Chinese proverbs

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When one door shuts another opens.

This is a collection of Chinese proverbs (諺語 yànyŭ) and idioms (成語 chéngyŭ), given in and sorted by their pinyin transcription. Chinese proverbs and four-plus character idioms are developed from the formulaic or social dialect/saying/expression (歇後語 in pinyin: xiēhòuyŭ) and historical story in Chinese.

Some proverbs are literary; that is, from a written source. (See the historical written language or the more modern written language.) Others originated among families, street vendors, and other commoners--all walks of life.



All proverbs/idioms are ordered by their pinyin transcription in the following order.

  1. First character
    1. Initial
    2. End
    3. Tone
    4. Radical strokes
    5. Total strokes
  2. Next character following the same procedure (if previous is the same)
  3. Least amount of character

Initials: B Ch D F G H J K R S Sh T Y Z


  • () (wén) () (ruò) (wén) (zhī)(wén) (zhī) () (ruò) (jiàn) (zhī)(jiàn) (zhī) () (ruò) (zhī) (zhī)(zhī) (zhī) () (ruò) (xíng) (zhī)(xué) (zhì) () (xíng) (zhī) (ér) (zhǐ) ()
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Bù wén bù ruò wén zhī, wén zhī bù ruò jiàn zhī, jiàn zhī bù ruò zhīzhī, zhīzhī bù ruò xíng zhī; xué zhìyú xíng zhī ér zhǐ yǐ.
      • Traditional: 不聞不若聞之,聞之不若見之,見之不若知之,知之不若行之;學至於行之而止矣
      • Simplified: 不闻不若闻之,闻之不若见之,见之不若知之,知之不若行之;学至于行之而止矣
    • From Xun Zi (荀子 8.儒效 23).
  • 小洞不补,大洞吃苦
    • Transliteration: xiǎo dòng bù bǔ, dà dòng chī kǔ
    • A small hole not mended in time will become a big hole much more difficult to mend.
    • English equivalent: "What's past is prologue." or "A stitch in time saves nine."
      • Meaning: Fix something while it can be fixed. Don't wait until it's too late to do so.
    • "Destroy the seed of evil, or it will grow up to your ruin."
    • Aesop, "The Swallow and the Other Birds" (c. 6th century BC)
    • 郭唯真,魏梅芗. 练习四年级 Tahun 4b. Pelangi Publishing Group Bhd. p. 52. ISBN 978-983-866-909-2. Retrieved on 9 June 2013. 
  • 读书须用意,一字值千金
    • Transliteration: dú shū xū yòng yì, yī zì zhí qiān jīn
    • Intention of required study, the word worth a thousand gold.
      • Meaning: Study requires utmost attention and overlooking one thing can cost all credibility.
    • "When reading, don’t let a single word escape your attention; one word may be worth a thousand pieces of gold."
    • Famous Chinese Sayings
    • 朱蓬蓬 Zhu Peng Peng. 闲言碎语荟萃(Collection of Miscellany). 朱蓬蓬(Zhu Peng Peng). p. 511. GGKEY:FB94KYJ98DR. Retrieved on 9 June 2013. 
  • 宝剑锋从磨砺出,梅花香自苦寒来
    • Transliteration: Bǎojiàn fēng cóng mólì chū, méihuā xiāng zì kǔhán lái.
    • The edge of the sword comes from sharpening, and the fragrance of plum blossom comes from the bitter cold.
      • Meaning: Hardship can make a person stronger
    • The Olympic Spirit. 


  • (cháng) (jiāng) (hòu) (làng) (tuī) (qián) (làng)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Chángjiāng hòulàng tuī qiánlàng.
      • Traditional: 長江後浪推前浪
      • Simplified: 长江后浪推前浪
      • Meaning: The energy of the old generation inspires the new.
    • 汉语成语俗语对照词典. 南京大学出版社. 2008. p. 162. ISBN 7305052116. 


  • () (wàn) (juǎn) (shū) () () (xíng) (wàn) () ()
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Dú wàn juǎn shū bùrú xíng wànlǐ lù.
      • Traditional: 讀萬卷書不如行萬裡路
      • Simplified: 读万卷书不如行万里路
    • Reading ten thousand books is not as useful as traveling ten thousand miles.
    • English equivalent: An ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory.
    • 2010國立臺灣大學藝文年鑑. 國立臺灣大學出版中心. p. 27. ISBN 9860288844. 


  • (fēng) (xiàng) (biàn) (shí)(yǒu) (rén) (jìng) (qiáng)(yǒu) (rén) (zào) 风车(fēngchē)
    • pinyin: fēng xiàng biàn shí, yǒu rén jìng qiáng, yǒu rén zào fēng chē
    • English: When the wind changes direction, some people build walls while others build windmills[1]

  • (fáng) (rén) (zhī) (xīn) () () ()
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Fáng rén zhī xīn bùkě wú.
      • Traditional: 防人之心不可無
      • Simplified: 防人之心不可无
    • Careful with others is a must have.
    • English equivalent: He that reckons without his host must reckon again.
    • "This proverb is usually applied to such persons, who are apt to be partial in one Affair, flattering themselves with the Advantages they fansy to be on their side, and making no Allowances for the Disadvantages that will or may attend them."
    • 俗语词典. 商务印书馆. 1994. p. 93. 
  • () () (chóng) (zhì), (huò) () (dān) (xíng)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Fú wú chóng zhì, huòbùdānxíng.
      • Traditional: 福無重至,禍不單行
      • Simplified: 福无重至,祸不单行
    • Fortune does not come twice. Misfortune does not come alone.
      • Meaning: Good things will only come once. Bad things will always come in groups.
    • English equivalent: Misery loves company.
    • Meaning: Opportunities should not be taken for granted. A problem ignored is a problem doubled.
    • Ali F Farhoomand (2005). 香港中小企業管理與創新: 案例滙編. 香港大學出版社. p. 64. ISBN 9789622097599. OCLC 62142706. 

  • () (zhài) () (huán)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Fù zhài zǐ huán.
      • Traditional: 父債子還
      • Simplified: 父债子还
    • Father's debt, son to give back.
      • Meaning: The new generation can fix the mistakes made by previous ones.
    • "New generation can put right the mistakes of the old."
    • "To do the opposite of something is also a form of imitation."
    • 把話說到心窩裡. 水雲齋文化事業有限公司. 2001. p. 154. ISBN 9579279551. 


  • (hài) (rén) (zhī) (xīn) () () (yǒu)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Hài rén zhī xīn bù kě yǒu.
      • Traditional: 害人之心不可有
      • Simplified: 害人之心不可有
    • Do not harbour intentions to hurt others.
      • Note: This is usually used before 防人之心不可無 (see above)
    • 俗语词典 (dictionary). 商务印书馆 (The commercial press). 1994. p. 301. 
    • English translation: Do not desire to hurt others in the depths of your heart.


  • (jīn) () (shì)(jīn) () ()
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Jīnrì shì, jīnrì bì.
      • Traditional: 今日事,今日畢
      • Simplified: 今日事,今日毕
    • Things of today, accomplished today.
      • Meaning: Don't put off until tomorrow what can be finished today.
    • Bahasa Cina. Pelangi Publishing Group Bhd. p. 26. ISBN 9833531105. 
  • Jiŭ fā xīn fù zhī yán.
    • Wine makes words from secrets.
      • Meaning: Alcohol can make you or others say things they shouldn't
    • English equivalent: In wine there is truth.
    • Paczolay, Gyula (1997). European Proverbs in 55 languages. p. 272. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 


  • (kōng) (xué) (lái) (fēng) (wèi) () () (yīn)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Kōngxuéláifēng, wèibì wú yīn
      • Traditional: 空穴來風,未必無因
      • Simplified: 空穴来风,未必无因
    • English equivalent: Where there's smoke, there's fire.
    • "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood."
    • "It is supposed that if there is a rumour, there must be some truth behind it."
    • Paczolay, Gyula (1997). "1". European proverbs: in 55 languages, with equivalents in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese. Veszprémi Nyomda. p. 33. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 
    • Marie Curie, As quoted in Our Precarious Habitat (1973) by Melvin A. Benarde, p. v
    • 经略幽燕: (979-987) : 宋辽战争军事灾难的战略分析. 中文大學出版社. 2003. p. 120. ISBN 9629960532. 


