People use the idiom 杀人如麻 all the time but hemp is no longer a familiar scene to most people, and I doubt anyone ever saw a hemp in his whole life. Exactly what mental imagery is 麻 supposed to invoke?

  • bkrs:[kill people like flies; commit innumerable murders; decimate the population] 形容杀人极多 朝避猛虎, 夕避长蛇。 磨牙吮血, 杀人如麻。 --唐·李白《蜀道难》 这是一个杀人如麻的惯匪,【释义】如麻:象乱麻一样数不清。杀死的人多得象乱麻。形容杀的人多得数不清。 【近义】嗜血成性、斩尽杀绝 【反义】救死扶伤 如麻 : 1) 形容杂乱。e。g。心乱如麻 2) 形容密集、多。e。g。屋漏如麻 雨脚如麻 also note generic name for hemp, flax etc; hemp or flax fiber for textile materials; sesame; CL:缕[lu:3]; (of materials) rough or coarse; pocked; pitted; to have pins and needles or tingling; to feel numb; surname Ma 小马词典 has 138 compounds using 麻
    – user6065
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 15:57
  • Thanks, but no dictionary definition can help. My guess is it depicts the chaotic scene of hemp field when hemp plants were mowed down by scythe. Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 16:12
  • 1
    杀人如麻 is one of many 成语 starting with 杀人如, some others involving more familiar plants, see e.g. zuciwang.com/zhuanti/… 【杀人如藨】杀人像割草一样。形容把杀人不当一回事。 【杀人如草】形容杀人多,极轻视人命。 【杀人如蒿】形容杀的人多得数不清。同“杀人如麻”。 【杀人如芥】芥:小草。杀人像割草。形容杀人不当一回事。 【杀人如麻】如麻:象乱麻一样数不清。杀死的人多得象乱麻。形容杀的人多得数不清。 【视人如伤】把百姓当作有伤病的人一样照顾。旧时形容在位者关怀人民。同“视民如伤”。and more
    – user6065
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 16:53
  • I see. I've been mistaken all my life. It describes the unscrupulous attitude of the killer, not the numerousness of the killed. Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 17:27
  • @GeorgeChen, you are not wrong with your original thought. Refer to my answer.
    – dan
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 18:45

2 Answers 2


In 杀人如麻, 杀人: killing people; 如: 'like'; 麻(hemp): 乱麻(Baidu translates it as 'habijabi').

乱麻 is like this picture:

enter image description here

Can you count how many lines of 麻 in this picture??? If you can't, Can you imagine the same number of people were killed? That's what 杀人如麻 describes here.


in literatures of yore, the term "殺人如*" has several variations.

in 陳拾遺集卷九


in 太白詩 白馬篇


in 建炎以來繫年要錄 卷四


i would make a mental image of "殺人如麻" as "killing people like mowing hemps". such metaphor would be:

sickle - the sword, knife

mowing - killing (people) without considerations, massively

when mowing hemps, or grasses, no one spend time to examine particular grass, appreciate it's beauty; or consider the rationale of mowing.

hemps - life is worthless, without value

well, in mowing, one would consider cutting / clearing as many hemps / grasses as possible, with minimum efforts.

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