Ancient Chinese Proverbs | Chinese Quotes About Life

chinese proverbs

Chinese Proverbs : They are sayings that have been passed down and usually got there origins from famous Chinese writers and philosophers. These ancient sayings address all aspects of traditional Chinese society but are also applicable to modern-day life, from relationships and family to work and personal goals.

In these troubled times, we often found ourselves seeking the wisdom of past generations to guide us. What better civilization to provide us enlightenment than the ones that first defined the term!

These old Chinese sayings and quotes about love, life, wisdom, and success are what you need to pick yourself up on a lousy day. Many of the proverbs contain wisdom and advice for life challenges.

chinese proverbs

Table of Contents

Chinese Proverbs

The person who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.

In a group of many words, there is bound to be a mistake somewhere in them.

Listening well is as powerful as talking well, and is also as essential to the actual conversation.

No matter how tall the mountain is, it cannot block the sun.

Patience is a bitter plant, but its fruit is sweet.

Talk does not cook rice.

If you want to find out about the road ahead, then ask about it from those coming back.

If you don’t do stupid things, you won’t end up in tragedy.

Blessings come in disguise. Dig the well before you are thirsty.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.

Famous Chinese Proverbs

Dig the Well Before You Are Thirsty

English translation : dig the well before you are thirsty. Plan ahead.

Teach a Man to Fish

English translation : This is a very well-known proverb, meaning that it’s much more effective to teach someone how to do something for themselves than to simply do it for them in the long-term

One Only Learns From One’s Mistakes

English translation : This proverb is all about learning from your experiences or mistakes.

It’s Better to Make Slow Progress Than No Progress at All

English translation : This proverb means that the only thing we should be afraid of is stopping completely.

Opportunity Knocks But Once

English translation : This proverb reminds us that we need to seize opportunities when they present themselves.

Learn to Walk Before You Run

English translation : The Chinese and English, when taken in literal terms, are quite different for this proverb.

The meaning here is to take things slowly; don’t try to stuff your face at the start.

The Master Leads You to the Door, the Rest is Up to You

English translation : In other words, the act itself is up to the individual.

He Who Asks A Question

English translation : He who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.

Oriental Proverbs

不作不死。(Bù zuò bù sǐ. ‘Not do not die.’) — If you don’t do stupid things you won’t end up in tragedy.

This Chinese web saying is recorded in the Urban Dictionary. It’s like: “Don’t poke the bear.”

塞翁失马,焉知非福。(Sài Wēng shī mǎ, yān zhī fēi fú. ‘Sai Weng [legendary old man’s name] lost horse, how know not blessing’.) — Blessings come in disguise.

According to the book “Huainanzi — Lessons of the Human World”, an old man living in a border region lost his horse and people came to comfort him. But he said, “This may be a blessing in disguise, who knows?” Indeed, the horse later returned to the man and brought him a better horse.

小洞不补,大洞吃苦。(Xiǎodòng bù bǔ, dàdòng chī kǔ.’small hole not mend; big hole eat hardship’) — If small holes aren’t fixed, then big holes will bring hardship.

This proverb tells us that if a trivial problem is not solved in time, it will become a serious and knotty one. Similar to: “A stitch in time saves nine.”

水满则溢。(Shuǐmǎn zé yì. ‘water full but overflows’) — Water flows in only to flow out.

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Similar to “what comes up must come down”, this proverb points out that: things reverse when they reach their extremes. It’s from the 18th century novel “A Dream of Red Mansions”.

读万卷书不如行万里路。 (Dú wànjuànshū bù rú xíng wànlǐlù. ‘reading 10,000 books, not as good as walking 10,000 li road’) — It’s better to walk thousands of miles than to read thousands of books.

I.e. ‘doing beats reading’ or ‘experience beats theory’.

三个和尚没水喝。 (Sān gè héshàng méi shuǐ hē. ‘three monks have no water to drink’) — Too many cooks spoil the broth.

I.e. if too many people try to do something, like three monks trying to carry one bucket of water, they make a mess of it.

Inspirational Chinese Proverbs

All things are difficult at the start.

Failure is the mother of success.

A day’s planning is done at dawn.

Don’t listen to what they say. Go see.

A smile will gain you ten more years of life

Don’t miss opportunities: time doesn’t come round again.

He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left.

Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.

It takes more than one cold day for a river to freeze a meter deep

The person attempting to travel two roads at once will get nowhere.

He who overthinks about every step he takes will always stay on one leg.

