There are plenty of Chinese idioms with references to the dog. In many of these canine-associated idioms, the Chinese do not seem to have good or kind words for dogs. In fact, “the dog” is victimised or is blamed for causing chaos, and is thought to be condescending and even a traitor.
Sinologist Dr Lai Kuan Fook, 80, explains: “Generally the Chinese are fond of dogs which they consider as faithful and loyal. However, some Chinese idioms associated with the dog tell of its shortcomings. Some idioms convey the message of condemning others or indicating that a person is contemptuous, unscrupulous or behaving worse than an animal!
The idiom Gou yao lu dong bin (Dog bites Lu Dongbin) is suggestive of someone who does not recognise a good person (like the kind-hearted Lu Dongbin) and misunderstands his intentions, Lai said.
(Lu Dongbin was a Tang Dynasty Chinese scholar and poet. He was elevated to the status of an immortal and worshipped by the Taoists. One of the Eight Immortals and de facto leader, he had a genuine desire to help people obtain wisdom or enlightenment.)
The most insulting idiom, Lai said, has to be the reference of someone as a running dog. The idiom, Han jian zou gou, tells of a traitor who works for the enemy or is the enemy’s lackey.
Chinese brush painter Simon Chan, 67, says there is a Chinese idiom similar to “Look before you leap”. The idiom, Da gou kan zhu (Before hitting dog, see who is the master) is a cue to be careful when dealing with bad hats. You don’t want to mess with the leader!
Lang xin gou fei (Wolf’s heart, dog’s lungs) is an idiom about a brutal and ill-hearted person. “It is also to describe a heartless and unmerciful person who is worse than an animal!” said Chan.
Gou kou li sheng bu chu xiang ya (The dog’s mouth cannot grow elephant’s tusks) is to tell you not to expect compliments from a rascal.
When someone indirectly scolds another. this Chinese idiom comes to mind: Zhi ji ma gou (Point at the chicken but scold the dog). “It means someone is scolding or talking bad about B but A is actually the target,” he said.
And if someone says that a person has Zhu peng gou you (Friends of pigs and dogs), he is bad mouthing another for “associating with friends who are jobless and lazy!”
A popular idiom advising a married woman to resign to her fate is: Jia ji sui ji, jia gou sui gou. The idiom means, “After marriage, for better or worse, the woman has to follow her destiny for her entire life.”
Here is a compilation of idioms that reference the dog by Chinese brush painter Simon Chan.
Bai yun cang gou
White cloud, grey dog
Like the cloud that changes its shape, this idiom describes the impermanence of all things.
Cang gong peng gou
After winning, beat the dog
After the victory, the leader discards, abandons or even kills his aides.
Da lou shui gou
Beat a drowning dog
Continue to strike the enemies even after defeating them.
Dou ji zou gou
Fighting cockerel and racing dogs
Tells of people engaging in meaningless activities.
Gou ji tiao qiang
A dog in distress jumps over the wall
When cornered, one has to do something unexpected for survival.
Gou tou jun shi
Dog head strategist
A lousy strategist or advisor who gives irrelevant advice.
Gou xie lin tou
Dog’s blood pour over head
It describes a person who gets a terrible verbal lashing; to curse or berate.
Gou yan kan ren
See people with dog’s eyes
When the master despises others, the dog will follow by example. This idiom can be interpreted to mean that the servant emulates his master’s condescending behaviour particularly towards the poor and downtrodden.
Gua yang tou, mai gou rou
Display goat head but sell dog meat instead
Someone who pretends to do something good but is actually up to no good. This idiom targets unscrupulous traders who sell merchandise that are not as advertised.
Hu peng gou you
Fox friends, dog friends
A clique of bad company.
Tu si gou peng
After the rabbit is dead, cook the dog
After a mission is accomplished, all who helped are dispensable.
A gou a mao
A dog, a cat
Low and worthless people
Diao bu zu, gou wei xu
Shortage of minks, dog’s tails will do.
Fulfil the shortage of quality goods with second-grade ones.
Ji fei gou jiao
Chicken flying, dogs barking
A messy situation.
Ren mian gou xin
Human face but animal heart
A person who looks good outwardly but has low mentality.
Sang jia zhi gou
The dog has lost its master
An insulting phrase to say that a person has lost his dependence.
Yao ren gou er bu lu chi
Fierce dog doesn’t bare its teeth
A capable person who never shows off.
Yin gou ru zhai
Let dog into your house
Bringing the enemy home or inviting trouble.