I am looking for a chengyu dictionary with the following caracteristics:

  • the stories behind the chengyus in englis (or with chinese too), long, not just one or two sentence
  • explanation, when and how to use
  • example sentences/conversations (in chinese and english)
  • listed in frequency order (optional)

500 Common Chinese Idioms: An Annotated Frequency Dictionary would be a nice one but with long stories.

If anyone know this book please let me know!



5 Answers 5


Swooping in eight years later, but I recently developed a free chengyu website that does almost everything you're looking for — and more. It's called the Laowai's Unofficial Chengyu Guide, and it includes:

  • Stories behind the chengyu (where relevant, since not all chengyu have stories)
  • Literal and figurative meanings / explanations of how to use the chengyu
  • Usage examples
  • English equivalents (for example, if a chengyu directly equates with an English expression like "to kill two birds with one stone")
  • Chinese equivalents (for example, if there's more than one "spelling" of a chengyu
  • The work from which the chengyu originated
  • Commentary that helps explain important cultural and historical context for the chengyu

I'm developing the site myself as a way to keep up with my language skills after I got a job unrelated to Chinese, so there are only a couple hundred entries right now, but I'm planning on doing 1,000.

Hope this helps!

Edit: Here's a sample entry:

拔苗助长 Meaning
To pull seedlings [out of the ground] to help them grow

When someone is impatient for something and tries to hurry things along, only to have the results turn out to be the opposite of what they wanted


Usage Examples
用这种方法教育下一代无异于拔苗助长 | Yòng zhè zhǒng fāngfǎ jiàoyù xiàyīdài wúyìyú bámiáozhùzhǎng | To educate the young generation in such a way is no different than pulling up seedlings to help them grow

强制生育则是不可能的,并且就像拔苗助长一样会适得其反 | Qiángzhì shēngyù zé shì bù kěnéng de, bìngqiě jiù xiàng bámiáozhùzhǎng yīyàng huì shìdéqífǎn | Forcing people to have children is impossible, and it would as counterproductive as pulling up seedlings to help them grow

Haste makes waste

揠苗助长 (yà miáo zhù zhǎng)

Entry Notes
This is an HSK chengyu

《孟子》(Mèng Zǐ), a classic Confucian work written by the philosopher of the same name. The work is often known in English as "The Book of Mencius."

A long time ago, there was a farmer who was worried that his rice crops were growing too slowly. He made a point of checking on them every morning, but it never seemed like they'd gotten any taller. When he realized that his neighbors' crops were starting to grow taller than his, he began to truly despair, and he vowed to find a way to move things along more quickly.

One morning, he was struck with a fantastic idea. He rushed down to the fields and started tugging all of the new growth so that their roots sat a little higher in the soil. He worked hard for the entire day, and when night finally started to fall, he returned home and proudly told his family about how he'd helped the sprouts grow.

Immediately, his son looked up in horror. A moment later, he leapt to his feet and hurried out to see the fields. Sure enough, all of the sprouts had withered and died, and the entire crop was lost.

  • Thanks, it looks great! I love it!
    – Stone
    Commented Jul 10, 2022 at 20:13

I can recommend a book by 馮國超. My edition is from Taiwan and is simply called 成語故事, but the mainland edition is 中華成語故事, both from 2005 and in two volumes (with illustrations.) The Taiwan publisher is 代表作國際圖書.

In this book, each chengyu has a separate page. There is a small box explaining the four characters, basically restating the saying in contemporary language. The main text always begins by citing the source (這則成語出自 “史記 . 趙世家”, for example) and often includes a bit of the original in Classical Chinese. It then goes on to tell the story in a few paragraphs.

This book is in Chinese only. It provides useful background information, for instance if an ancient state is mentioned in the chengyu, or if the author is a certain Tang-dynasty literatus, it will tell you about them. It seems to be aimed at high school or college students.


A really good site that I like:


Some of the chengyu are well detailed; others, less so.


  • Thanks, it looks five but this time I would prefer a real book.
    – Stone
    Commented Nov 21, 2014 at 20:10

There are thousands of chengyu, so I think we need to narrow down what you're using this for. If it's to employ in daily usage because you are learning Mandarin and want to come across as more authentic, I would recommend looking at HSK lists as those are likely to contain the most frequently used chengyu by the majority of Mandarin speakers. There are loads of them on the internet.

I also found a website you might like: http://www.chinesetimeschool.com/zh-cn/articles/list/cheng-yu-stories/

I searched 学习中文成语 and clicked on the first link.

Of course, it's not a physical book, but it does hit some of the characteristics you specified.

Also, if using the language is your goal, I would steer away from rote memorization and use something like Chinesepod.com or slow-chinese.com so you can learn the language in a dialogue and remember the dialogue. That is what works best for me!


I've been using the Duogongneng Chengyu Cidian for a while now, I'll give you two examples of what the entries look like:

鸡飞狗跳 ##

解释 形容因为恐惧而引起的非常混乱的情况。

语见 《痛史》十三回:“你看前两天那种搜索的样子,只就我们歇宿的那一家客寓,已经是闹得鸡飞狗走,鬼哭神号。"

例句 这伙少年到处惹是生非,搅得村里鸡飞狗跳。

近义 鸡犬不宁

反义 鸡犬不惊

辨析 鸡飞狗跳和鸡犬不宁,都有“惊慌混乱"的意思。鸡飞狗跳偏重于混乱得厉害,语义较重;鸡犬不宁偏重于骚扰得厉害,语义较轻。


解释 口渴时想到吃到梅子,流出口水,就不渴了。比喻用空想或空话来安慰自己或别人。也作“望梅消渴"。

语见 《水浒传》五一回:“雷横道:‘我赏你三五两银子也不打紧,却恨今日忘记带来。'白秀英道:‘官人今日见一文也无,提甚三五两银子。正是教俺望梅止渴,画饼充饥。'"

例句 如果现在丢开这些基本的书籍不认真苦读,一心想找秘本,只恐望梅止渴,无济于事。(马南邨《燕山夜话·有书赶快读》)

近义 画饼充饥

反义 把饭叫饥

提示 “渴"不要写作“喝"。

辨析 〔参见〕画饼充饥

典故 三国时期,有一次曹操率领军队行军,走到一个没有水的地方,士兵们口渴难忍。曹操就骗他们说:前面有片很大的梅树林,结了许多梅子,又甜又酸,可以解渴。士兵们听了,想起梅子的酸味,嘴里顿时流出口水,就不感到渴了。

VARIANTS 望梅消渴 wàng méi xiāo kě

Of course not all entries all have 解释, 语见, 例句, 近义, 反义, 提示, 辨析, 典故 and variants but the above should give you an idea of what this dictionary can do. Seems to fit your criteria.

edit: or perhaps the stories are not long enough...

  • It seems great, but with my current knowledge I need English translations.:(
    – Stone
    Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 11:54

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