Ancient Chinese Proverbs

A man who cannot tolerate small misfortunes can never accomplish great things.
Chinese Proverb

Experience is a comb which nature gives us when we are bald.
Chinese Proverb

Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.
Chinese Proverb

Behave toward everyone as if receiving a guest.
Chinese Proverb

A fall into a ditch makes you wiser.
Chinese Proverb

Old Chinese Proverbs

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one.
Chinese Proverb

He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.
Chinese Proverb

An inch of time is an inch of gold but you can’t buy that inch of time with an inch of gold.
Chinese Proverb

A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood
Chinese Proverb

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
Chinese Proverb

Funny Chinese Proverbs

~ Black cat or white cat: If it can catch mice, it’s a good cat. Funny Chinese Proverbs

~ Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead. Funny Chinese Proverbs

~ A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows public opinion.  Funny Chinese Proverbs

~ You must have crossed the river before you may tell the crocodile he has bad breath.  Funny Chinese Proverbs

~ What is whispered in your ear is often heard a hundred miles off.  Funny Chinese Proverbs

~ It is not economical to go to bed early to save the candles if the result is twins.  Funny Chinese Proverbs

~ If heaven made him, earth can find some use for him.  Funny Chinese Proverbs

Chinese Proverbs About Life

路遥知马力,日久见人心。(lù yáo zhī mă lì, rì jiŭ jiàn rén xīn.)

Just as distance tests a horse’s strength, time can reveal a person’s heart.

This proverb tells us that time tries all. So do not give a subjective assertion on anything blindly. Just let your cognition grow as time goes on.

口吃不成胖子。(yìkŏu chī bù chéng pàngzi.)

One meal won’t make a fat man.

It means that you can’t build up the constitution on one mouthful. Nobody could get instant benefits, and success comes from the regular accumulation.

冰冻三尺,非一日之寒。(bīng dòng sānchĭ, fēi yírì zhī hán.)

It takes more than one cold day for the river to freeze three feet deep.

There is a proverb in English which is universally known: “Rome was not built in a day.” The meaning of these two proverbs is exactly the same. So keep on working hard and be stick to it. Long-term efforts can contribute to achievement.

衣不如新,人不如故。(yī bù rú xīn, rén bù rú gù.)

Clothing is cherishable when new, but relationship when old.

It tells us that we should cherish those people around us. So please be aware that how important the old friends are and if it is possible, try to reconnect with them.

由俭入奢易,由奢入俭难。(yóu jiăn rùshē yì, yóu shē rùjiăn nán.)

It is easy to you to adapt it if your living condition ascends from economical to luxurious; conversely, that becomes hard.

Life contains many ups and downs, no one can go smoothly. So we should keep a gentle attitude to life. No matter in what kind of living condition, developing a good habit of thrift is necessary. Only in this way can you respond to changes in life calmly.

Chinese Proverbs About Success

大处着眼,小处着手。(Dàchù zhuó yǎn, xiǎochù zhuó shǒu. ‘big points apply eye; small points apply hand’) — Keep the general goal in sight while tackling daily tasks.

This proverb advises us to always keep the overall situation in mind, and be far-sighted, while we set our hands to mundane business.

一步一个脚印。 (Yībù yīgè jiǎoyìn. ‘one step one footprint’) — Every step makes a footprint.

Work steadily and make solid progress.

一个萝卜一个坑儿。 (Yīgè luóbo yīgè kēngr. ‘one turnip one hole’) — Each has his own task, and nobody is dispensable.

I.e. “each to his own”, “horses for courses”, or “every kettle has its lid”.

留得青山在,不怕没柴烧。 (Liú dé qīngshān zài, búpà méi chái shāo. ‘remain green hills present, not fear no firewood burn’) — While there are green hills, there’ll be wood to burn.

I.e. “Where there is life, there is hope.”

一鸟在手胜过双鸟在林。 (Yī niǎo zài shǒu shèng guò shuāng niǎo zài lín ‘one bird in hand beats pair birds in forest’) — A bird in the hand is worth than two in the bush.

人无完人,金无足赤。(Rén wú wánrén, jīn wú zúchì. ‘man lackperfect man; gold lack enoughred’) — No man is a perfect man; no gold is sufficiently bare.

It is as impossible to find a perfect man as it is to find 100 percent pure gold.I.e. “no-one’s perfect”.

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千军易得, 一将难求。 (Qiānjūn yìdé, yī jiang nánqiú. ‘thousand army easy obtain; one general hard request’) — It is easy to find a thousand soldiers, but hard to find a good general.

This proverb notes the difficulty of finding an outstanding leader.

Chinese Proverbs About Education

A book holds a house of gold.

Your teacher can open the door, but you must enter by yourself.

A single conversation with a wise man is worth a month’s study of books.

