Chinese Proverbs : In these troubled times, we often found ourselves seeking the wisdom of past generations to guide us. What better civilization to provide us enlightenment than the ones that first defined the term! These old Chinese sayings and quotes about love, life, wisdom, and success are what you need to pick yourself up on a lousy day. Many of the proverbs contain wisdom and advice for life challenges. Some you may have to think about – as the wit and wisdom in them are thought-provoking. Be encouraged by these pearls of wisdom.They are sayings that have been passed down and usually got there origins from famous Chinese writers and philosophers.These ancient sayings address all aspects of traditional Chinese society but are also applicable to modern-day life, from relationships and family to work and personal goals.
All things are difficult at the start.
Failure is the mother of success.
A day’s planning is done at dawn.
Don’t listen to what they say. Go see.
A smile will gain you ten more years of life
Don’t miss opportunities: time doesn’t come round again.
He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left.
Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.
It takes more than one cold day for a river to freeze a meter deep
The person attempting to travel two roads at once will get nowhere.
He who overthinks about every step he takes will always stay on one leg.
The person who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.
In a group of many words, there is bound to be a mistake somewhere in them.
Listening well is as powerful as talking well, and is also as essential to the actual conversation.
No matter how tall the mountain is, it cannot block the sun.
Patience is a bitter plant, but its fruit is sweet.
Talk does not cook rice.
If you want to find out about the road ahead, then ask about it from those coming back.
If you don’t do stupid things, you won’t end up in tragedy.
Blessings come in disguise. Dig the well before you are thirsty.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
不作不死。(Bù zuò bù sǐ. ‘Not do not die.’) — If you don’t do stupid things you won’t end up in tragedy.
This Chinese web saying is recorded in the Urban Dictionary. It’s like: “Don’t poke the bear.”
塞翁失马，焉知非福。(Sài Wēng shī mǎ, yān zhī fēi fú. ‘Sai Weng [legendary old man’s name] lost horse, how know not blessing’.) — Blessings come in disguise.
According to the book “Huainanzi — Lessons of the Human World”, an old man living in a border region lost his horse and people came to comfort him. But he said, “This may be a blessing in disguise, who knows?” Indeed, the horse later returned to the man and brought him a better horse.
小洞不补，大洞吃苦。(Xiǎodòng bù bǔ, dàdòng chī kǔ.’small hole not mend; big hole eat hardship’) — If small holes aren’t fixed, then big holes will bring hardship.
This proverb tells us that if a trivial problem is not solved in time, it will become a serious and knotty one. Similar to: “A stitch in time saves nine.”
水满则溢。(Shuǐmǎn zé yì. ‘water full but overflows’) — Water flows in only to flow out.
Similar to “what comes up must come down”, this proverb points out that: things reverse when they reach their extremes. It’s from the 18th century novel “A Dream of Red Mansions”.
读万卷书不如行万里路。 (Dú wànjuànshū bù rú xíng wànlǐlù. ‘reading 10,000 books, not as good as walking 10,000 li road’) — It’s better to walk thousands of miles than to read thousands of books.
I.e. ‘doing beats reading’ or ‘experience beats theory’.
三个和尚没水喝。 (Sān gè héshàng méi shuǐ hē. ‘three monks have no water to drink’) — Too many cooks spoil the broth.
I.e. if too many people try to do something, like three monks trying to carry one bucket of water, they make a mess of it.
一笑解千愁。 (Yī xiào jiě qiānchou. ‘one smile undoes 1,000 worries’) — A smile dispels many worries.
笑一笑,十年少。 (Xiào yī xiào, shínián shào. ‘laugh,ten years younger’) — Happiness is the best cosmetic.
美名胜过美貌。 (Měimíng shèng guò měimào. ‘beautiful name beats beautiful looks’) — A good name is better than a good face.
不善始者不善终。 (Bú shànshǐzhě bù shànzhōng. ‘not good starter not good end’) — A bad beginning makes a bad ending.
A man who cannot tolerate small misfortunes can never accomplish great things.
Experience is a comb which nature gives us when we are bald.
Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.
Behave toward everyone as if receiving a guest.
A fall into a ditch makes you wiser.
Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one.
He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.
An inch of time is an inch of gold but you can’t buy that inch of time with an inch of gold.
A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood
Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
大处着眼，小处着手。(Dàchù zhuó yǎn, xiǎochù zhuó shǒu. ‘big points apply eye; small points apply hand’) — Keep the general goal in sight while tackling daily tasks.
This proverb advises us to always keep the overall situation in mind, and be far-sighted, while we set our hands to mundane business.
一步一个脚印。 (Yībù yīgè jiǎoyìn. ‘one step one footprint’) — Every step makes a footprint.
