Oops! It appears that you have disabled your Javascript. In order for you to see this page as it is meant to appear, we ask that you please re-enable your Javascript!

Proverbs

 

50 most commonly used Chinese proverbs

 

This is a collection of 50 most commonly used Chinese proverbs (yàn yŭ 谚语) arranged alphabetically by their first word pinyin transcription. Chinese proverbs are developed from the formulaic or social dialect and historical story in Chinese, which used all walks of life.

  

bā xiān guò hǎi, gè xiǎn shén tōng  八仙过海,各显神通

Like the Eight Immortals crossing the sea, each one displaying his/her special feats.

Implication: Everyone has his/her own powers in terms of talents

bù zuò kuī xīn shì, bù pà guǐ qiāo mén  不做亏心事,不怕鬼敲门

Don’t do bad deeds, don’t afraid of ghosts knocking.

Implication: A clear conscience is a good pillow.

bù rù hǔ xué, yān dé hǔ zǐ  不入虎穴,焉得虎子

If you don’t go into the cave of the tiger, how are you going to get its cub?

Implication: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

bīng dòng sān chǐ, fēi yī rì zhī hán  冰冻三尺,非一日之寒

A single day of sub-zero temperature is not enough to create three feet of ice.

Implication: Great things cannot be accomplished in a short period of time. Rome was not built in one day.

cháng jiāng hòu làng tuī qián làng  长江后浪推前浪

The Changjiang River waves behind drive the waves ahead.

Implication: Each new generation excels the last one.

chī yī qiàn, zhǎng yī zhì  吃一堑,长一智

A fall in pit, a gain in your wit.

Implication: Having gone through a setback, one will have gained experience and wisdom, which will be useful if only one can take warning and learn something from the setback.

dà zhàng fū néng qū néng shēn  大丈夫能屈能伸

A great (or successful) man can bend and stretch.

Implication: A man must learn to sail in all winds.

dī shǔi zhī ēn dāng yǐ yǒng quán xiāng bào  滴水之恩当以涌泉相报

A drop of water shall be returned with a burst of spring.

Implication: Even if it was just a little help from others, you should return the favor with all you can when others are in need.

hǔ fù wú quǎn zǐ  虎父无犬子

A tiger father has no canine sons.

Implication: A chip off the old block. An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

jiā jiā yǒu yī běn nán niàn de jīng  家家有一本难念的经

Each family has its own difficult scripture to recite.

Implication: Each family has its own kind of hell.

jiāng shān yì gǎi, běn xìng nán yí  江山易改,本性难移

Rivers and mountains may be changed, but it is hard to alter even a single person’s nature.

Implication: a person’s temperament and habits developed over many years can hardly be changed in a short period of time.

jīn rì shì, jīn rì bì  今日事,今日毕

Things of today, accomplished today.

Implication: Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be finished today.

jìn zhū zhě chì, jìn mò zhě hēi  近朱者赤,近墨者黑

Near vermilion, one gets stained pink; near ink, one gets stained black.

Implication: One is greatly influenced by one’s close relationships and surroundings.

jīn yù qí wài, bài xù qí zhōng  金玉其外,败絮其中

Gold and jade on the outside, rot and decay on the inside.

Implication: All that glitters is not gold and beware of the skeleton in the closet.

jiǔ féng zhī jǐ qiān bēi shǎo, huà bù tóu jī bàn jù duō  酒逢知己千杯少,话不投机半句多

If you drink with a bosom friend, a thousand cups are not enough; if you argue with someone, half a sentence is too much.

Implication: mutual understanding is very important in human relationships.

liáng yào kǔ kǒu lì yú bìng, zhōng yán nì ěr lì yú xíng  良药苦口利于病,忠言逆耳利于行

It takes bitter medicine to cure a disease properly, and it takes blunt advice to put us on the right track.

Implication: honest advice and candidi criticisim, dispite being unwelcome, are what we need if we are t identify our shortcomings.

lù yáo zhī mǎ lì, rì jǐu jiàn rén xīn  路遥知马力,日久见人心

As distance tests a horse’s strength, so does time reveal a person’s real character.

Implication: Over a long period of time, you get to know what’s in a person’s heart. Character can be revealed by time.

rén suàn bù rú tiān suàn  人算不如天算

Man’s schemes are inferior to those made by heaven.

Implication: Man proposes and God disposes. The best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry.

rén bù kě mào xiàng, hǎi shuǐ bù kě dǒu liáng  人不可貌相,海水不可斗量

As a man cannot be known by his looks, neither can the sea be fathomed by a gourd.

Implication: Judging by appearance may lead to serious mistakes.

rén wèi cái sǐ, niǎo wèishí wáng  人为财死,鸟为食亡

Man dies in pursuit of wealth, and birds die in pursuit of food.

Implication: Ruin will befall the greedy sooner or later.

rén wú wán rén, jīn wú zú chì  人无完人,金无足赤

It is as impossible to find a perfect man as it is to find 100 percent pure gold.

Implication: It is foolish to demand perfection. What we should do is concentrate on developing our merits and overcoming out shortcomings.

rén wú yuǎn lǜ, bì yǒu jìn yōu  人无远虑,必有近忧

Those who do not plan for the future will find trouble on their doorstep.

Implication: To make long-term plans in order to avoid troubles in the near future.

sān gè héshàng méi shuǐ hē  三个和尚没水喝

Three monks have no water to drink.

