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Chinese proverbs

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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
    • From Xun Zi (荀子 8.儒效 23).
  • 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.
    • "When reading, don’t let a single word escape your attention; one word may be worth a thousand pieces of gold. This proverb stresses the fact that study requires undivided attention."
    • Famous Chinese Sayings
    • 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
    • The Changjiang River waves behind drive the waves ahead.
    • Meaning: The energy of the new generation inspires the old.
    • 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: 讀萬卷書不如行萬裡路
      • Simplified: 读万卷书不如行万里路
    • Reading ten thousand books is not as useful as traveling ten thousand miles.
    • ""Travel makes a wise Man better, but a Fool worse."
    • Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia (1792)
    • 2010國立臺灣大學藝文年鑑. 國立臺灣大學出版中心. p. 27. ISBN 9860288844. 


  • (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
    • Careful with others is a must have.
    • English equivalent: He that reckons without his host must reckon again.
    • "This proverb is usually applied to such persons, who are apt to be partial in one Affair, flattering themselves with the Advantages they fansy to be on their side, and making no Allowances for the Disadvantages that will or may attend them."
    • Divers Proverbs with Their Explication & Illustration, Nathan Bailey, 1721 [1]
    • 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
    • When the wind of change blows, some build walls, while others build windmills.
    • English equivalent: When one door closes another opens.
    • "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."
    • Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854), chapter 18, p. 427.
  • 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
    • Fortune does not come twice. Misfortune does not come alone.
    • English equivalent: Misery loves company.
    • Meaning: Opportunities should not be taken for granted. A problem ignored is a problem doubled.
    • 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.
    • "New generation can put right the mistakes of the old."
    • "To do the opposite of something is also a form of imitation."
    • Georg Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, R. J. Hollingdale trans. (2000), D96.
    • 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)
    • "A dream! What is a dream? And is not our life a dream? I will say more. Suppose that this paradise will never come to pass (that I understand), yet I shall go on preaching it. And yet how simple it is: in one day, in one hour everything could be arranged at once! The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that's the chief thing, and that's everything; nothing else is wanted — you will find out at once how to arrange it all. And yet it's an old truth which has been told and retold a billion times — but it has not formed part of our lives! The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness — that is what one must contend against. And I shall. If only everyone wants it, it can be arranged at once."
    • Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man (1877), V.
  • 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.


  • (jīn) () (shì)(jīn) () ()
    • Transliteration (pinyin): Jīnrì shì, jīnrì bì.
      • Traditional: 今日事,今日畢
      • Simplified: 今日事,今日毕
    • Things of today, accomplished today.
    • Meaning: Don't put off until tomorrow what can be finished today.
    • Bahasa Cina. Pelangi Publishing Group Bhd. p. 26. ISBN 9833531105. 
  • Jiŭ fā xīn fù zhī yán.
    • Wine makes words from secrets.
    • 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: Where there's smoke, there's fire.
    • "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. 


  • (Yǒu) () () () () () ()
    • Transliteration: Yǒu qí fù bì yǒu qí zǐ.
    • Having such a father must be such a son.
    • 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
    • Man's schemes are inferior to those made by heaven.
    • English equivalents: Man proposes and God disposes; The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
    • Along With Time. 秀威資訊科技股份有限公司. p. 246. ISBN 9862217340. 

  • (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: Punishment gives less incentive than a reward.
    • 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: Try to save the dead horse as if it is still alive.
    • English equivalent: He that is worst may still hold the candle.
    • Note: Holding the candle is an idiom meaning to be as good or desirable as someone or something.
    • 俗语词典. 商务印书馆. 1994. p. 89. 


  • (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.
    • "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 - 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, Speech at Arlington, Virginia (2009)
    • 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][specific citation needed]

  • (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: Not only can water float a boat, it can sink it also.
    • 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.
    • Think three times before you move.
    • English equivalent: Measure twice, cut once.
    • Meaning: 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 sky is big and the emperor is far away.
    • English Equivalent: When the cat is away, the mice will play.
    • "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


  • () (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: A burnt child dreads the fire; 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
    • If one does not plow, there will be no harvest.
    • English equivalent: Sow thin, reap thin.
    • Meaning: Work hard and you shall gain success.
    • 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 talks; money makes the world go round.
    • Meaning: Money is power.
    • 《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
    • Those who help themselves, God will help.
    • English equivalent: Heaven helps those who help themselves.
    • Meaning: "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
    • Translation and English equivalent: Early bird gets the worm.
    • Meaning: "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 alsoEdit


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

External linksEdit