Classical Chinese philosophy and stories: Adding feet to a snake (画蛇添足)


In the ancient State of Chu, after the ceremony of offering sacrifices to the ancestors, a noble man rewarded a jug of wine to hsi retainers. The retainers accepted the wine, and some thought that a jug of wine was not enough for all of them. They came up with an idea to hold a snake drawing competition and the winner who can draw a snake in the fastest speed can have the wine. Everyone agreed with the idea.

Thus all retainers started to draw snake on the ground with wood sticks. A man who had first completed drawing a snake took the wine and he found out that all other people were still drawing attentively, he thought that it may take some time for others to complete their drawings, thus he took up the stick and planned to add feet to the snake.

As when the man was back drawing again, another retainer finished drawing a snake and took the wine from the hand of the first man and said “a snake does not have any feet, anyhow, you lose the game as you are still drawing, I am the winner”.

Adding feet to a snake (画蛇添足) is often used in Chinese to describe the addition of the unnecessary things which only makes the situation and original plan become worse.

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