Work steadily and make solid progress.
一个萝卜一个坑儿。 (Yīgè luóbo yīgè kēngr. ‘one turnip one hole’) — Each has his own task, and nobody is dispensable.
I.e. “each to his own”, “horses for courses”, or “every kettle has its lid”.
留得青山在，不怕没柴烧。 (Liú dé qīngshān zài, búpà méi chái shāo. ‘remain green hills present, not fear no firewood burn’) — While there are green hills, there’ll be wood to burn.
I.e. “Where there is life, there is hope.”
一鸟在手胜过双鸟在林。 (Yī niǎo zài shǒu shèng guò shuāng niǎo zài lín ‘one bird in hand beats pair birds in forest’) — A bird in the hand is worth than two in the bush.
人无完人，金无足赤。(Rén wú wánrén, jīn wú zúchì. ‘man lackperfect man; gold lack enoughred’) — No man is a perfect man; no gold is sufficiently bare.
It is as impossible to find a perfect man as it is to find 100 percent pure gold.I.e. “no-one’s perfect”.
千军易得, 一将难求。 (Qiānjūn yìdé, yī jiang nánqiú. ‘thousand army easy obtain; one general hard request’) — It is easy to find a thousand soldiers, but hard to find a good general.
This proverb notes the difficulty of finding an outstanding leader.
A book holds a house of gold.
Your teacher can open the door, but you must enter by yourself.
A single conversation with a wise man is worth a month’s study of books.
A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood.
If a son is uneducated, his dad is to blame.
Actual knowledge is when one knows the limitations of one’s knowledge.
He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever
宰相肚里好撑船。 (Zǎixiànɡ dùlǐ hǎo chēnɡchuán. ‘prime minister stomach inside good-to pole boat’) — A prime minister’s mind should be broad enough for poling a boat.
This can be used to praise someone a magnanimous person. The saying is from the novel “Officialdom Unmasked” (官场现形记) by Li Baojia (李宝嘉1867–1906)
难得糊涂。 (Nándé hútu. ‘hard get confusion’) — Ignorance is bliss.
Or: “Where ignorance is bliss, it’s folly to be wise.”
祸从口出。 (Huò cóng kǒu chū. ‘disaster from mouth exits’) — Disaster comes from careless talk.
三人一条心，黄土变成金。(Sānrén yìtiáoxīn, huángtǔ biàn chéng jīn. ‘three people one heart; yellow earth become gold’) — If people are of one heart, even loess can become gold.
This proverb tells us that as long as people are unified, any goal can be achieved.
身正不怕影子斜。(Shēnzhèng búpà yǐngzi xié. ‘body straight not fear shadow slanting’) — One who stands straight doesn’t fear a crooked shadow.
Similar to: “A straight foot is not afraid of a crooked shoe.” i.e. A righteous man is not afraid to seem unrighteous.
有借有还，再借不难。(Yǒu jiè yǒu huán, zài jiè bùnán. Have loan have repayment; again loan not hard.) — Timely return of a loan makes it easier to borrow a second time.
蜡烛照亮别人，却毁灭了自己。 (Làzhú zhàoliàng biérén, què huǐmiè le zìjǐ. ‘candle illuminates others, yet destroys itself’) — A candle lights others and consumes itself.
This refers to self-sacrifice for the benefit of others.
种瓜得瓜, 种豆得豆。 (Zhòngguā dé guā, zhòngdòu dé dòu. ‘sow melons reap melons; sow beans reap beans’) — You reap what you sow.
近水知鱼性, 近山识鸟音。 (Jìn shuǐ zhī yúxìng; jìn shān shí niǎoyīn. ‘near water know fish shape, near mountain know bird sound’) — To know a fish go to the water; to know a bird’s song go to the mountains.
This verse from ‘Expanding Virtue Literature’ (增广贤文) teaches that to know someone you should go to his or her home.
听君一席话，胜读十年书。(Tīng jūn yīxíhuà, shèng dú shíniánshū ‘hear gentleman remarks, beats reading ten year books’) — Listening to a lord’s remarks is better than reading books for ten years.
凡人不可貌相, 海水不可斗量。 (Fánrén bù kě màoxiàng, hǎishuǐ bù kě dòuliàng. ‘mortals can’t judge by appearance, sea water can’t cup measure’) — Man cannot be judged by looks; seas cannot be measured by cup.
In short: “don’t judge by appearances”.
有缘千里来相会。(Yǒuyuán qiānlǐ lái xiānghuì. ‘Have fate 1,000 li [or a long way] together meet’) — Fate brings people together from far apart.
This proverb espouses that human relationships are decreed by fate.
