li Si to dispose of the legitimate heir to the throne and install a weak and corrupt puppet emperor Huhei. (See Chapter 14) Having established his influence over the young emperor, Zhao Gao was nervous about possible opposition from the other ministers of state. So he devised a test to see which ones would be faithful to him. One day he brought a stag into the court and presented it to the emperor explaining that it was a horse.

"You’re mistaken, Prime Minister”, said the emperor, “You’ve called a stag a horse.”

Zhao Gao turned to the other ministers present and asked them whether it was a horse or stag. Some kept silent, others in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the true power behind the throne agreed it was a horse, and still others said it was a stag. The emperor was under Zhao Gao’s control to such a degree that he believed he was going insane and that the stag really was a horse. Meanwhile, one of Zhao Gao’s spies was recording the answers given by each of the ministers. Afterwards, Zhao Gao secretly framed charges against all those who had said it was a stag and had them executed.

Song Dynasty China

One day, in the county of Jian-zhou, there was a man who lost a precious object. The local magistrate Chen Shu-ku, was called in to investigate. He questioned several people, but no one could tell him who the thief was. So Magistrate Chen laid a trap for those he suspected. "I know of a temple," he told them, "whose bell has great spiritual power that can tell a thief from an honest man. Since my investigation is at a standstill we must employ the supernatural powers of the bell to solve the matter." The magistrate had the bell brought to the courthouse and displayed in the rear chamber. Then he had the suspects brought in to testify to their guilt or innocence. He explained to them that if an innocent man touched the bell it would remain silent, but, if a guilty man touched the bell it would ring out. After lighting incense and chanting prayers, the magistrate had curtains erected around the bell. Previously he had instructed one of his assistants to secretly smear ink on the bell after the curtains were closed. Each suspect was then told to place his hand through the curtain and touch the bell. As they withdrew their hands Chen would examine them. Everyone's hands were stained except those of one man, who confessed to the theft. He did not touch the bell for fear it would ring.

Tang Dynasty

In the year 627 BC, Qin general Meng Mingshi led his forces to attack the state of Zheng bordered by Jin. Before he set off, Qin's top advisor Qian Shu cautioned him, "Beware of enemy ambushes when you pass Mount Xiao in Jin."

The Qin troops arrived at Mount Xiao. He was about to order his troops to advance when his two assistant generals Xi Qi and Bai Yi warned him: "We are attacking Zheng after Hua. The overlord of state of Jin won't like this. Now that we are at Mount Xiao we should be careful." "Mount Xiao is a dangerous place. We should search out its paths to make sure it's safe."

Meng Mingshi did not think it was neccessary to take precautions. Upon seeing some Jin's troops, Meng Mingshi ordered his troops to charge to finish them off. The Jin troops disappeared and the mountain path was sealed off.

Meng Mingshi ordered the Jin flag to be brought down. As the flag fell, war cries broke out. Qin's troops were encircled by the Jin forces and slaughtered.

Meaning: 打草惊了草里的蛇。原比喻惩罚了甲而使乙有所警觉。后多比喻做法不谨慎,反使对方有所戒备。

Context: 宋·郑文宝《南唐近事》:“王鲁为当涂宰,颇以资产为务,会部民连状诉主簿贪贿于县尹。鲁乃判曰:‘汝虽打草,吾已惊蛇。’”

Example: 空自去“~”,倒吃他做了手脚,却是不好。 ◎明·施耐庵《水浒全传》第二十九回

Synonyms: 操之过急、因小失大

Antonyms: 欲擒故纵、引蛇出洞

Grammar: 连动式;作谓语、定语、宾语;含贬义,多用于否定句

疑以叩实①,察而后动; 复者,阴之媒也②。


①疑以叩实:叩,问,查究。意为发现了疑点就应 当考实查究清楚。














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