In Chinese Warring States period in state of Song, there lived a old man who liked monkeys and raised many of them at his yard. Though he was not rich, he did his best to feed his monkeys. Sometimes he would rather grudged himself his necessary food than let them go hungry. Since at spare time, he often talked with monkeys, in time he and his monkeys could understand each other very well.
One year, however, a serious famine hit the state of Song. The old man had no choice but to cut down the monkeys' feed. Being afraid of the monkey would be submit to him, he decided to play a trick. he told the monkeys, "From now on, I'll give each of you three chestnuts in the morning and four in the evening. Is that all right with you?"
As might be expected, learning that their ration was to be reduced, the monkeys rose up in a fury. So, the old man corrected himself at once.
"All right," he declared, "I'll give you four chestnuts in the morning and three at night then. "
All the monkeys lay on the floor, very happy with this proposal.
Background and Comment:
The idiom of Zhao San Mu Si was first from Zhuang Zi, an influential Chinese philosopher, who lived around the 4th century BC during the Warring States Period, a period corresponding to the philosophical summit of Chinese thought — the Hundred Schools of Thought.'s article Qi Wu Lun (齐物论), and was adapted into a story by Lie Zi (Lie Zi is a Daoist text attributed to Lie Yukou, a circa 5th century BCE Hundred Schools of Thought philosopher, but Chinese and Western scholars believe it was compiled around the 4th century CE). Originally, Zhuang Zi and Lie Zi used this story to illuminate the a clever ruler could utilize his wisdom to control and manipulate his people, as the old man did to his monkeys. But later, some also used it to taunt those who played tricks.
Old as this story is, its moral is still able to enlighten us. Now, we are bombed by a variety of economical marketing and political propaganda every day. We are often misled by the false impressions created by them. But in fact, just like the monkeys' feed, their essence and sometimes even appearance do not change at all.
Today, this idiom is frequently used, but its meaning has been altered a lot. People now use it to satirize those who often blow hot and cold, especially those who are very changeable in relationship. I don't know why this change occurred. A possible reason is that people may mix it up with another seemingly resembling idiom Zhao Qin Mu Chu (朝秦暮楚)。