君子之交淡如水。 (Jūnzǐ zhī jiāo dàn rú shuǐ ‘gentleman’s friendship bland like water’) — A gentleman’s friendship is insipid as water.
入乡随俗。 (Rù xiāng suí sú ‘enter district follow custom’) — When entering a locality follow the local customs.
Like: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
患难见真情。 (Huànnàn jiàn zhēnqíng ‘Hardship see true situation’) — In hardship we see true friendship.
Similar to: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
知音难觅。 (Zhīyīn nánmì. ‘soul mate hard find’) — An intimate friend is hard to find.
广交友，无深交。 (Guǎng jiāoyǒu, wú shēnjiāo. ‘widely make friends, no deep friendship’) — Numerous friends means no deep friendship.
Similar to: “A friend to everybody is a friend to nobody.” Tweet
道不同，不相为谋。 (Dào bùtóng, bù xiāng wéi móu. ‘principles different, not harmonious for schemes’) — Men of different principles don’t work well together.
见钟情。 (Yíjiàn zhōngqíng. ‘one look fall-in-love’) — Love at first sight.
It’s generally used for people, but you can also use it for other physical things/activities… Tweet
愿得一人心，白首不相离。(Yuàndé yīrénxīn, báishǒu bùxiānglí. ‘wish get a person heart, white head not one-another apart) — Long for a heart, never be apart.
执子之手，与子偕老。 (Zhí zǐ zhī shǒu, yǔ zǐ xiélǎo. ‘grasp your hand, with you grow-old-together) — Hold hands with you, grow old with you.
Like 2., this expresses lifelong commitment in love.
爱不是占有，而是欣赏。 (Ai bú shì zhànyǒu, ér shì xīnshǎng. ‘love isn’t having, but is appreciating’) — Love isn’t about having, it’s about enjoying (what you have).
爱屋及乌。(Ai wū jí wū. ‘love house and crow’) — Love the house and its crow.
It means that love encompasses everything connected with somebody: “Love me, love my dog.” Tweet
萝卜青菜，各有所爱。 (Luóbo qīngcài, gè yǒu suǒ ài. ‘radishes greens, each have that-which loves’) — Radishes and greens, each have those who love them.
I.e. “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” or “each to his own”. Tweet
在天愿作比翼鸟，在地愿为连理枝。 (Zài tiān yuàn zuò bǐyìniǎo, zài dì yuàn wéi liánlǐzhī. ‘in sky wish be fly-wing-to-wing birds; on earth wish be grow-together branches.) — Birds flying in the sky as one; branches growing on the earth as one.
This is a wish for conjugal bliss.
有情人终成眷属。 (Yǒuqínɡrén zhōnɡ chénɡ juànshǔ. ‘in-love people finally become spouses’) — People in love become spouses in the end.
I.e. love will find a way.
情人眼里出西施。 (Qínɡrén yǎnlǐ chū xīshī. ‘lover eye inside appears Xishi [name; foremost of the Four Legendary Chinese Beauties]) — In a lover’s eye is the foremost Beauty.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
爱之深，责之切。(Ài zhī shēn zé zhī qiē. ‘love’s deep, discipline’s cutting’) — Love deep, chastise deep.
This is the Chinese proverb for “tough love”.
有情饮水饱，无情食饭饥。 (Yǒuqínɡ yínshuǐbǎo, wúqínɡ shífànjī. ‘Have affection drink water full; no affection eat food hungry’) — With love water is enough; without love food doesn’t satisfy.
月到中秋分外明，每逢佳节倍思亲。 (Yuè dào zhōngqiū fènwài míng, měi féng jiājié bèi sīqīn. ‘moon reach Mid-Autumn exceptionally bright, every holiday multiply homesick’) — The harvest moon is brightest; every festival homesickness multiplies.
Familial longing is greatest in China on its traditional family reunion festivals, like Mid-Autumn, the harvest moon festival. More of the meaning behind this saying is revealed in Mid-Autumn Festival’s Traditions.
儿行千里母担忧。 (Er xíng qiānlǐ mǔ dānyōu. ‘son travels 1,000 li [a long way; 500 km] mother worries’) — When children travel far, mothers worry.
但愿人长久，千里共婵娟。(Dànyuàn rénchángjiǔ, qiānlǐ gòngchánjuān. ‘Yet wish personlong-time, 1,000 li [a long way; 500 km] share moon[beauty]’) — Wishing us long life, though sharing moonlight from afar.
This poetic verse expresses (familial) love and homesickness, and is one of many Popular Mid-Autumn Festival Sayings.
家和万事兴。 (Jiāhé wànshìxīnɡ. ‘family harmonious everything prospers’) — If a family is harmonious everything will go well.
