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Calling a deer a horse

An ambitious senior statesman, Zhao Gao, wanted to snatch the emperor’s power.

But first he had to find out which ministers would support him. How to do it?

Zhao Gao had an idea. 

He led a deer into the emperor’s presence and said: “This is a horse.”

Everyone stared at him.

The emperor was confused. “That’s a deer,” he said.

Zhao Gao turned to the ministers for their opinion. Some looked him in the eye and agreed: “It’s a horse.” 

Other sided with the emperor. “It’s a deer,” they said. Several ministers declined to answer the question at all.

Now Zhao Gao knew the loyalties of all the ministers. He quietly arranged to have those who opposed him to be sidelined or executed.

THE INCIDENT DESCRIBED above happened more than two millennia ago, during the Qin Dynasty. The devious Zhao Gao was eventually assassinated, but he inspired an idiom that the Chinese people still use today: 指鹿为马 – zhǐ lù wéi mǎ, or “calling a deer a horse”. This refers to telling a deliberate lie for a strategic purpose.


Today, the U.S. tells monstrous lies about a “genocide” and “forced labor” in the Xinjiang province in China.  They are doing exactly what Zhao Gao did, making a false statement with a strategic purpose.

But just like some ministers 2,000 years ago agreed that the deer was a horse, some countries are making no effort to distinguish between right and wrong. They are simply deciding to closely follow the U.S. allegation.

But I believe the truth will eventually speak for itself. There is another Chinese idiom: “Paper cannot wrap fire” or 紙包不住火- zhǐ bāo bù zhù huǒ . I also believe that people who act unjustly will certainly reap what they have sown.


The fact is, China has 56 ethnic groups which are as closely united as family members. There are a range of specific policies and legislation designed specifically to help and support national minorities, including Uyghurs. All national minorities can develop their own customs, culture, spoken and written languages equally. 

In the past 40 years, the Uygur population in Xinjiang has increased steadily and the life expectancy of Xinjiang residents has grown from 32 to 72 years. Is this really “genocide”?

China’s banknotes have long celebrated its ethnic minorities: these two yuan notes have five languages on them


In recent years, the central government has provided vigorous support and active policies for the comprehensive development of Xinjiang. A new round of a “pairing assistance” program for the province was implemented in 2011. 

“Pairing” is a technique in which richer cities and provinces assist poorer ones on providing qualified talents, funding and technology to lift them out of poverty. The program involves 19 provinces and municipalities, as well as government ministries, all working together to support the economic and social development of different parts of what started as a relatively poor, rural region. 

I can testify to this myself. Few years ago, I visited Xinjiang and ran into some old friends from Shanghai who were assigned to this particular program. Many foreigners working in China can also testify to this.

And it works. In 2020, China announced that it has helped lift over three million people in Xinjiang out of poverty by promoting overall provincial development and creating jobs.

One of China’s most picturesque spots is Hemu Village in Burqin County, Xinjiang, near Kanas Lake. Picture by Darmau Lee/ Unsplash


The rise of China is inevitable, yet it sometimes seems impossible to persuade anti-China western politicians of the truth by reasoning with them. 

Chinese people tend to prefer modesty and comity regarding their interactions with others. Yet we will certainly be bullied in the future if we do nothing at all about the false accusations. 

Despite the dissemination of plenty of solid facts and clear evidence within Chinese society, it seems these truths cannot be delivered to Western society.  This is because the western media and western politicians have become accustomed to making false accusations in order to take advantage of other countries. 

Sad to say, it appears that facts and truth are not important to the western anti-China forces, and neither are the interests and human rights of the people of Xinjiang. Western organizations have already imposed sanctions on Xinjiang, boycotted the region’s products such as cotton and tomatoes, and are working to cut the area’s cotton out of the global supply chain. 

By doing this, they are destroying the livelihood of Uyghurs – the very people they claim to want to help.

The US sanctions hurt the people they claim they want to help: Picture of a citizen of Urumqi, Xinjiang, by Simon Sun/ Unsplash


One of the most important values being human is the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Even children in China understand this. 

Going back to the story of Zhao Gao, 2000 years ago, we recall that some ministers stood with the emperor, siding with the facts, while others chose to reinforce the lie.

But a third group of ministers said nothing at all, just standing back and waiting. 

The time has come, surely, for everyone to stand with the truth.

For however many times you tell people that a deer is a horse, the simple truth remains.

A deer is not a horse.

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Dr. HU Shao Ming Herman, SBS, JP  is Deputy, the 12th/ 13th National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China ,and Past President, Hong Kong Professionals and Senior Executives Association

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See also: Statistician demolishes Xinjiang claim

See also: Firms stop using Uyghur staff, can’t win

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