Pointing the mulberry tree cursing the locust tree 指桑骂槐

It is another example of a borrowed metaphor, which uses an object to convey a subtle message. It is similar to the proverb “spitting sand at the shadow 含沙射影” of yesterday’s blog.


指桑骂槐 (zhǐ sāng mà huái) literally means pointing at the mulberry tree but cursing the locust tree.

It is the 26th stratagems of the famous 36 strategems  (三十六計), which I would call “36 smart ass strategies”. These strategies are not intended for military or commercial uses, but for unorthodox uses or for deceiving others.   

it is a very straight forward proverb, which can be summarised as some one pointed at and criticised a mulberry tree, but as a matter of fact he was criticising a locust tree. Or in actual situation, you are scolding person A but in fact you are scolding person B. 

It is applicable when a person intends to criticize another person more senior than him or to whom he has a special relation to name yet antoher person as the subject in order to avoid direct confrontation or retaliation.


innuendo, insinuation,


  • in politics (Chávez called ex Spanish Prime Minister, José María Aznar, a fascist at the 2007 Ibero America Summit, but the comments were intended for Spanish Prime Minister Zaptero )
  • in family affars (a mother- in-law critises a friend’s daughter-in-law in front of her daughter-in-law)

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