Literal Translation: point out deer as horse
My informant was my father. He told me that my grandmother taught him this idiom at a young age. The literal translation of this idiom is to point out a deer as a horse. The meaning for this idiom is that sometimes a person has to purposely trick others to see who is loyal. Basically, sometimes the truth must be twisted in order to have a good outcome. My father told me that many idioms in Chinese culture seem very randomthat is, the words in them seem very out of place. However, he said that every idiom has its own story.
This idioms story comes from Chinas deep history. Zhao Gao, who was the chief advisor to the Emperor at the time, wanted to have control of the entire government. To do so, he knew that he must have loyalty from all of the members. As a result, he decided to make a plan in order to see who was loyal to him. He called all of the members of the government to one room. He then brought a deer to the front of the room and told everyone that it was a horse. Undoubtedly, many in the court, along with the emperor, were befuddled by his actions. However, some members of the government stood behind him and called the deer a horse. After that day, the chief advisor slowly got rid of all the court members who did not support him during his test. I personally see this test as one of malicious intent. However, my father says that though the story is one involving evil, the idiom has evolved to a good one. He says that people must be very careful of who they choose to be their friends, and sometimes it takes several tests to see who your true loyal friends are.