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背后 is used to mean "behind one's back" both literally:

你要是口渴,在门背后你能找到水。
If you're thirsty, behind the door you can find water.
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and figuratively (in the sense of backstabbing):

她伪称喜欢你,但在背后批评你。
She falsely states she likes you, but behind [your] back criticizes you.
Jukuu.com

I'm not sure if this is purely coincidental.

Question: How did 背后 come to mean "behind one's back" both literally and figuratively, like in English?

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背后(behind) is a compound word made up of [背 = back/ back side (n)] + [后 = behind (preposition)]

背 in 背后 can refer to "the back" (背脊) of a person

e.g. 在你后批评你

背 here refers to your back (背脊)

Although 背 here literally mean one's back, it is used as a metaphor for "place you cannot see = instances unknown to you "

~

背 in 背后 can also refer to "the back side"(背面) of an object

e.g. 在门背

背 here refers to the back side of the door (门背面)

In this case, the meaning of "背" (the back side) is completely literal

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  • While I don't want to seem unappreciative, I'm asking about the etymology of 背后. It's surprising that both its literal and figurative meanings match those in English. – Becky 李蓓 Mar 4 at 1:25
  • @Becky 李蓓 When something happened behind one's back, that person cannot see it. It is logical to use it figuratively for "place you cannot see = instances unknown to you" which I have stated in my answer . It is true in all language, including English – Tang Ho Mar 4 at 1:40
  • Don't think you mean the etymology. Ask Drooze about that! 背 bei has something to do with facing south and 后 is a person giving orders. Tang Ho is right. Why does it surprise you that “behind my back" has this meaning in Chinese? People are people! 你不要在背后捣鬼! – Pedroski Mar 4 at 10:56
  • @Pedroski “etymology” is correct, we try to use glyph-origin for graphical origins of characters. – dROOOze Mar 4 at 12:28
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Yes, 背後 can mean did somethings without your knowledge or secretly. For example, 小心他可能在背後捅你一刀。 (Watch out, he may backstab you.) In this example 在背後捅你一刀 shared similar meaning of backstab. And it is one of usage of 背後, it means did somethings without your knowledge or secretly. While 捅你一刀 stands for harm you.

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