Don't poke the bear/Let sleeping dogs lie

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New Member
Hello! I'm not looking for a literal translation but rather the Chinese (simplified or traditional) idiom which is equivalent to the English "don't poke the bear" or "let sleeping dogs lie."

This idiom is used as a way of saying "don't make it worse." For example, if an angry customer is asking about a return and a coupon they have (but aren't going to use) is expired you wouldn't offer them that information if they weren't asking about it. You wouldn't "poke the bear" and make the situation worse.
  • philchinamusical

    Senior Member
    Chinese-Mandarin and Shanghai dialect
    I'd say "别惹麻烦", which literally meaning "stay away from trouble".

    But given the case you present here, perhaps "别火上浇油" is better. That literally means "don't pour oil over fire".


    Senior Member
    Mandarin 國語
    別火上加油 Don't make matters worse.
    別拔草尋蛇 Let sleeping dogs lie.
    別在老虎頭上拍蒼蠅 Don't poke the bear.


    Given the examples you've made, I thought of one:




    New Member
    My coworker also suggested 别作妖 and 莫惹是非 but didn't offer roughly what they mean, but thought I'd add them.


    Senior Member
    Taiwanese Mandarin
    別作妖 sounds foreign.

    Most Taiwanese would find 莫惹是非 stilted. (莫 is seldom used that way in everyday life. 別惹是非 is perfectly natural and fine.)
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    Chinese-Mandarin and Shanghai dialect
    别作妖 and 莫惹是非
    “别作妖" sounds like belong to some southern dialects. It doesn't sound quite natural to people parts of China. Literally, I guess it means "don't make a drama".

    "莫惹是非" is a little bit classical Chinese style. I guess perhaps it's from some dialects too. However, "是非" means trouble too.


    Senior Member
    English, 中文
    This reminds me of a story/fable: 猴子救月. It's about a monkey that foolishly thought the moon was crumbling and decided to rescue it, but ended up getting hurt instead.

    Another saying, this one in Cantonese: 阿茂整餅 (冇嗰樣整嗰樣). A-Mao makes pastries, every kind imaginable, regardless of the need/demand (or lack thereof) for it. It's used to describe someone who takes on a meaningless task because they have nothing better to do.

    莫当着不着. 过犹不及则自讨苦吃.


    Senior Member
    I'd add other common colloquial expressions with similar usages:

    Literally: "Don't cause trouble when you are not in trouble."

    别犯欠 or 别犯贱
    犯欠 and 犯贱 means "delibrately causing trouble" in Northern dialects.

    Literally: "Don't add mouth" - No saying unnecessary words.
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