  • (liáng) (yào) () (kǒu)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Liángyào kǔkǒu
      • Traditional: 良藥苦口
      • Simplified: 良药苦口
    • Good medicine tastes bitter.
      • Meaning: What may be good for us later may be hard for us now.
    • English equivalent: Bitter pills may have blessed effects.
    • "Present afflictions may tend to our future good."
    • James Kelly (1818). A Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs Explained and Made Intelligible to the English Reader. Rodwell and Martin. p. 43. 
    • Po-Ching (2000). Chinese Lexicon. Taylor \& Francis. p. 127. 
  • (Yǒu) () () () (yǒu) () ()
    • Transliteration: Yǒu qí fù bì yǒu qí zǐ.
    • Having such a father must be such a son.
    • English equivalent: Like father, like son.
    • Meaning: Every person bears resemblance to the ones who brought them into this world.
    • Source for meaning and proverb: Paczolay, Gyula (1997). European Proverbs in 55 languages. p. 170. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 


  • (rén) (suàn) () () (tiān) (suàn)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Rén suàn bùrú tiān suàn
      • Traditional: 人算不如天算
      • Simplified: 人算不如天算
    • Man's schemes are inferior to those made by heaven.
    • English equivalents: Man proposes and God disposes; The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
    • Along With Time. 秀威資訊科技股份有限公司. p. 246. ISBN 9862217340. 

  • (ròu) (bāo) (zi) () (gǒu)() () (huí) (tóu)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Ròu bāozi dǎ gǒu 一 qù bù huítóu.
      • Traditional: 肉包子打狗一去不回頭
      • Simplified: 肉包子打狗一去不回头
    • To hit a dog with a meat-bun, so it leaves never turning around.
    • Meaning: Punishment gives less incentive than a reward.
    • 歇后语词典. 上海大学出版社. 2007. p. 135. ISBN 7810588834. 


  • (sān) () () (shàng) (méi) (shuǐ) ()
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Sān gè héshàng méi shuǐ hē.
      • Traditional: 三個和尚沒水喝
      • Simplified: 三个和尚没水喝
    • Three monks have no water to drink.
    • English equivalent: Too many cooks spoil the broth.
    • 高伟峰; 张时春 (2005-09-01). 职业道德与就业创业指导. 清华大学出版社. p. 71. ISBN 9787810826297. 
  • () () (dāng) (huó) () ()
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Sǐ mǎ dāng huó mǎ yī.
      • Traditional: 死馬當活馬醫
      • Simplified: 死马当活马医
    • Try to save the dead horse as if it is still alive.
    • "You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
    • Karl Geurs, Pooh’s Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin (1997)
    • 徐宗才; 应俊玲 (1994-05-01). 俗语词典(修订本). 商务印书馆. p. 89. ISBN 9787100037679. 


  • (shī) (fu) (lǐng) (jìn) (mén)(xiū) (xíng) (zài) () (rén)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Shī fu lǐng jìn mén, xiū xíng zài gè rén.
      • Traditional: 師傅領進門,修行在個人
      • Simplified: 师傅领进门,修行在个人
    • Meaning: Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.
    • "Boys must not have th' ambitious care of men,
      Nor men the weak anxieties of age."
    • Horace, Of the Art of Poetry, Wentworth Dillon's trans, line 212. (19 BC)
    • "But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world - and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed. And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself. Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
      Maybe you could be a good writer - maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper - but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor - maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone - but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice - but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team."
    • Barack Obama, Speech at Arlington, Virginia (2009)
    • 紫檀與象牙——當代文人風範:. 秀威資訊科技股份有限公司. 2010. p. 130. ISBN 9862214619. 

  • (shòu) (rén) () () () () (shòu) (zhī) () ()
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Shòu rén yǐ yú bùrú shòu zhī yǐ yú.
      • Traditional: 授人以魚不如授之以漁
      • Simplified: 授人以鱼不如授之以渔
    • Translation: Teach a man to take a fish is not equal to teach a man how to fish.
    • English equivalent: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
    • 愿景. 中信出版社. 2003. p. VII. ISBN 7800736938. 

