Chinese proverbs about co-operation

Working together in harmony and co-operation will get everything done quicker and better … except sometimes getting along with everybody can be a strain.

[眾人拾柴火焰高]
Zhòng rén shí chái huǒyàn gāo [zhong ren shi chai huoyan gao]
many people pick up firewood fire flames high
Only when all contribute their firewood can they build up a big fire
People need to pull together to achieve something significant
Many hands make light work
[殺一儆百]
Shā jǐng bǎi [sha yi jing bai]
kill one warn hundred
Kill one to warn a hundred
To warn many people by punishing a few. Making example punishments
蜂酿[一只蜂釀不成蜜一顆米熬不成粥]
zhī fēng niáng bù chéng mì kē mǐ áo bù chéng zhōu [yi zhi feng niang bu cheng mi yi ke mi ao bu cheng zhou]
only one bee not produce honey, one grain rice cook not complete meal
One bee cannot produce honey; one grain of rice cannot produce a meal
It needs joint effort to achieve anything worthwhile
Many hands make light work
送炭
Xuě lǐ sòng tàn [xue li song tan]
snow neighbourhood deliver charcoal
Send charcoal in a snow storm
To offer assistance when it is needed
A friend in need is a friend indeed
匠,凑诸葛亮 [三個臭皮匠湊個諸葛亮]
Sān gè chòu pí jiàng, còu gè Zhūgě Liàng [san ge chou pi jiang, cou ge Zhuge Liang]
three smelly shoemakers, gather together Zhuge Liang
Three humble shoemakers brainstorming make a great statesman like Zhuge Liang
Joint effort can help solve big problems
Two heads are better than one
[孤掌難鳴]
Gū zhǎng nán míng [gu zhang nan ming]
solitary palm difficult sound
You can not clap with just one hand
It is difficult to achieve anything on your own
It takes two to Tango
, [八仙過海各顯神通]
xiān guò hǎi, gè xiǎn shén tōng [ba xian guo hai, ge xian shen tong]
eight immortal past sea each show god knowledge
The Eight Immortals crossing the sea all have there own particular skills
Everyone has their own special skills to contribute
[八字沒一撇]
zì méi piě [ba zi mei yi pie]
eight character not one neglect
The character for eight takes two strokes to write not just one
You can't do everything on your own
It takes two to Tango
, [水能載舟亦能覆舟]
Shuǐ néng zài zhōu, yì néng fù zhōu [shui neng zai zhou, yi neng fu zhou]
water can carry boat, also can sink boat
Not only does water float a boat, it can sink it too
Events and people can have both positive and negative influences
, [獨木不成林單弦不成音]
Dú mù bù chéng lín, dān xián bù chéng yīn [du mu bu cheng lin, dan xian bu cheng yin]
only tree no accomplish forest , single string no accomplish sound
A single tree does not make a forest; a single string can not make music
Many things require people to work together to achieve an end
All pull together
[藏龍臥虎]
Cáng lóng wò hǔ [cang long wo hu]
hide dragon lie tiger
Hidden dragon, crouching tiger
There are often people around with great power and skill
[普天同慶]
tiān tóng qìng [pu tian tong qing]
universal heaven together celebrate
Everyone in celebration
The whole nation is rejoicing at some happy event
Duō duō yì shàn [duo duo yi shan]
many many benefit improve
The more, the better
Safety in numbers. Wanting to invite as many people as possible to improve chances of success
Many hands make light work
[風雨同舟]
Fēng tóng zhōu [feng yu tong zhou]
wind rain same boat
On the same boat in a storm
Facing troubles together
A trouble shared is a trouble halved
齿 [唇亡齒寒]
Chún wáng chǐ hán [chun wang chi han]
lips gone tooth cold
Without lips the teeth feel the cold
Two interdependent things or people. The story of is of an attack on two kingdoms, as they were so mutually dependent the fall of one led directly to the fall of the other.
,, [一個和尚挑水喝兩個和尚抬水喝三個和尚沒水喝]
gè hé shang tiāo shuǐ hē, liǎng gè hé shang tái shuǐ hē, sān ge hé shang méi shuǐ hē [yi ge he shang tiao shui he, liang ge he shang tai shui he, san ge he shang mei shui he]
one yet lift water, two yet carry water, three yet not carry water
One monk shoulders water by himself; two can still share the labor between them. When it comes to three, they all go thirsty.
Sometimes work is best done alone, a group may procrastinate without achieving anything
Too many cooks spoil the broth
补短 [取長補短]
Qǔ cháng bǔ duǎn [qu chang bu duan]
take long mend short
Learn from other's good points to offset your own shortcomings
Take notice of other people's admirable qualities
[龍爭虎斗]
Lóng zhēng hǔ dòu [long zheng hu dou]
dragon war tiger battle
Bitter fight between a dragon and tiger. An evenly matched big fight
Struggle between two equal leaders
Sān rén chéng hǔ [san ren cheng hu]
three person accomplish tiger
It only takes three people to confirm a sighting of a tiger.
A rumour can build up to a mighty story when only a handful confirm it. Basing a story on rumor and gossip rather than hard facts.
rice
Guilin rice terrace in summer, Guangxi. Photo by Mgmoscatello available under a Creative Commons license .
嫁祸 [嫁旤于人]
Jià huò yú rén [jia huo yu ren]
marry disaster foremost person
A person in misfortune blames someone else
Spread blame onto others
[殺雞給猴看]
Shā jī gěi hóu kàn [sha ji gei hou kan]
kill chicken give monkey look
Kill a chicken before a monkey. The monkey can then take the message as a warning
To punish somebody as a lesson and warning to others
覆巢完卵 [覆巢無完卵]
Fù cháo wú wán luǎn [fu chao wu wan luan]
overturn nest no entire egg
When the nest is overturned, no egg remains unbroken
In a disaster everyone will feel the consequences
猢狲 [樹倒猢猻散]
Shù daǒ hú sūn sàn [shu dao hu sun san]
tree fall monkey troupe break up
When a tree falls, the monkeys scatter
When a leader loses power, his followers are disorganized. An organization needs a strong leader. Chaos results when a leader is deposed
shān bù róng èr [yi shan bu rong er hu]
one mountain not hold two tigers
Two tigers cannot share one mountain
Two equally talented or able employees do not work well together
麻雀,脏俱 [麻雀雖小五臟俱全]
Má què suī xiǎo, zàng jù quán [ma que sui xiao, wu zang ju quan]
rough sparrow although small, five innards all complete
Small as it is, the sparrow has all the vital organs
A person is a person regardless of size. Complete in every detail
[獨木難支]
Dú mù nán zhī [du mu nan zhi]
only timber difficult prop up
A single stick will not prop up a whole building
It often requires more than one person to resolve problems
Two heads are better than one
China motif
Our proverbs come with full information. The modern Chinese characters are given first with links that give information on the character. If the phrase uses traditional characters these are shown in brackets and gray text. As proverbs are so old you will often see them written in the old form. The characters are followed by the proverb (Chengyu) in pinyin. Next, there is a crude character by character transliteration into English, followed by a more accurate English translation. If this is a Chinese proverb alluding to history the meaning may still not be clear in English, so the general meaning follows. Finally some proverbs have fairly direct English equivalents, if so the English proverb is included at the end.

Our translations are in need of improvement, so please let us know your ideas. For background on the types and history of proverbs please see our guide.

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