50 Common Chinese Proverbs

A young lady reading in a bookstore

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Chinese proverbs (諺語, yànyŭ) are popular sayings taken from literature, history, and famous people such as philosophers. The expressions are often used colloquially as statements of wisdom or advice. There are hundreds of Chinese proverbs addressing all aspects of life, from education and work to personal goals and relationships.

Key Takeaways: Chinese Proverbs

  • Chinese proverbs are common sayings that express popular wisdom or advice.
  • Some Chinese proverbs are taken from works of literature or philosophy.

Books and Reading

"After three days without reading, talk becomes flavorless." - Reading helps people to stay in touch with interesting ideas.

"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." - Reading helps people to grow intellectually.

"A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood." - You cannot learn if you have a closed mind.

"It's better to be without a book than to believe a book entirely." - It is important to think critically rather than believe everything you read.

"A single conversation with a wise man is worth a month’s study of books." - Wisdom is sometimes more important than knowledge.

Education and Wisdom

"If a son is uneducated, his dad is to blame." - Fathers are responsible for their children's education.

"A jade stone is useless before it is processed; a man is good for nothing until he is educated." - Education is what turns people into productive human beings.

"Learning is a weightless treasure you can always carry easily." - Unlike material goods, your education is something you always take with you.

"Teachers open the door. You enter by yourself." - Education is not a passive process; to learn, you must desire to learn.

"True knowledge is when one knows the limitations of one’s knowledge." - It is important to recognize the limits of your education.

Children and Family

"Vicious as a tigress can be, she never eats her own cubs." - A mother never hurts her children, even if she is strict.

"Govern a family as you would cook a small fish—very gently." - Do not be harsh in how you treat your family.

"To understand your parents love you must raise children yourself." - Only parents know what it is like to raise children.

"A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark." - Children are very impressionable.

"Giving your son a skill is better than giving him 1,000 pieces of gold." - It is better to support your child with education than money.

Fear

"One cannot refuse to eat just because there is a chance of being choked." - You cannot let fear stop you from living your life.

"Clear conscience never fears midnight knocking." - If you live according to your conscience, you won't be troubled by guilt.

"Once bitten by a snake, he/she is scared all his/her life at the mere sight of a rope." - Trauma causes people to fear things that they have no reason to fear.

Friendship

"With true friends, even water drunk together is sweet enough." - True friends only need each other's company to enjoy themselves.

"Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend's forehead." - Be gentle when criticizing your friends.

Happiness

"If you want happiness for a lifetime; help someone else." - Happiness comes through helping others.

"A smile will gain you 10 more years of life." - Staying positive will improve your health.

"One joy scatters a hundred griefs." - It only takes a small amount of happiness to bring great relief.

"Better the cottage where one is merry than the palace where one weeps." - It is better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable.

"We count our miseries carefully, and accept our blessings without much thought." - We often take our blessings for granted.

Patience

"You won't help shoots grow by pulling them up higher." - Some things happen slowly and there is nothing you can do to speed them up.

"A dish of carrot hastily cooked may still have soil uncleaned off the vegetable." - Take your time and do things properly rather than rushing and making mistakes.

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Big goals are achieved through many small actions.

"Patience is a bitter plant, but its fruit is sweet." - It is not easy to be patient, but patience will reward you.

"If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow." - Keeping a cool head will help you avoid trouble.

Personal Development

"A fall into a ditch makes you wiser." - Mistakes are opportunities to learn.

"Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still." - Slow growth is better than stagnation.

"Before preparing to improve the world, first look around your own home three times." - Work on improving yourself before trying to improve others.

"A man grows most tired while standing still." - It is better to remain active than do nothing.

"When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills." - Personal challenges can be opportunities for growth.

"The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle." - Preparing for challenges in advance will make it easier for you to meet them.

"All things are difficult before they are easy." - Nothing is easy the first time you do it.

"Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one." - It is better to be ambitious and sometimes fail than to never try to do anything at all.

Precautions

"Bad things never walk alone." - Troubles always come with other troubles.

"There are always ears on the other side of the wall." - Be careful about what you say; other people are always listening.

"When you are poor, neighbors close by will not come; once you become rich, you'll be surprised by visits from (alleged) relatives afar." - When you have something people want, everyone will try to be your friend.

Teamwork 

"Behind an able man, there are always other able men." - No one accomplishes anything alone.

"Three humble shoemakers brainstorming will make a great statesman." - Teamwork allows people to do much more than any one person could do on their own.

"Only when all contribute their firewood can they build up a strong fire." - It takes a group of people to build something that will last.

Time

"An inch of time is an inch of gold but you can't buy that inch of time with an inch of gold." - Time equals money but money does not equal time.

"Age and time do not wait for people." - If you wait to get started, life will go on without you.

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today." - It is best to start a project as soon as you can.

"Do everything at the right time, and one day will seem like three." - Keeping an organized schedule will make you more productive.

Persistence

"An ant may well destroy a whole dam." - What seems like a small amount of work adds up over time.

"A man who cannot tolerate small misfortunes can never accomplish great things." - You must learn to deal with setbacks if you want to achieve big goals.