  • (shù) (dǎo) () (sūn) (sàn)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Shù dǎo húsūn sàn.
      • Traditional: 樹倒猢猻散
      • Simplified: 树倒猢狲散
    • Translation: When the tree falls, the monkeys scatter.
    • English equivalent: Rats desert a sinking ship.
    • "When a leader loses power, his followers become disorganized. This proverb is often used to describe fair-weather friends."[2][specific citation needed]

  • (shuǐ) (néng) (zài) (zhōu)() (néng) () (zhōu)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Shuǐ néng zài zhōu, yì néng fù zhōu.
      • Traditional: 水能載舟,亦能覆舟
      • Simplified: 水能载舟,亦能覆舟
    • Translation: Not only can water float a boat, it can sink it also.
    • Meaning: Nature can help and harm you. The people (the water) can raise someone (a boat) to power, but can also take that power away (sinking the boat).
    • English equivalent: A double-edged sword.
    • Gao (2007). 金色俄羅斯:穿越時空之旅:. 臺灣商務印書館股份有限公司. p. 112. ISBN 9570521279. 


  • 三思而后行
    • Transliteration: Sān sī ér hòu xíng.
    • Think three times before you move.
    • English equivalent: Measure twice, cut once.
    • Meaning: One should always act only after due consideration. A hasty action may involve an improper consideration of important aspects.
    • Source for meaning and proverbs: Paczolay, Gyula (1997). European Proverbs in 55 languages. p. 420. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 


  • (tiān) (gaō) (huáng) () (yuǎn)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Tiān gāo huángdì yuǎn
      • Traditional: 天高皇帝遠
      • Simplified: 天高皇帝远
    • The sky is big and the emperor is far away.
    • English Equivalent: When the cat is away, the mice will play.
    • "When authorities warn you of the sinfulness of sex, there is an important lesson to be learned. Do not have sex with the authorities."
    • Matt Groening, Life in Hell


  • () (zhāo) (bèi) (shé) (yǎo)(shí) (nián) () (jǐng) (shéng)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Yī zhāo bèi shé yǎo, shí nián pà jǐng shéng.
      • Traditional: 一朝被蛇咬,十年怕井繩
      • Simplified: 一朝被蛇咬,十年怕井绳
    • One bitten by a snake for a snap dreads a rope for a decade.
    • English equivalent: A burnt child dreads the fire; Once bitten, twice shy.
    • Meaning: Having done something wrong for the first time, you are afraid/do not want to do it again.
    • 林鸿钦,佘振荣,陈添来,刘香云,郭唯真 & 黄慧羚. Bahasa Cina (Pelangi Publishing Group Bhd ed.). p. 106. ISBN 9833532489. 
  • () (fēn) (gēng) (yún)() (fēn) (shōu) (huò)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Yī fēn gēngyún, yī fēn shōuhuò.
      • Traditional: 一分耕耘,一分收穫
      • Simplified: 一分耕耘,一分收获
    • If one does not plow, there will be no harvest.
    • English equivalent: Sow thin, reap thin.
    • Meaning: Work hard and you shall gain success.
    • 中四普通(学术)课程华文课文强化复习四上Chinese Enrichment Revision for Secondary 4A (Normal Acdemic). 新亚出版社. p. 26. ISBN 9812558624. 
  • (yǒu) (qián) (néng) 使(shǐ) (guǐ) (tuī) ()
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Yǒu qián néng shǐ guǐ tuī mò.
      • Traditional: 有錢能使鬼推磨
      • Simplified: 有钱能使鬼推磨
    • If you have money you can make the devil push your grind stone.
    • English equivalents: Money talks; money makes the world go round.
    • Meaning: Money is power.
    • 《孽海情天》魔鏡三部曲之第一部. 澳门教育研究中心. 2010. p. 46. ISBN 9996580903. 
  • () (shī) () (chéng) (qiān) () (hèn)(zài) (huí) (toú) () (bǎi) (nián) (shēn)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): yī shī zú chéng qiān gǔ hèn, zài huí toú yǐ yǐ nián shēn.
      • Traditional: 一失足成千古恨,再回頭已百年身
      • Simplified: 一失足成千古恨,再回头已百年身
    • English equivalent: A single slip may cause lasting sorrow.
    • Meaning: If you make a huge mistake(that may lead to jail or a death sentence), you'll regret it and you'll want to go back but won't be able to.
    • 吴世昌; 吴令华 (2003). 吴世昌全集: ce. di 8 juan, Hong lou meng tan yuan wai bian. 河北敎育出版社. p. 224. 
  • 人无千日好,花无百日红
    • English equivalent: All that is fair must fade.
    • William Scarborough (1875). "1509". A Collection of Chinese Proverbs translated and arranged by William Scarborough0: With an Introduction, Notes, and Copious Index. pp. 253–. 


