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Stepping Stones Lesson Ten

Audio Immersion  |  Audio Practice  |  Vocabulary Study  |  Vocabulary Review
Reading Practice  |  Exercises  |  Stepping Stones Home

The Old Frontiersman Loses His Horse

Study the vocabulary for one line of the story along with the English translation of that line. You may want to go back to the previous step so you can listen to the line and practice reading it aloud. When you can read the line comfortably and with full comprehension, go on to the next line.


The Old Frontiersman Loses His Horse


Long ago, on the northern frontier, there was an


elder with a deep understanding of human affairs,


and the people called him Old Frontiersman.


One day, the horse kept by his household


for an unknown reason


ran off to the lands of the barbarians,


where there was no way to retrieve it.


The neighbors heard this,


and they all came to comfort the Old Frontiersman.


The Old Frontiersman wasn’t the least upset, and said:


“This perhaps is a good thing.”


After a few months,


his family’s horse found its way,


and ran back on its own.


Additionally, from the barbarians’ lands,


it brought back another fine horse.


The neighbors all came to offer congratulations.


But the Old Frontiersman said,


“This is not necessarily a good thing.”


Because his household had two fine horses,


the Old Frontiersman’s son


would often go out to ride them.


One time he was not careful,


and he fell from his horse


and broke his legs.


When the neighbors heard of this,


they all felt terrible for the Old Frontiersman.


The Old Frontiersman said yet again:


“Actually, it’s possible this may be a good thing.”


No one believed the Old Frontiersman.


After a year,


the barbarians marched to attack the frontier.


The king dispatched troops to counterattack.


Of the Old Frontiersman’s neighbors who went to the front line,


Eight or nine of ten never returned.


But as for the Old Frontiersman’s son,


it was on account of his broken leg,


that his life was spared.


New Vocabulary

Click on any character to see how it is written. Click on any character's pinyin to hear how it is pronounced.

While learning to write the characters is not essential to learning to read them, it helps a lot and is highly recommended. Practice writing each yourself 5-10 times, being careful to follow the stroke order shown in the animation.

(n.) fort; (n.) cork, (v.) to cork; (n.) blockage, (v.) to block
(n.) old man
(v.) to lose
(n.) horse
(adj.) deep
(v.) to cut apart; to understand
(n.) thing, affair, matter
(n.) human affairs
(n.) village head; elder
(n.) cause; reason
(v.) to run
(n.) (northern) barbarians (i.e.: the Mongols)
n. land
(n.) way, method, technique
(v.) to look for, to search
(v.) to return
v. to comfort
mW for 事(things, affairs, matters)
to recognize
(v.) to bring (along)
mW for 马(horses)
not necessarily
because of
(adj.) often
(v.) to ride (a horse)
be careful
(v.) to fall
(n.) leg
(v.) to break
(n.) reality
grow up
(adv.) mutual
(v.) to believe; (n.) faith, trust
to believe
(v.) to think; would like
(n.) year
(n.) military, army
(v.) to attack
(v.) to hit, to punch, to strike
to attack
(n.) master, troop(s)
(n.) line
formal version of 的
(adj.) reverse, backwards
(conj.) and yet (contrary to expectations)
on the contrary
(v.) to protect
(adj.) whole, complete
(n.) life, order, command
save life; survive

Vocabulary Notes

塞翁失马 is a 成语(chéngyǔ), or Classical Chinese Idiom. 成语 are commonly used in everyday life situations to explain complex situations with remarkable brevity. This 成语 does not have a direct literal equivalent. The closest English equivalent is “a blessing in disguise.” More accurately, this expression is used to denote that things are not always as they seem. The Old Frontiersman lost his horse, but this lost ended up as a gain.

What is 塞北?

塞 means a defensive fort or garrison. 塞北 literally means “north of the fort,” but it is a general expression for the northern frontier. In this 成语, the “fort” in question is actually the Great Wall of China, which has many defensive outposts. These outposts, and the Great Wall itself, were built to guard against the “Northern Barbarians,” namely the Mongolians.

深 is an adjective meaning “deep.” This can be applied literally and figuratively. 深 also means deep/dark when talking about colors.

事 is a difficult word to translate. It means “a thing” (that happened), an affair (to manage or handle), a matter (to attend to). This is an extremely common Chinese word, so it is best to acquaint yourself with this word sooner rather than later. 事 has the measure word 件.

多音字:In Chapter 9 we covered a few characters with multiple pronunciations. In Chapter 10, there are also multiple 多音字, although only one reading for each is required to understand this chapter. Please refer to the vocabulary section to see the 多音字。Please take note that even the same reading of a character may have different meanings (e.g.: 才 meaning “not until”; 才 meaning “(literary) talents”).

匹 is a the measure word for horses.

说不定 means that something is unclear. One can’t say for certain or, “this could possible be.”

难过 means “to feel upset” about something.

原因 means “reason” or “cause.”

Once you've studied the vocabulary and can read each line of the story with comprehension, you are ready to go on to the next step.