This is the story behind the idiom 对牛弹琴. The story is quite simple but the characters used to tell it are (in my opinion) fairly advanced.  The idiom 对牛弹琴 is most commonly used to describe giving or talking about something to someone who is unappreciative. It is a very useful idiom and is one of those Chinese idioms that can be casually used in conversation. There are another couple of idioms used in the story that will be mentioned in the key words below.

There are also a couple of comprehension questions to see if you have understood the passage and also a voice recording of this passage being read by a Chinese TV host specifically for this website!

Key Words

A few words that might be useful to know before reading through.

如醉如痴- To be intoxicated by or to be entranced by.

竖起耳朵 – To prick up ones ears. Often used with 听 immediately after as in ‘to prick up ones ears and listen’.

动听 – You probably know 好听, but 动听 can also be used, although this is heard much less frequently.

Playing the Lute to a Cow

(Hover over the Chinese for pinyin)






Difficult translations

Here are a few sentences from the above passage translated into English.


We can translate this to “He had a deep understanding of music and played beautifully.”


“Although oxen can hear the instrument, they are simply unable to comprehend the concept of beautiful music.”


Using 有的 you can create sentences similar to the one above, it is a great way to form longer sentences.

“Some sounded like the buzzing of mosquitoes while others sounded like the bleating of lost calves”



Here are some comprehension questions for you to answer in the comment’s section below.

  1. 第一自然段,“如醉如痴”是什么意思?
  2. 仿照 “有的像嗡嗡的蚊蝇声,有的像迷路的小牛犊发出的叫声”,用 “有的像……有的像……”造句。

Comment below

If you have have comments or feedback or simply want to practice using some Chinese you have just learnt, comment below! Thanks for reading.