It’s like the Biblical: “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
家家有本难念的经。 (Jiājiā yǒu běn nán niàn de jīnɡ. ‘Every-family has own difficult remembered experience.’) — Every family has its problems.
Or: “There’re skeletons in every family’s closet.”
清官难断家务事。 (Qīnɡɡuān nán duàn jiāwùshì. ‘honest-official difficult judge household affairs.) — Even an upright official finds it hard to settle a family quarrel.
冰冻三尺，非一日之寒。 (Bīngdòng sān chǐ, fēi yīrì zhī hán. ‘freeze 3 chi [3 chi = 1 meter], not one day’s cold’) — It takes more than one cold day for a river to freeze a meter deep.
This means: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” I.e. If you keep working you’ll achieve your goal.
机不可失，时不再来。(Jī bùkě shī, shí búzài lái. ‘Opportunity can’t lose, time not again come’) — Don’t miss opportunities: time doesn’t come round again.
Opportunity knocks but once. Tweet
人心齐，泰山移。(Rénxīn qí, Tàishān yí. ‘people heart together, Mount Tai move’) — When people work with one heart, they can even move Mount Tai. Tweet
万事开头难。(Wànshì kāitóu nán. ‘everything start difficult’) — All things are difficult at the start. Tweet
I.e. Things always get easier if you persevere.
失败是成功之母。(Shībài shì chénggōng zhī mǔ. ‘failure is success’s mother’) — Failure is the mother of success.
只要功夫深，铁杵磨成针。 (Zhǐyào gōngfū shēn, tiěchǔ mó chén gzhēn. ‘just need effort deep, iron rod grind become needle’) — It just needs hard work to grind an iron rod into a needle.
This proverb encourages us to persevere to succeed.
事实胜于雄辩。 (Shìshí shèng yú xióngbiàn.) — Facts beat eloquence.
From Lu Xun’s “Hot Wind” (鲁迅《热风题记》), it’s like, “Actions speak louder than words.”
一言既出，驷马难追。(Yìyán jì chū, sìmǎ nán zhuī. ‘a word already produced, team-of-4-horses difficult chase’) — A team of horses will struggle to chase down a spoken word.
From “The Analects of Yan Yuan” (《论语·颜渊》), it means a word spoken can never be taken back, or a promise must be kept. Tweet
路遥知马力，日久见人心。(Lùyáo zhī mǎlì, rìjiǔ jiàn rénxīn. ‘road distant know horse strength, days old see man heart’) — As distance tests a horse’s strength, time reveals a person’s character.
From the anonymous work “Fight Gratitude” (《争报恩》) of the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368), when Mongol horsemen ruled China, this saying tells us that a long period of testing is needed to understand someone’s nature and capabilities.
无规矩不成方圆。(Wú guīju bù chéng fāngyuán. ‘no standards not become perimeter’) — Without standards no boundaries are set.
From the works of Mencius and his students (《孟子·离娄上》), it means: nothing can be accomplished without norms or standards; or: without rules, we’re nothing but savages.
惩前毖后。 (Chéngqiánbìhòu. ‘punish before prevent after’) — Punishing those who come before stops those who come after from doing something.
From “Sacrificial Odes of Zhou” (《周颂》) in the Confucian classic “Book of Songs” (《诗经》), it means: to criticize former mistakes firmly to prevent them happening again; or: learn from past mistakes to avoid future ones.
三思而后行。 (Sānsī ér hòu xíng. “three thoughts and after act”) — Think thrice before you act.
龙飞凤舞。 (Lóng fēi fèn gwǔ. ‘dragon flies phoenix dances’) — The dragon flies and the phoenix dances.
It refers to a flamboyant style of calligraphy, and writing devoid of content.
龙马精神。 (Lóng mǎ jīngshén. ‘dragon horse spirit’) — A dragon’s and a horse’s spirit.
It refers to a vigorous spirit in old age.
鱼龙混杂。(Yú lóng hùnzá. ‘fish dragons muddle mix’) — A muddled mix of fish and dragons.
It refers to crooks mixed in with honest folk.
龙腾虎跃。 (Lóng téng hǔ yuè. ‘dragon soars tiger leaps’) — Dragons soaring and tigers leaping.
It refers to a scene of bustling activity.
车水马龙。 (Chē shuǐ mǎ long. ‘carriage water horse dragon’) — Carriages like a stream and horses like a dragon.
It refers to a scene of heavy traffic (Chinese dragons have very long bodies).
龙潭虎穴。 (Lóng tán hǔ xué. ‘dragon pool tiger cave’) — A dragon’s pool and a tiger’s den.
It refers to a very dangerous spot.