Chinese proverbs

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself.
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
    • Meaning:“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”
  • 小洞不补,大洞吃苦
  • 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.
    • English equivalent: The devil is in the details
    • "When reading, don’t let a single word escape your attention; one word may be worth a thousand pieces of gold."
    • 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. 


  • (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 : Usually used to acknowledge when a fresh or younger generation has done better than the previous.

    • The Changjiang River waves behind drive the waves ahead.
    • 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: 讀萬卷書不如行萬里路
      • Simplified: 读万卷书不如行万里路
    • English equivalent: Experience is the best teacher.
    • Translation: Reading ten thousand books is less than journeying ten thousand miles (lǐ - Chinese unit of measure for large distances).
    • "Trial often exhibits truly wonderful results."
    • William Henry Porter (1845). Proverbs: Arranged in Alphabetical Order .... Munroe and Company. p. 202. 
    • Francis Bacon, Novum Organum (The New Organon) (1620)
    • 2010國立臺灣大學藝文年鑑. 2011. ISBN 978-986-02-8884-1. 


  • (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
    • English equivalent: He that reckons without his host must reckon again.
    • Literal translation: Defensive people of heart can not lack.
  • When the people are being beaten with a stick, they are not much happier if it is called "the People's Stick."
    • Mikhail Bakunin, Statism and Anarchy (1873)
    • "I would rather trust a woman's instinct than a man's reason."
    • Stanley Baldwin, quoted in: Charles Phillips (2006), Brain Box, p. 110.
    • 俗语词典. 商务印书馆. 1994. p. 93. 
  • (fēng) (xiàng) (zhuàn) (biàn) (shí), (yǒu) (rén) (zhú) (qiáng), (yǒu) (rén) (zào) (fēng) (chē)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Fēng xiàng zhuàn biàn shí, yǒu rén zhú qiáng, yǒu rén zào fēng chē.
      • Traditional: 風向轉變時,有人築牆,有人造風車
      • Simplified: 风向转变时,有人筑墙,有人造风车
    • English equivalent: When one door closes another opens.
    • "Situations emerge in the process of creative destruction in which many firms may have to perish that nevertheless would be able to live on vigorously and usefully if they could weather a particular storm."
    • Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1942; Third Edition, 2014. Part II, Chapter VIII, pg.90
    • Friedman (2009). 世界又熱、又平、又擠: 全球暖化、能源耗竭、人口爆炸危機下的新經濟革命. 天下遠見出版股份有限公司. 

  • () () (chóng) (zhì), (huò) () (dān) (xíng)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Fú wú zhòng zhì, huòbùdānxíng.
      • Traditional: 福無重至,禍不單行
      • Simplified: 福无重至,祸不单行
    • English equivalent: Bless never come both, and accidents never come alone.
    • "A good opportunity is seldom presented, and is easily lost."
    • Syrus, Maxims. (~50 B.C)
    • 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 1. 

  • () (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.
    • "Marx teaches us to blame society for our frailties, Freud teaches us to blame our parents, and astrology teaches us to blame the universe. The only place to look for blame is within: you didn't have the guts to bring up your full moon and live the life that was your potential."
    • Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss posted posthumously (2004)
    • 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 comercial press). 1994. p. 301. 
    • English translation: Do not desire to hurt others in the depths of your heart.
    • "Of all the characteristics of ordinary human nature envy is the most unfortunate; not only does the envious person wish to inflict misfortune and do so whenever he can with impunity, but he is also himself rendered unhappy by envy. Instead of deriving pleasure from what he has, he derives pain from what others have."
    • Bertrand Russell, The Conquest of Happiness (1930)


