Chinese Idiom About Fickleness of Relationships: Birds Can Be Caught by A Net at The Door

"Birds can be caught by a net at the door" is used to describe the situation when those in power or in official positions face neglect from others after losing their authority. Later, it is also commonly used to depict the scenario of businesspeople facing a lack of customers due to poor business or a deserted establishment.

This idiom, originating from the stories of two virtuous individuals in the Han Dynasty, Jí and Zheng, highlights the stark change in social attention before and after their official roles. As narrated in "Records of the Grand Historian - Biographies of Jí and Zheng," during their time in office, numerous guests visited them, but once they stepped down, nobody sought their company. Similarly, In Xiagui, Zhai Gong, during his initial appointment as Magistrate, experienced a flood of visitors daily, seeking his favor and eager to greet him. The entrance was so crowded with those wanting to pay their respects that it seemed as though they were blocking the very gates. However, when Zhai Gong was dismissed from his official post, those who had once flattered him vanished, leaving the gates eerily quiet, suitable for setting nets to catch birds.  Later, upon Zhai Gong's reinstatement to his role as Magistrate, the opportunistic guests returned, hoping to pay him visits once again. Having gained profound insight into the capricious nature of human relationships and the unpredictable twists of fate, Magistrate Zhai Gong inscribed on his gate, "Through life and death, true friendships are revealed; in poverty and wealth, the essence of companionship is understood; whether high or low in status, genuine bonds become apparent." Both Jì and Zhèng shared sense of lamentation

Chinese Idiom About Fickleness of Relationships: Birds Can Be Caught by A Net at The Door

In the aftermath of the failed reforms and resignation of Wang Anshi during the Song Dynasty, those who once followed him avoided admitting that they were his students, embodying the stark reality of "birds can be caught by a net at the door." However, after Wang Anshi's death, when posthumous honors were bestowed upon him and he was revered in temples, those who used to avoid admitting they had learned from him now proudly claimed to be his students. Such a stark contrast truly reveals the fickleness of human relationships.  

One can imagine the luminaries of their time experiencing bustling scenes with crowded doorways and constant streams of people. Yet, without undergoing the trials of life and death, how could they fathom the true depth of human sentiments? Without witnessing the disparities of wealth and poverty, how could they comprehend the nuances of human attitudes? Only by enduring the tests of privilege and adversity can one truly perceive the genuine bonds among people. 

In the present day, aside from its historical usage, "birds can be caught by a net at the door" is employed to depict scenarios where businesses suffer, lacking customers, or individuals experience a lack of visitors due to unfavorable social connections. In this technologically advanced era, interpersonal interactions have evolved significantly, and any form of interaction, regardless of purpose, ultimately undergoes the test of time to reveal its true nature. 

  • The antonym of "birds can be caught by a net at the door" is "the doorways bustling as if a market."
  • Despite indicating a lack of visitors, "birds can be caught by a net at the door" is surprisingly applicable to those secluded in Zen meditation.
  • During the pandemic, restaurants experienced a virtual absence of customers, with "birds can be caught by a net at the door" becoming a common occurrence.

Written by Bubu
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