Wise sayings

A large and varied collection of proverbs all containing a little pearl of ancient wisdom. Many traditional wise sayings are included.

[強扭的瓜不甜]
Qiáng niǔ de guā bù tián [qiang niu de gua bu tian]
energetic seize melon not sweet
A melon taken off its vine is not sweet
Coercion never ends up satisfactorily. Leave things to develop naturally
识途 [識途老馬]
Shí tú laǒ mǎ [shi tu lao ma]
know way venerable horse
An old horse who knows the way
Age brings experience and wisdom
[老當益壯]
Lǎo dāng yì zhuàng [lao dang yi zhuang]
old able to increase strength
Old but still vigorous
Remaining vigorous, skillful and healthy in old age.
[字里行間]
Zì lǐ háng jiān [zi li hang jian]
character inside line between
Between the lines
Uncovering the hidden meaning or character
Reading between the lines
[空穴來風未必無因]
Kōng xuè lái féng wèi bì wú yīn [kong xue lai feng wei bi wu yin]
empty cave arrive wind surely nothing not follow
If wind comes from an empty cave it did not come from nowhere
There are always clues that something is about to happen
No smoke without fire
曹操,曹操 [說曹操曹操到]
Shuō Cáo Cāo, Cáo Cāo dào [shuo Cao Cao, Cao Cao dao]
speak Cao Cao, Cao Cao arrives
Speak of Cao Cao and he arrives
'Cao Cao of the Three Kingdoms is the embodiment of evil. Someone who you are talking about happens to appear unexpectedly
Speak of the devil and he is sure to appear
zhì ruò yú [da zhi ruo yu]
big wisdom seem foolish
A wise person may seem silent as often remains silent
A wise person holds his counsel
Still waters run deep
,[留得青山在不怕沒柴燒]
Liú dé qīng shān zài, bù pà méi chái shāo [liu de qing shan zai, bu pa mei chai shao]
remain get green mountain exist, no fear have no firewood
So long as the green mountains are preserved, there will be no shortage of firewood
Do not despair, there is plenty of time and opportunity
Everything comes to him who waits
掩瑜
Xiá bù yǎn yú [xia bu yan yu]
defect not conceal jewel
A speck on a jade stone can't obscure its brilliance
One small fault won't spoil the impression of an overall exceptional person
堤,溃 [千里之堤潰于蟻穴]
Qiān lǐ zhī dī, kuì yú yǐ xué [qian li zhi di, kui yu yi xue]
thousand mile's dyke, river goto ant hole
An ant may destroy an entire dam
Take full attention to detail to avoid catastrophe
Spoil the ship for a ha'pworth of tar
[網開一面]
Wǎng kāi miàn [wang kai yi mian]
net open one side
To leave one side of the net open
To give someone a chance of escape
To let someone off the hook
宴席 [天下沒有不散的宴席]
Tiān xià méi yǒu bù sàn de yàn xí [tian xia mei you bu san de yan xi]
world does not have no break up of banquet
No banquet in the world goes on forever
Good fortune can not last for ever
All good things must come to an end
Jiāng shì lǎo de là [jiang shi lao de la]
ginger is old of peppery
Aged ginger is more potent
Experience gives wisdom
[巧婦難為無米之炊]
Qiǎo fù nán wéi wú mǐ zhī chuī [qiao fu nan wei wu mi zhi chui]
skilful woman difficult pride nothing rice's cook
Even the cleverest cook cannot prepare rice without rice
You need to assemble the right materials for a job
,堵墙 [交個朋友多條路樹個敵人多堵墻]
Jiāo gè péng you duō tiáo lù, shù gè dí rén duō dǔ qiáng [jiao ge peng you duo tiao lu, shu ge di ren duo du qiang]
exchange friend many paved road, tree enemy many stop wall
Making a friend is an open road; making an enemy builds a wall
It is better to make friends than enemies
One good turn deserves another
[亦步亦趨]
Yì bù yì qū [yi bu yi qu]
also step also walk fast
To follow in someone's footsteps
To imitate slavishly. The story is of a devoted pupil of Confucius, Yan Hui, who aped everything Confucius did including his walk. Pointless copying
A copycat
[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
[同床異夢]
Tóng chuáng yì mèng [tong chuang yi meng]
same bed different dream
Dream different dreams on the same bed
Not everyone thinks the same
It takes all sorts to make the world
, [一龍生九種種種不同]
lóng shēng jiǔ zhǒng, zhǒng zhǒng bù tóng [yi long sheng jiu zhong, zhong zhong bu tong]
one dragon produce nine sons, grow not same
The dragon has nine sons, each different from the others
Brothers and sisters may not resemble each other
xiangqi, chess
Playing Chinese Chess. 2010. For more evocative images visit aburyan.com . Image by Endrjuch available under a Creative Commons license
,旁观 [噹局者迷旁觀者清]
Dāng jú zhě mí, páng guān zhě qīng [dang ju zhe mi, pang guan zhe qing]
equal game other be confused, side observe other clear
Spectators get a better appreciation of the game than the players
If too closely involved may not see all the issues involved
[小題大作]
Xiaǒ zuò [xiao ti da zuo]
small topic large work
To talk a lot about very little
Procrastination and exaggeration
Make a mountain out of a molehill
[大義滅親]
yì miè qīn [da yi mie qin]
great justice wipe out relative
Uphold justice by killing one?s own family
Prepared to kill one's own family to keep to the law. Back in the Spring and Autumn Period a father, Shi Que, uncovered the murder of the king of Wei was done by a treasonous group which included his own son Shi Hou. Believing he could not show him special treatment he had him executed.
