Chinese Proverbs

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Featured Proverb(s) Today

“A trail through the mountains, if used, becomes a path in a short time, but, if unused, becomes blocked by grass in an equally short time.”
(Chinese original: 山径之蹊间,介然用之而成路,为间不用,则茅塞之矣;Chinese Pinyin: Audio Shānjìng zhī xī jiān, jièrán yòng zhī ěr chéng lù; wéi jiàn bù yòng, zé máo sè zhī yǐ.)
This is a quote from Mencius (372 – 289 BCE), a Chinese philosopher. President Barack Obama used this quote to open two days high-level talks with China, saying "Our task is to forge a path to the future that we seek for our children – to prevent mistrust or the inevitable differences of the moment from allowing that trail to be blocked by grass; to always be mindful of the journey that we are undertaking together."
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"In their 4,000-year civilized history, the Chinese have generated innumerable proverbs. There can be a proverb for almost any situation. Judicious use of proverbs in Chinese writing is regarded as a sign of good education rather than pedantry or showing off one’s knowledge of cliches.

"Chinese proverbs can be split into chengyu (accepted phrases), yanyu (familiar sayings), suyu (popular sayings), and xiehouyu (two-part allegorical sayings). Unique to the Chinese language, xiehouyu proverbs are vivid with images and dramatic results." (Haiwang Yuan, The Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales from the Han Chinese (Libraries Unlimited, 2006).

Based on puns of homophonic words, the majority of xiehouyu is simply not translatable. Therefore only a few such sayings will be included in this small sample of the unfathomable reservoir of Chinese proverbs.

To provide a better interface to the proverbs, I've made the following changes:

  • Added a new Google Search box that allows searching within this proverb site;
  • Reorganized the pages so that the alphabetical order of the proverbs (according to the pronunciation of their Chinese originals) is consistent on every page;
  • Added a "Featured Proverbs" section on the home page;
  • I am Tweeting the proverbs regularly using the hash tag #cwisdom. So if you are interested, become a follower.

I am currently working hard to add sounds to the pronunciations of the proverbs marked by the Pinyin alphabet. I am open to your ideas, suggestions and recommendations of proverbs that you don't find in my collection. You can send them to me at

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Last updated: October 13, 2014