During the Spring and Autumn Period, duke Zhuang, the ruler of state Qi, loved brave warriors. One day, he went hunting with his men. On his way to the woods, he saw a mantis standing in the middle of the road with its sickle-like forelegs opened.
It seemed like that the little insect was trying to fight against the carriage to hold it back. Surprised at the case, duke Zhuang ordered to stop and asked what creature it was.
His stableman said: " Your Majesty, this is a mantis. Only advancing boldly and never falling back are its nature. Thus, seeing your carriage coming, it would rather try to stop it than run away. How funny it is. It overestimates itself too much."
The story spread quickly throughout Qi and neighbor states. People all praised the duke for his sincere respect for warriors. As a result, many brave men came to serve him from different states.
Background and Writer Comment:This story is from Huai Nan Zi, an ancient book mainly collecting tales about Taoists but also recording many interesting historical stories. In this story, the mantis was complimented for his braveness. But thousands years later, the meaning of this idiom changed a lot. Now people use this idiom "A mantis tries to stop a carriage--Tang Bi Dang Che" to describe someone who overestimates himself too much.
A very similar story happened to Gou Jian, the king of state Yue, who wanted to revenge on state Wu and thus made his best to recruit warriors. One day, while going on an inspection tour, he saw a toad in his way. He got off his carriage and bowed down upon his knees before the toad who was standing with alert. Then he said to his attendants: "This is a real warrior. We should give way to him." Soon his army was full of brave young men.
This is an idiom story for sure, but due to the wisdom that this story conveys, We prefer to put it into smart story category.