Fān yún fù [fan yun fu yu]
turn over cloud overturn rain
Conjuring clouds with one hand and rain with the other
Trying too hard to impress
糊涂 [難得糊涂]
Nan dé hú tu [nan de hu tu]
difficult achieve bewildered
Too hard to understand
Where ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise
,哪湿鞋 [常在河邊走哪能不溼鞋]
Cháng zài hé biān zǒu, nǎ néng bù shī xié [chang zai he bian zou, na neng bu shi xie]
normal located river side walk, there can not wet shoes
You cannot frequently walk along a river without getting your shoes wet
You can't ignore the local conditions
昔比
Jīn fēi xī bǐ [jin fei xi bi]
modern wrong ancient compare
The present cannot be compared with the past
The past is not always a good predictor of the future. Things change
[明知故問]
Míng zhī gù wèn [ming zhi gu wen]
bright know incident ask
Already knowing the answer
To ask a question when already knowing the answer
[種瓜得瓜種豆得豆]
Zhòng guā dé guā zhòng dòu dé dòu [zhong gua de gua zhong dou de dou]
plant melon get melon, plant beans get beans
Plant melons and you will harvest melons; plant beans and you will harvest beans
Live with the consequences of your actions
Reap what you sow
抛砖引 [拋塼引玉]
Pāo zhuān yǐn yù [pao zhuan yin yu]
throw brick draw jade
Cast out a brick to invite jade
Modestly allow others to contribute to conversation by making a silly remark
[前車之鋻]
Qián chē zhī jiàn [qian che zhi jian]
preceding vehicle's reflect
Watch the route of the preceding carriage. A carriage that overturned ahead can be a lesson for those to follow.
Take account of what has gone before
Look before you leap
Yǒu gòng dǔ [you mu gong du]
has eye common observe
Seen by everyone. There for all to see
Obvious to everybody
Plain for all to see
[莫測高深]
Mò cè gāo shēn [mo ce gao shen]
cannot measure high deep
Too high or deep to measure
Enigmatic, unfathomable. Too profound to be readily understood
Still waters run deep
[身體力行]
Shēn tǐ lì xíng [shen ti li xing]
health strength walk
To maintain health by strenuous walk
Following the advice given oneself
Practice what you preach
骆驼比 [瘦死的駱駝比馬大]
Shòu sǐ de luò tuo bǐ mǎ [shou si de luo tuo bi ma da]
thin die camel compare horse big
The body of a starved camel is bigger than the body of a living horse.
Respect ancient wisdom rather than the new
磨杵[磨杵成針]
Mó chǔ chéng zhēn [mo chu cheng zhen]
grind pestle accomplish needle
Grinding an iron pestle down to a needle
Patiently setting about a great, lengthy task step by step. Anything can be achieved with a firm resolve,
Little strokes fell great oaks
[失敗是成功之母]
Shī bài shì chéng gōng zhī mǔ [shi bai shi cheng gong zhi mu]
failure is achieve merit's mother
Failure is the mother of success
Learning from mistakes
Cut your coat to suit your cloth
[見義勇為]
Jiàn yì yǒng wéi [jian yi yong wei]
see justice brave act
See the just cause and act on it
To see what is right and act with courage
[無風不起浪]
Wú fēng bù qǐ làng [wu feng bu qi lang]
no wind no rise wave
No wind, no waves
There must have been signs that it was going to happen
No smoke without fire
printing, calligraphy
Printing using movable wooden block Chinese characters
[溫故而知新]
Wēn gù ér zhī xīn [wen gu er zhi xin]
revise ancient but know new
Study the past and yet know the present
Studying the past helps to understand the present
改邪 [改邪歸正]
Gǎi xié guī zhèng [gai xie gui zheng]
change evil return correct
Abandon evil and turn to good
Reject bad ways and turn to the good
Turn over a new leaf
换汤 [換湯不換葯]
Huàn tāng bú huàn yaò [huan tang bu huan yao]
change hot water no change medicine
Change the soup but not the medicine
Not getting to the root of a problem, making superficial changes
Rearranging the deckchairs while the ship is sinking
[㱃水思源]
Yǐn shuǐ sī yuán [yin shui si yuan]
drink water think source
When drinking water remember the origin
Do not forget the source of your good fortune (particularly your parents)
Biting the hand that feeds it
,[啞巴吃餃子心里有數]
Yǎ ba chī jiǎo zi, xīn lǐ yǒu shù [ya ba chi jiao zi, xin li you shu]
mute person eat dumpling, heart inside has count
When a mute person eats dumplings, he knows how many he has eaten, even though he cannot speak
When someone understands the situation without needing to say anything
Yì rú fǎn zhǎng [yi ru fan zhang]
easy as turn over palm
As easy as turning over your hand
Simple. Very easy
急,授 [授人以魚只解一旹之急授人以漁則解一生之需]
Shòu rén zhǐ jiù shí zhī jí, shòu rén yǐ yú zé jiě yī shēng zhī xū [shou ren yi yu zhi jiu yi shi zhi ji, shou ren yi yu ze jie yi sheng zhi xu]
award person use fish one explain once quick, award person use fishing standard separate one produce must
Give a fish and be fed for only a day. Teach how to fish and be free from hunger forever
It is important to learn a skill that will last for life
指桑骂槐 [指桑罵槐]
Zhǐ sāng mà huái [zhi sang ma huai]
finger mulberry blame locust tree
Pointing to the mulberry tree when the locust tree is to blame
Deliberately deflecting criticism to someone or something else - often to protect friends or family
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
[未雨綢繆]
Wèi chóu móu [wei yu chou mou]
not yet rain silk repair
Before the rains repair the cloth
Plan ahead, be prepared
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
眼泪救 [眼淚救不了火]
Yǎn lèi jiù bù liǎo huǒ [yan lei jiu bu liao huo]
tears rescued not fire
Tears do not put out the fire
Decisive action is needed in a crisis not regrets
焉附 [皮之不存毛將焉附]
Pí zhī bù cún maó jiāng yān fù [pi zhi bu cun mao jiang yan fu]
skin no exist hair support how add
If the skin is missing hair can not grow
Everything needs its proper environment for nurture
No man is an island
计,[三十六計走為上策]
Sān shí liù jì, zǒu wéi shàng [san shi liu ji, zou wei shang ce]
thirty six sums walk pride up urge
Of the thirty-six stratagems, running away is the best.
Sometimes it is best to avoid conflict altogether. Flight can be the best option. 'The Thirty-Six Stratagems' was written by the great military thinker Sun Zi
Devil take the hindmost
,[一分錢一分貨]
fēn qián, fēn huò [yi fen qian, yi fen huo]
one penny, one portion goods
With only a penny you can't buy much
You cant buy something for nothing
You get what you pay for
[學無止境]
Xué wú zhǐ jìng [xue wu zhi jing]
learn nothing stop border
There is no limit to learning
Knowledge is infinite
[眾怒難犯]
Zhòng nù nán fàn [zhong nu nan fan]
crowd fury disaster to offend
Avoid incurring the wrath of the crowd
It's a bad idea to stir up the anger of a large crowd
Xiōng yǒu chéng zhú [xiong you cheng zhu]
mind have finished bamboo
Keeping the appearance of bamboo in mind
To be able to paint bamboo (or anything else), you have to have a mental image of how it looks. An admonishment to plan ahead carefully and acquire the skill to carry it out.
Forewarned is forearmed
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
[青出于藍而勝于藍]
Qīng chū yú lán ér shèng yú lán [qing chu yu lan er sheng yu lan]
indigo blue comes out foremost blue but excel foremost blue
Indigo is obtained from the indigo plant, but such color is bluer than the plant itself
Wise schooling has produced excellence beyond the teacher. The follower has surpassed the master.
Tibet, lake, mountains
Manasarovar lake and Mount Namunani, Tibet
, [一寸光陰一寸金寸金難買寸光陰]
cùn guāng yīn cùn jīn, cùn jīn nán mǎi cùn guāng yīn [yi cun guang yin yi cun jin, cun jin nan mai cun guang yin]
one inch time one inch gold, inch time difficult buy inch gold
Money spent can be earned again, but time lost is lost for good
An inch of time is an inch of gold, but an inch of time cannot be purchased by an inch of gold.
,
dēng lóng mén shēn jià shí bèi [yi deng long men shen jia shi bei]
as soon as ascend dragon gate status tenfold
By crossing the dragon gate, prestige rises ten-fold
Diligent study brings great rewards. The Dragon Gate is a dangerous gorge on the Yellow River. Success in the Imperial examinations was likened to a carp ascending the gorge. Passing the examinations greatly added to prestige.
[大公無私]
gōng wú sī [da gong wu si]
large just not selfish
Selflessness
Helping everyone else. Not motivated by self-interest.
[話里有話]
Huà lǐ yǒu huà [hua li you hua]
speech inside has speech
Within the talk there is more meaning
There is more in what was said than is obvious
[逆來順受]
Nì lái shùn shòu [ni lai shun shou]
disobey arrive obey receive
Do not block but welcome arrival
Deal with things as they happen; do not put them off
[山雨欲來風滿樓]
Shān yù lái fēng mǎn lóu [shan yu yu lai feng man lou]
mountain rain intend arrive wind tower
The wind sweeping through the tower heralds a rising storm in the mountain
A premonition of something significant about to happen
Forewarned is forearmed
[帋包不住火]
Zhǐ bāo bù zhù huǒ [zhi bao bu zhu huo]
paper wrap not live fire
Paper can not wrap up a fire
The truth can not be concealed
Truth will out
Jié zú xiān dēng [jie zu xian deng]
victory foot first climb
The winning foot is the first to climb
To succeed need to start off first
The early bird gets the worm
[苦口良葯]
kǒu liáng yaò [ku kou liang yao]
bitter mouth good medicine
Good medicine tastes bad
It takes hard work and discomfort to achieve something worthwhile
[一言既出駟馬難追]
yán jì chū sì mǎ nán zhuī [yi yan ji chu si ma nan zhui]
one speech already go out team of horses difficult chase
A speech made cannot be taken back even by a team of horses
Be careful what you say, it can not be unsaid
[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
[旤從口出]
Huò cóng kǒu chū [huo cong kou chu]
disaster from mouth emerge
The wrong words can bring disaster
Be careful what you say
罔,[學而不思則罔思而不學則殆]
Xué ér bù sī zé wǎng, sī ér bù xué zé dài [xue er bu si ze wang, si er bu xue ze dai]
study but no think rule deceive, think but no study rule dangerous
Learning without thinking means wasted work; thinking without learning is dangerous
Studying hard is important and gives rewards
[錦上添花]
Jǐn shàng tiān huā [jin shang tian hua]
tapestry up add flower
Add another flower to a tapestry
Taking too much trouble with detail to try to achieve perfection. Fiddling when already complete
Gilding the lily
[智者千慮必有一失]
Zhì zhě qiān lǜ bì yǒu shī [zhi zhe qian lu bi you yi shi]
wisdom that thousand worry about certainly have one mistake
Even the wise can be occasionally wrong
One small mistake does not discredit a wise person
Yáng maó chū zài yáng shēn shàng [yang mao chu zai yang shen shang]
wool come out at sheep body on
Wool comes from a sheep
Unrealistic expectations. You get what you pay for
[開門見山]
Kāi mén jiàn shān [kai men jian shan]
begin entrance see mountain
As soon as the door is opened see the mountain
To come straight to the point. Avoid procrastination
Brevity is the soul of wit
Jīn zhāo yǒu jiǔ jīn zhāo zuì [jin zhao you jiu jin zhao zui]
now palace have wine, now palace drunk
When have some wine, all will get drunk
Take advantage of good fortune while it is around
[對症下葯]
Duì zhèng xià yào [dui zheng xia yao]
answer illness down medicine
Prescribe the right medicine for an illness
Take the right measures to solve a problem and achieve the desired result
Hainan, tropical plants, coast
Tropical garden on Hainan island
Kǒu shì xīn fēi [kou shi xin fei]
mouth OK feeling wrong
Say yes when mean no
To say the opposite of what you really think
消雾 [云消霧散]
Yún xiāo wù sàn [yun xiao wu san]
cloud vanish mist disperse
Cloud and mists disperse
All becomes clear again. Troubles are over
锦囊妙计 [錦囊妙計]
Jǐn náng miào jì [jin nang miao ji]
brocade purse wonderful plan
Excellent plans hidden in a brocade bag
To have wise plans in reserve. The story is that the brilliant strategist Zhuge Liang sent plans for a military campaign concealed in a brocade bag.
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
[讀万卷書不如行万里路]
wàn juǎn shū bù rú xíng wàn lǐ lù [du wan juan shu bu ru xing wan li lu]
read 10000 roll up book no like walk 10000 mile road
Reading ten thousand books is not the same as walking a thousand miles
Learn from practical experience not from books
[古為今用]
wéi jīn yòng [gu wei jin yong]
ancient pride modern apply
Applying ancient ways to the present day
Learning from history. Applying past history to the current situation
[患難見真情]
Huàn nàn jiàn zhēn qíng [huan nan jian zhen qing]
suffer difficult see true affection
In adversity, true feelings are shown
Only in a crisis do you know who your friends really are
A friend in need is a friend indeed
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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