    • English equivalent: Don't postpone till tomorrow what you can do today.
    • "Beware, Lorenzo! a slow-sudden death.
    • How dreadful that deliberate surprise?
    • Be wise today, 'tis madness to defer;
    • Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
    • Thus on, till wisdom is pushed out of life:
    • Procrastination is the thief of time,
    • Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
    • And to the mercies of a moment leaves
    • The vast concerns of an eternal scene. "
    • Edward Young, Night-Thoughts (1742)
    • Bahasa Cina. Pelangi Publishing Group Bhd. p. 26. ISBN 9833531105. 
  • 解鈴還須繫鈴人
    • 解铃还须系铃人
    • The one who makes trouble can resolve the trouble.
    • 商务馆小学生粤谚语歇后语惯用语词典,商务印书馆(The Commercial Press),2010.p.153. ISBN 978-7-100-07153-6.
  • Jiŭ fā xīn fù zhī yán.
  • 酒发心腹之言。
    • English equivalent: In wine there is truth.
    • "Consuming alcohol assists with removing deceit and revealing the 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: Every why has its wherefore.
    • "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
    • English equivalent: Bitter pills may have blessed effects; Better hold with the hound than run with the hare.
    • "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. 
    • "The ignorant are not blissful; they are the butt of a joke they're not even aware of."
    • Rules of the Game: The Style Diaries (2007)
    • Po-Ching (2000). Chinese Lexicon. Taylor \& Francis. p. 127. 
  • (Yǒu) () () () (yǒu) () ()
    • Transliteration: Yǒu qí fù bì yǒu qí zǐ.
    • 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
    • English equivalents: The best laid plans of mice and men...
    • "Plans are insulted destinies. I don't have plans, I only have goals."
    • Ash Chandler, Freudian Slip, Mumbai Mirror Buzz, April 2006.
    • Life is what happens to you, while you're busy making other plans.
    • John Lennon, From Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) off the 1980 "Double Fantasy" album.
    • Along With Time. 秀威資訊科技股份有限公司. p. 246. ISBN 9862217340. 
    • man proposes, god disposes
  • (ròu) (bāo) (zi) () (gǒu)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Ròu bāozi dǎ gǒu.
      • Traditional: 肉包子打狗
      • Simplified: 肉包子打狗
    • To hit a dog with a meat-bun.
    • Interpretation: The meat-bun never come back.
    • 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.
    • 职业道德与就业创业指导. 清华大学出版社. 2005. p. 71. ISBN 1. 

  • () () (dāng) (huó) () ()
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Sǐ mǎ dāng huó mǎ yī.
      • Traditional: 死馬當活馬醫
      • Simplified: 死马当活马医
    • Translation: Dead horse receiving medical treatment medically meant for a live horse.
    • English equivalent: To flog a dead horse.


  • (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.
    • English equivalent: An ounce of practice is worth a pound of theory.
    • "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 or a new medicine or vaccine - 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
    • 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."[1]

  • (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: Water keeps the boat afloat, but can also sink it.
    • Meaning: Nature can help and harm you. The people(water) can raise someone(boat) to power, but can also take it away(sink).
    • 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.
    • English equivalent: Think twice, act once. Look before you leap.
    • "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 heavens are high and the Emperor is far away.
    • "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


  • (yán) (jiāo) () () (shēn) (jiào)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): yán jiāo bù rú shēn jiào.
      • Simplified: 言教不如身教
    • English equivalent: Example is better than precept.
  • () (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: Once bitten, twice shy.
    • Meaning: You 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
    • English equivalent: Sow thin, reap thin. You get out, what you put in.
    • "It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from the sense of inadequacy and impotence. They hate not wickedness but weakness. When it is their power to do so, the weak destroy weakness wherever they see it."
    • Eric Hoffer, The Passionate State Of Mind, and Other Aphorisms (1955)
    • 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 makes the world go round.
    • "Money, once again; all is money. All human relationships must be purchased with money. If you have no money, men won't care for you, women won't love you; won't, that is, care for you or love you the last little bit that matters. And how right they are, after all! For, moneyless, you are unlovable. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels. But then, if I haven't money, I DON'T speak with the tongues of men and of angels."
    • George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936)
    • 《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: Once make a huge mistake(that may cause jail or death sentence), you want to go back but can't(regret).
    • 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. 


  • () (zhù) (zhě) (tiān) (zhù)
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Zìzhù zhě tiānzhù.
      • Traditional: 自助者天助
      • Simplified: 自助者天助
    • English equivalent: Heaven helps those who help themselves.
    • "When in trouble first of all every one himself should do his best to improve his condition."
    • Source for meaning: Paczolay, Gyula (1997). European Proverbs in 55 languages. p. 150. ISBN 1-875943-44-7. 
    • 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
    • English equivalent: The early bird gets the worm.
    • "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. 

See also[edit]


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

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Wikipedia has an article about: