Chinese Idiom Stories for Software Professionals: #28 Climb a tree to Catch fish (缘木求鱼)

No chance to succeed if picking the wrong direction and adopting the wrong approach.

Zhimin Zhan
3 min readAug 7, 2022


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This article is one of the “Chinese Idiom Stories for Software Professionals” series.

The Story

The story is recorded in “The works of Mencius”, ~300BC.

During the Warring States Period in ancient China, King Qixuan wanted to conquer other kingdoms. the famous philosopher Mencius persuaded King Qixuan to renounce the use of force, and stated that “conquering the hearts of the people is the best policy”.

Mencius asked the King: “Why do you mobilize the national army to attack other countries?”

The King replied: “To satisfy my greatest desire.”

Mencius asked: “What is your greatest desire?”

The king smiled and did not answer. Mencius then asked: “Is it that you still haven’t possessed enough valuable things? Or is it that you are not contented with the number of people who listen to and serve you?”

The King quickly said: “No, no, it’s not about these.”

Mencius said: “Ok, I see. You want to conquer the world, don’t you? If this is your goal, I would assure you that it will be like climbing trees to catch fish, you will not achieve your goal. If you don’t take this advice, the consequence will be catastrophic.”

Qi Xuanwang believed in Mencius. He gave up the desire to dominate the world. Instead, he focused on improving the standards of domestic affairs. The Kingdom became the most prosperous country at that time.

The Meaning

This idiom indicates that you will never succeed if you pick the wrong direction and adopt the wrong approach to do things, just like climbing up a tree to catch fish.

Examples in Software Development

Nowadays, almost every software project is claimed to adopt the Agile method, some are even added DevOps. CIOs like to talk about “Release Early; Release Often” on the stage. In reality, most software projects conduct testing the same…



Zhimin Zhan

Test automation & CT coach, author, speaker and award-winning software developer. Help teams succeed with Agile/DevOps by implementing real Continuous Testing.