Our proverbs come with full information. The modern Chinese characters are given first with links that give information on the character. As proverbs are so old you will often see them written using the traditional form of characters; so if some of the characters have been simplified the traditional form is shown in brackets and gray text. The characters are followed by the proverb (normally a 成语 chéng yǔ) 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 shown.
For background on the types and history of proverbs please see our guide.
Some Chinese sayings concerning the allure and perils of love.
Ài bù shì shǒu
Locked in love's clutches.
Ài wū jí wū
Strong love that encompasses all, including the crow sitting on the roof
Hearing a hundred times is not as good as seeing once
Delighted to meet you in person at last. Seeing at first hand gives valuable information. The story is of a Han dynasty veteran general Zhao Chongguo who went to see the situation for himself at the frontier rather than relying on secondhand reports. His wise analysis quickly solved the problem with the incursions of northern tribes.
Roughly equivalent to: There's no place like home.
Oǔ duàn sī lián
Although the lotus root may be cut, its fibered threads are still connected
Friendship survives adversity.
Pí zhī bù cún maó jiāng yān fù
If the skin is missing hair can not grow
Everything needs its proper environment for nurture.
Roughly equivalent to: No man is an island.
Qiān jīn mǎi xiào
A smile costing a thousand ounces of gold
A target that is very hard to attain. Spending lavishly to attract an alluring woman, A variant of the proverb uses ‘horses bones'’ 买骨 instead of a smile but the meaning is the same - needless extravagance.
Shēng huó yǒu ài xìngfú, wèi ài shēng huó yú chǔn
A life of love is happy; a life for love is foolish
Love is not the most important thing.
Shù gāo qiān zhàng yè luò guī gēn
A tree may grow high, but its leaves always fall on its roots
People living far away will eventually comes back home.
Roughly equivalent to: Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Xiāng xiāo yù sǔn
Fragrance is dissipated; jade is broken
Spoken of on the death of a beautiful young woman.
Roughly equivalent to: Whom the Gods love die young.
The moon is brightest at the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the feeling of homesickness will be strongest during the festival
Longing to see family from far away.
Roughly equivalent to: There's no place like home.
Qiān lǐ sòng é máo
A swan feather from a thousand miles away
Showing appreciation on receiving a gift that shows the sender has taken time and trouble to choose it. Traveling a very long way to deliver what seems to be a trifle. The tale is from the Tang dynasty when Mian Bogai sent a gift of a special swan to the Emperor. However one feather was all that was left from the swan when he eventually arrived. So this is a rejoinder when someone receives a gift that is seemingly of low value.
Roughly equivalent to: Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
Jǔ àn qí méi
Lifting the tray up to the eyebrows
Showing respect and affection for someone. It is a traditional show of respect to lift a tray high when presenting food to a respected guest. Lasting love and consideration.
Shì dú zhī ài
The love of a cow licking her calf
An example of parental love and devotion. A biased assessment due to family ties - caring for one's own relatives.
Roughly equivalent to: The fruit does not fall far from the tree.
Qīng chéng qīng guó
Triumph over city and country
Overwhelm the entire area. Usually applied to a woman of outstanding beauty.
Roughly equivalent to: The face that launched a thousand ships.
Gǎn ēn tú bào
Gratefully returning kindness
Repaying a debt of kindness. The story is from the Zhou dynasty when the state of Wu was mounting a war against the state of Zheng. A Zheng fisherman offered to try to stop the conflict. He boldly went to the enemy general Wu Zixu and reminded him that his father had saved Wu's life a long time ago. The general then recalled the incident and in repayment of the kindness called off his attack on Zheng.
Roughly equivalent to: One good turn deserves another.
The lover's eye sees the legendary beauty of Xi Shi in his plain mistress
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Roughly equivalent to: Love is blind.
Dào xǐ xiāng yíng
Putting on shoes the wrong way around when greeting a guest
So keen to meet a guest that shoes are put on the wrong way around. Excitement about meeting someone who is loved or idolized.
Roughly equivalent to: Go weak at the knees.
Pò jìng chóng yuán
A broken mirror remade
A reunion after a couple are separated or patching up after a quarrel. There are several legends in China about a couple who on separation each took one half of a mirror (which used to be of bronze) and when they eventually they are reunited they found each other by matching up the two halves of the mirror.
Qín sè hé míng
Qin and harp in harmony
In blissful harmony. The story is from the Song dynasty when Zhao Mingcheng and Li Qingzhao fell in love and lived a life of bliss. They collected ancient inscriptions and played the guqin (type of zither) and harp together. Tragedy struck when the Jurchen invaded Shandong. The couple fled south to Hangzhou but Zhao died and Li spent 25 years as a mournful widow.
Roughly equivalent to: A match made in heaven.
Bù zhī ròu wèi
Not notice the smell of meat
Totally entranced and distracted. The story is from the Analects of Confucius. The great sage was walking in woodland and heard someone performing Shao music. He was so entranced by the blissful sound that he could not be distracted even by the smell of roasting meat (then a rare treat).