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The two idioms appear multiple times in the news stories of Xinhua News Agency and other official media of Chinese governments.

But there seem no direct explanation of them in Chinese, but I guess Chinese people all know about them without being told. I think they try to illustrate something like strong determination, but "to leave your footprint on a rock" (rough translation, probably wrong) doesn't make sense in real life, does it?

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There is a Baidu Baike article about it:

常作褒义词应用,与“蜻蜓点水”一词互为反义。一般是用以形容人的工作扎实,不管干什么工作都能留下自己业绩。应用中常与“踏石留印”连用,如:要让“踏石留印,抓铁有痕”成为我们推进各项工作的“规定动作”,而且要成为一种“工作常态”,使实效见诸“终端”。形容做事情不达目标不罢休,有坚持到底,做就要做好的精神。

It is a figurative way of saying a person would leave solid results in his work.

"He can even leave footmarks when he is walking on a stone"

  • Dragonfly touching water is easy to understand, but the opposite meaning seems to derive from something impossible for a human being. – NanningYouth Sep 19 '17 at 12:08
  • That's why it is called figurative. – fefe Sep 19 '17 at 12:38
  • And by the way, this expression is fairly new. It only appeared for a few years. – fefe Sep 19 '17 at 12:40
  • They must have been made by the think tank of the great leaders. And Chinese readers mind more the rhythm of the phrases than their real meanings. – NanningYouth Sep 20 '17 at 13:42
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抓铁有痕: The original meaning is that a person who catches a piece of steel can leave a deep impression. 踏石留印 :The original meaning is that a person can leave a mark on a hard stone. 抓铁有痕,踏石留印:"If you want to do something, you have to do it well."

  • It is not difficult to understand the face meanings, but why do Chinese people say things like that? Is it possible for a person to do such things? Even Jackie Chan himself is unable to do so, right? – NanningYouth Sep 19 '17 at 11:58
  • @NanningYouth Exaggeration dude. Just like "I believe I can fly. I believe can touch the sky". Nobody can fly. Nobody can touch the sky. There's no sky at all, only air. – Kevman Sep 30 '17 at 4:26
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As fefe quoted from Baidu, it's a figurative.

It emphasizes 3 key aspects of doing things:

  1. One's determination;
  2. One's perseverance;
  3. Result orientation;
  • Who do you think can do this by leaving impression on iron or footprints on a rock? What is the story behind these? – NanningYouth Sep 19 '17 at 12:01
  • I don't know its origin. I think it's the same concept as 水滴石穿 and 铁杵磨针. Every one knows it's very hard, but one still wants to do it. It denotes one's determination. In order to achieve "foot prints on a rock", you have to keep doing it till that day comes. That shows one's perseverance and result orientation. – dan Sep 19 '17 at 22:33
  • And I believe you could make it if you did it to one place everyday. lol – dan Sep 19 '17 at 23:12
  • In the idioms you provided, there seemd to have the doers of the act, like in the case of raindrop, it is the view seen by a painter (he has his name given but I do not have time to search), and in the case of needle, it is Li Bai the poet when he was young. But for the expressions I ask for help, they are groundless. And by the way, I will not do as you say to kill time. I have things more meaningful to do. – NanningYouth Sep 20 '17 at 13:39

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