不寒而栗 (bù hán ér lì)
Shiver all over though not cold — tremble with fear
Yi Zhou was known as a rigid official in Chinese history who lived in the Han Dynasty and died in the year 117BC. He had been county and prefecture magistrates. He was strict with laws and stern to law-breakers. And he was not swayed by personal considerations. Nor did he shrink from bigwigs. Outlaws were very much afraid of him and social order improved significantly in the counties under his jurisdiction.
After he was promoted to the position of Magistrate of Nanyang between present-day Central China’s Henan and Hubei provinces, Yi Zong learned that one of his immediate subordinates named Ning Cheng was extremely ruthless. Ning Cheng was in charge of tariffs. He usurped power and cruelly victimized the people. Without hesitation, the new magistrate Yi Zhong investigated and verified the brutal official’s crimes and brought him to justice.
Later, Yi Zhong was transferred to Ding Xiang in what is now the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. He was now Magistrate of Ding Xiang, an area wher offenders ran wild. Upon his arrival, Yi Zhong took drastic measures. He sentenced to death more than two hundred criminals from the prison who he felt had been underpunished and had taken off their fetters and handcuffs without permission. Also killed at the same time were more than two hundred people who had secretly visited those major criminals and helped them take off their shackles.
This incident shocked the Ding Xiang area. People high and low were talking about how Yi Zhong killed more than four hundred people in one day. Although it was not cold that day, many people shivered at the news. Those who had violated het law or had done evil began to restrain and behave themselves.
Such massive execution really struck people with horror. And from the phrase about people’s reaction comes our idiom 不寒而栗 (bù hán ér lì). We use it to describe the feeling of being terrified.