A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood.

If a son is uneducated, his dad is to blame.

Actual knowledge is when one knows the limitations of one’s knowledge.

Chinese Quotes About Love

见钟情。 (Yíjiàn zhōngqíng. ‘one look fall-in-love’) — Love at first sight.

It’s generally used for people, but you can also use it for other physical things/activities… Tweet

愿得一人心,白首不相离。(Yuàndé yīrénxīn, báishǒu bùxiānglí. ‘wish get a person heart, white head not one-another apart) — Long for a heart, never be apart.

执子之手,与子偕老。 (Zhí zǐ zhī shǒu, yǔ zǐ xiélǎo. ‘grasp your hand, with you grow-old-together) — Hold hands with you, grow old with you.

Like 2., this expresses lifelong commitment in love.

爱不是占有,而是欣赏。 (Ai bú shì zhànyǒu, ér shì xīnshǎng. ‘love isn’t having, but is appreciating’) — Love isn’t about having, it’s about enjoying (what you have).

爱屋及乌。(Ai wū jí wū. ‘love house and crow’) — Love the house and its crow.

It means that love encompasses everything connected with somebody: “Love me, love my dog.” Tweet

萝卜青菜,各有所爱。 (Luóbo qīngcài, gè yǒu suǒ ài. ‘radishes greens, each have that-which loves’) — Radishes and greens, each have those who love them.

I.e. “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” or “each to his own”. Tweet

在天愿作比翼鸟,在地愿为连理枝。 (Zài tiān yuàn zuò bǐyìniǎo, zài dì yuàn wéi liánlǐzhī. ‘in sky wish be fly-wing-to-wing birds; on earth wish be grow-together branches.) — Birds flying in the sky as one; branches growing on the earth as one.

This is a wish for conjugal bliss.

Chinese Proverbs About Love

执子之手,与子偕老。(Zhí zǐ zhī shǒu,yǔ zǐ xié lǎo.)

Hold your hand, and grow old with you.

在天愿作比翼鸟,在地愿为连理枝。(Zài tiān yuàn zuò bǐ yì niǎo, zài dì yuàn wéi lián lǐ zhī.)

In the heaven we shall be birds flying side by side, and on the earth we shall be twinned trunks flowering sprigs on the same branch.

萝卜青菜,各有所爱。(Luóbo qīnɡcài,ɡè yǒu suǒ ài.)

Every man loves to his own taste.

情人眼里出西施 (Qínɡrén yǎn lǐ chū xīshī)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Love is blind.

有情人终成眷属 (Yǒu qínɡ rén zhōnɡ chénɡ juànshǔ.)

The lovers are finally together, all shall be well.

Chinese Proverbs Wisdom

宰相肚里好撑船。 (Zǎixiànɡ dùlǐ hǎo chēnɡchuán. ‘prime minister stomach inside good-to pole boat’) — A prime minister’s mind should be broad enough for poling a boat.

This can be used to praise someone a magnanimous person. The saying is from the novel “Officialdom Unmasked” (官场现形记) by Li Baojia (李宝嘉1867–1906)

难得糊涂。 (Nándé hútu. ‘hard get confusion’) — Ignorance is bliss.

Or: “Where ignorance is bliss, it’s folly to be wise.”

祸从口出。 (Huò cóng kǒu chū. ‘disaster from mouth exits’) — Disaster comes from careless talk.

三人一条心,黄土变成金。(Sānrén yìtiáoxīn, huángtǔ biàn chéng jīn. ‘three people one heart; yellow earth become gold’) — If people are of one heart, even loess can become gold.

This proverb tells us that as long as people are unified, any goal can be achieved.

身正不怕影子斜。(Shēnzhèng búpà yǐngzi xié. ‘body straight not fear shadow slanting’) — One who stands straight doesn’t fear a crooked shadow.

Similar to: “A straight foot is not afraid of a crooked shoe.” i.e. A righteous man is not afraid to seem unrighteous.

有借有还,再借不难。(Yǒu jiè yǒu huán, zài jiè bùnán. Have loan have repayment; again loan not hard.) — Timely return of a loan makes it easier to borrow a second time.

蜡烛照亮别人,却毁灭了自己。 (Làzhú zhàoliàng biérén, què huǐmiè le zìjǐ. ‘candle illuminates others, yet destroys itself’) — A candle lights others and consumes itself.

Chinese Quotes On Friendship

近水知鱼性, 近山识鸟音。 (Jìn shuǐ zhī yúxìng; jìn shān shí niǎoyīn. ‘near water know fish shape, near mountain know bird sound’) — To know a fish go to the water; to know a bird’s song go to the mountains.

