When “The Man Who Lost His Ax (人有亡斧者)” Became “My Neighbor Stole My Ax (疑鄰盜斧)”

Cognitive Bias as Highlighted by Ancient Chinese Text (列子,~400BC)

A man lost his ax and suspected the neighbor’s son. He closely observed the suspect’s behavior, facial expressions, speech, and concluded that in every way his neighbor’s son looked and acted like a thief.

Later, he found his ax when he went down a canyon.

When he met the suspect after that, the neighbor’s son no longer acted or looked like a thief.


The ancient Chinese invented a concise method of communicating common human pitfalls. By encoding each cognitive error into a illustrative fable, subsequent writers and speakers can concisely reference the specific cognitive error through a few keywords. This method is similar to expressions such as “Early bird gets the worm”.