Implication: Too many cooks spoil the broth.

shí nián shù mù, bǎi nián shù rén  十年樹木,百年樹人

Grow a tree for ten years; grow men for a hundred.

Implication: Nurturing and educating human talent is the key to prosperity.

shì shàng wú nán shì, zhǐ pà yǒu xīn rén  世上无难事,只怕有心人

You must persevere to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks.

Implication: Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Everything can be done with enough perseverance.

shuǐ néng zài zhōu, yì néng fù zhōu  水能载舟,亦能覆舟

The water that bears the boat is the same that swallows it up.

Implication: Nature can help and harm you. The knife cuts both ways.

suì yuè bù liú rén  岁月不留人

Age and time do not wait for people.

Implication: Time and tide waits for no man.

tiān shēng wǒ cái bì yǒu yòng  天生我材必有用

I’m heaven born, my ability certainly useful.

Implication: If heaven made him, earth can find some use for him.

tiān zhù zì zhù zhě  天助自助者

God helps those who help themselves.

Implication: God will help those who help themselves.

tiān xià wū yā yí yàng hēi  天下乌鸦一样黑

All crows in the world are black.

Implications: Something or someone bad is no different from all the others.

tiān xià wú bù sàn zhīyànxí  天下无不散之筵席

There is no never ending banquet under the sun.

Implication: All good things must come to an end.

tīan xià wú nán shì, zhǐ pà yǒu xīn rén  天下无难事,只怕有心人

Nothing in the world is to hard to do if we set our minds on it.

Implication: A person with resolution and perseverance can solve the most difficult problem.

tiān yǒu bù cè fēng yún, rén yǒu dàn xī huò fú  天有不测风云,人有旦夕祸福

In nature there are unexpected storms, and in life unpredictable vicissitudes.

Implication: Human disasters and fortunes are as unpredictable as the clouds and winds. Thus, don’t worry about temporary calamities, nor be complacent about temporary joys.

wú fēng bù qǐ làng  无风不起浪

There is no wave without wind.

Implication: There is no smoke without fire.

xīng xīng zhī huǒ kě yǐ liáo yuán  星星之火可以燎原

A spark can start a fire that burns the entire prairie.

Implication: Don’t underestimate the potential destructive power that a seemingly minor problem can cause. A butterfly beating it wings in America can start a hurricane in China.

xīn zhèng bú pà yǐng xié, jiǎo zhèng bú pà xié wāi  心正不怕影斜,脚正不怕鞋歪

An upright man is not afraid of an oblique shadow; a straight foot is not afraid of a crooked shoe.

Implication: An upright man fears no gossip or slander.

yī fēn gēng yún, yī fēn shōu huò  一分耕耘,一分收获

If one does not plow, there will be no harvest.

Implication: No pain, no gain.

yī yán jì chū, sì mǎ nán zhuī  一言既出,驷马难追

When something has been said, a team of four horses cannot overtake it.

Implication: Once you have made a promise or said something, you cannot take it back. Do not speak without thinking of the consequences.

yīng xióng suǒ jiàn lüè tóng  英雄所见略同

The views of heroes are roughly the same.

Implication: Great minds think alike.

yǒu qián néng shǐ guǐ tuī mò  有钱能使鬼推磨

If you have money you can make the devil push your grind stone.

Implication: Money is power. Money makes the world go round.

yǒu zhì zhě, shì jìng chéng  有志者,事竟成

If a person has ambition, things will be accomplished.

Implication: Where there is a will, there is a way (English equivalent).

yǒu yuán qiān lǐ lái xiāng huì, wú yuán duì miàn bù xiāng féng 有缘千里来相会,无缘对面不相逢

Fate brings people together no matter how far apart they may be.

Implication: Human relationships are decreed by Fate.

yù bù zhuó bù chéng qì  玉不琢不成器

Jade must be chiseled before it can be considered a gem.

Implication: A person needs training and discipline to build character.

yù sù zé bù dá  欲速则不达

If you are in a hurry you will never get there.

Implication: More haste, less speed.

yuǎn shuǐ bù jiù jìn huǒ, yuǎn qīn bù rú jìn lín  远水不救近火,远亲不如近邻

Distant water can’t put out a nearby fire, and a distant relative is not as helpful as a close neighbor.

Implication: Urgent local problems cannot be solved by distant resources.

zǎo qǐ de niǎo er yǒu chóng chī  早起的鸟儿有虫吃

Early bird gets the worm.

Implication: Those who are diligent seize opportunities.

zhòng guā dé guā, zhòng dòu dé dòu  种瓜得瓜,种豆得豆

As a man sows, so shall he reap.

Implication: One receives just returns for one’s actions; good for good, and evil for evil.

zhī jǐ zhī bǐ, bǎi zhàn bù dài  知己知彼,百战不殆

If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss.

Implication: Know the enemy, know yourself, and in every battle you will be victorious.

zuì wēng zhī yì bú zài jiǔ  醉翁之意不在酒

The drunken gentleman’s desire is not about the wine.

Implication: Kissing the baby for the nurse.

zuò yī tiān hé shàng zhuàng yī tiān zhōng  做一天和尚撞一天钟

Beat the bell one day as long as you are still a monk one day.

Implication: Do your duties as long as you are still in the role.

 

For self-directed learning, you can learn Chinese Pinyin, 100 most common Chinese characters with 40 common phrases in flash. Or, you can download 2500 Chinese characters flash, and learn at ease through 10 interactive Chinese movies, with active participation in watching, listening, speaking, reading, and even writing simultaneously.