This verse from ‘Expanding Virtue Literature’ (增广贤文) teaches that to know someone you should go to his or her home.

听君一席话,胜读十年书。(Tīng jūn yīxíhuà, shèng dú shíniánshū ‘hear gentleman remarks, beats reading ten year books’) — Listening to a lord’s remarks is better than reading books for ten years.

凡人不可貌相, 海水不可斗量。 (Fánrén bù kě màoxiàng, hǎishuǐ bù kě dòuliàng. ‘mortals can’t judge by appearance, sea water can’t cup measure’) — Man cannot be judged by looks; seas cannot be measured by cup.

In short: “don’t judge by appearances”.

有缘千里来相会。(Yǒuyuán qiānlǐ lái xiānghuì. ‘Have fate 1,000 li [or a long way] together meet’) — Fate brings people together from far apart.

This proverb espouses that human relationships are decreed by fate.

君子之交淡如水。 (Jūnzǐ zhī jiāo dàn rú shuǐ ‘gentleman’s friendship bland like water’) — A gentleman’s friendship is insipid as water.

入乡随俗。 (Rù xiāng suí sú ‘enter district follow custom’) — When entering a locality follow the local customs.

Like: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

患难见真情。 (Huànnàn jiàn zhēnqíng ‘Hardship see true situation’) — In hardship we see true friendship.

Similar to: “A friend in need is a friend indeed.”

Chinese Proverbs About Family

月到中秋分外明,每逢佳节倍思亲。 (Yuè dào zhōngqiū fènwài míng, měi féng jiājié bèi sīqīn. ‘moon reach Mid-Autumn exceptionally bright, every holiday multiply homesick’) — The harvest moon is brightest; every festival homesickness multiplies.

Familial longing is greatest in China on its traditional family reunion festivals, like Mid-Autumn, the harvest moon festival. More of the meaning behind this saying is revealed in Mid-Autumn Festival’s Traditions.

儿行千里母担忧。 (Er xíng qiānlǐ mǔ dānyōu. ‘son travels 1,000 li [a long way; 500 km] mother worries’) — When children travel far, mothers worry.

但愿人长久,千里共婵娟。(Dànyuàn rénchángjiǔ, qiānlǐ gòngchánjuān. ‘Yet wish personlong-time, 1,000 li [a long way; 500 km] share moon[beauty]’) — Wishing us long life, though sharing moonlight from afar.

This poetic verse expresses (familial) love and homesickness, and is one of many Popular Mid-Autumn Festival Sayings.

家和万事兴。 (Jiāhé wànshìxīnɡ. ‘family harmonious everything prospers’) — If a family is harmonious everything will go well.

It’s like the Biblical: “if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”

家家有本难念的经。 (Jiājiā yǒu běn nán niàn de jīnɡ. ‘Every-family has own difficult remembered experience.’) — Every family has its problems.

Or: “There’re skeletons in every family’s closet.”

清官难断家务事。 (Qīnɡɡuān nán duàn jiāwùshì. ‘honest-official difficult judge household affairs.) — Even an upright official finds it hard to settle a family quarrel.

Red Thread Chinese Proverb

“An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break.”

” Every legend has a story to support its Genuity. This legend also has one. The story is based on an emperor who was seeking to find his future bride. And to help him in his search he contacted a powerful witch, who had the ability to see the red thread. He asked the witch to find the other end of the thread and take him to the woman who would become his wife. The witch accepted the emperor’s request and took him to a village, where he was led to a poor peasant woman who was holding a baby in her arms. And she told the young emperor that this is where your thread ends.”

” Hearing this the emperor became furious believing that he was being mocked by the witch. He pushed the peasant girl as he left and made her fall resulting in the child getting hurt and leaving a wound on its forehead. The emperor ordered the witch to be executed. Many years passed when the time came for the emperor to get married, his court advised him to marry the daughter of a very powerful general. The emperor accepted the proposal and the wedding was fixed. On the day of the wedding, the bride arrived in the temple with a veil covering her face completely. When she raised the veil the emperor saw a scar on her forehead similar to the wound he caused to the baby the witch showed him.”

”It is not just a chance that our friends are our friends and that relationships didn’t work out very well. That’s just fate’s way of playing with you while taking you to the person you are destined to meet. To believe or not to believe that’s your choice. But sometimes in our lives, we all have been in the place where we feel that there’s something greater at work here. You can call it whatever name you want. But there is something that connects us all. Something that is bigger than me or you. Fate, destiny, call it whatever you want. Do these things really exist or is it something men created to find meaning to this thing called life? Nobody knows for sure. You have to find”

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