  • () (zhù) (zhě) (tiān) (zhù)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Zìzhù zhě tiānzhù.
      • Traditional: 自助者天助
      • Simplified: 自助者天助
    • Those who help themselves, God will help.
    • English equivalent: Heaven helps those who help themselves.
    • " If thy hope be anything worth, it will purify thee from thy sins."
    • Joseph Alleine, The Solemn Warnings of the Dead: or, An Admonition to Unconverted Sinners (1804), Chapter 3, p. 44
    • 水煮三国(白金版)(1 200 000册超级畅销书全新升级.华语圈最具影响力的管理学著作之一). 中信出版社. 2008. p. 11. ISBN 7508612493. 
  • (zǎo) () (de) (niǎo) (er) (yǒu) (chóng) (chī)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Zǎoqǐ de niǎo er yǒu chóng chī.
      • Traditional: 早起的鳥兒有蟲吃
      • Simplified: 早起的鸟儿有虫吃
    • Translation and English equivalent: Early bird gets the worm.
    • Meaning: "Those who are late to act, arrive, or get up tend to miss opportunities already seized by those who came earlier."
    • Source for meaning of English equivalent: Martin H. Manser (2007). The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs. Infobase Publishing. p. 70. ISBN 978-0-8160-6673-5. Retrieved on 5 September 2013. 
    • 小五华文CA \& SA Continual Assessment \& Semestral Assessment Papers for Primary 5 Chinese. 新亚出版社. p. 19. ISBN 9812558888. 
  • 到什么山上唱什么歌
    • English equivalent: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
    • 王勤 (1982). 谚语歇后语概论. pp. 102–103. 
  • 花开堪折直须折
    • English equivalent: Enjoy the present day, trusting little to what tomorrow may bring.
    • 陳榮吉 (2009). "319". 讀世界諺語學英文:500句人生智慧諺語﹝上﹞. p. 166. ISBN 978-986-6498-15-2. 
  • 兼听则明,偏信则暗
    • English equivalent: Don't hear one and judge two.
    • 武占坤 (1983). 谚语. 內蒙古人民出版社. p. 21. 
  • 光阴似箭
    • English equivalent: Time flies like an arrow.
    • 朱安群 (1981). 古今谚语. p. 163. 
  • 重賞之下必有勇夫
  • 苛政猛于虎
    • English equivalent: That government is best which governs least.
    • 潘禮文 (1975). 中外俗語典. 中西文化出版社. p. 624. 
  • 其身不正,虽令不从
  • 凡事豫则立,不豫则废
    • English equivalent: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
    • 朱安群 (1981). 古今谚语. p. 34. 
  • 万变不离其宗
    • English equivalent: What is bred in the bone will not go out of the flesh.
    • 王和卿 (1990). 谚语词典. p. 132. 
  • 上山捉蟹——難
    • Catching crabs on the mountain — difficult
    • English equivalent: There is no building bridges across the ocean.
    • Meaning: Some tasks are as impossible as catching crabs on a mountain, emphasizing their inherent impracticality due to their nature.
    • 歇后语词典. 1984. p. 304. 
  • 中国俗语谚语库
  • . 盲 , 引 眾 , 盲 。 , 相 將 入 火坑
    • When one blind man leads several blind men, before long all will fall into a fire pit.
    • English equivalent: If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.
    • "1317". A Collection of Chinese Proverbs. 1875. p. 221. 

See also



  2. Learn Chinese the Fun Way 1, p119, Federal Press, Singapore

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