Chinese Proverbs

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Proverbs
Annotation And Connotations
A man of determination will surely succeed.
(Chinese original: 有志者事竟成;Chinese Pinyin: Audio Yǒu zhì zhě shì jìng chéng.)
Where there's a will, there's a way.
A conversation with a wise person is worth of ten years' study of books.
(Chinese original: 与君一席谈,胜读十年书; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yù jūn yī xí tán, shèng dú shí nián shū.)
This is a hyperbole used to compliment someone with whom you have conversed. You say this in his or her presence to demonstrate your modesty and desire to learn. Being modest is very important in traditional Chinese culture. It is, however, changing and occasionally a little bit too much, as in a case where I dined with a young Chinese immigrant interviewee. Her display of self-confidence was simply an overkill to even us Americans widely known for our directness and boldness in self-marketing.
To quench one's thirst with poisoned wine.
(Chinese original: 饮鸠止渴;Chinese Pinyin: Audio Yǐn-jiù-zhǐ-kě.) New
To seek temporary relief regardless of the consequences
You won't help the new plants grow by pulling them up higher.
(Chinese original: 揠苗助长; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yà-miáo-zhù-zhǎng.)
Be patient and let nature run its course or you'll do a diservice.
It is impossible to add much weight with a single morsel; it is hard to travel afar with a single step.
(Chinese original: 一口吃不成胖子,一步跨不到天边; Chinese Pinyin:   Audio Yì kǒu chī bū chéng pàngzǐ, yí bù kuà bú dào tiānbiān.)
One can't expect success overnight. Used to encourage people to work hard instead of seeking an impossible shortcut.
Steal a bell with ears plugged.
(Chinese original: 掩耳盗铃; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yǎn-ěr-dào-líng.)
A bell is used to alert people . A dumb thief committed robbery with his ears plugged, thinking that if he couldn't hear it, no one else would.
Tears cannot put out a fire.
(Chinese original: 眼泪救不了火; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yǎnlèi jiù bù liǎo huǒ.)
Weakness will lead to nowhere.
Better not do anything that you don't want others to know.
(Chinese original: 要想人不知除非己莫为; Chinese Pinyin:   Audio Yào xiǎng rén bù zhī, chúfēi jǐ mò wéi.)
 
Todays beneficiary is the incarnation of his preexisting well-doer; the fate of ones next existence lies in his existence today.
(Chinese original: 要知前世因, 今生受者是; 要知后世果,今生做者是; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yào zhī qiánshì yīn, jīnshēng shòuzhě shì; yào zhī hòushì guǒ, jīnshēng zuòzhě shì.)
What goes around comes around. Doing good will benefit yourself eventually. Otherwise youll get comeuppance.
The longer the night lasts, the more dreams we'll have.
(Chinese original: 夜长梦多; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yè-cháng-mèng-duō.)
The longer we stay in a disadvantageous position, the more risks we'll take.
Lord Ye's professed love of dragons turned into his worst fear.
(Chinese original: 叶公好龙; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yè-gōng-hào-lóng.)
A Lord Ye professed that he loved dragons. To prove it, he drew dragons everywhere. When the real dragons paid him a visit, he was scared to death. One may not do what he claims to be interested in doing.

For a complete story, please read my book Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales of the Han Chinese, to be published in spring 2006 by Libraries Unlimited.

Approach heaven with a single stride.
(Chinese original: 一步登天; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī-bù-dēng-tiān.)
Make an extremely fast progress or get a huge promotion.
Skills can never be one's burdens: 艺不压身, Chinese Pinyin: Audio Yì-bù-yā-shēn)
Used to encourage people to acquire more skills so that they can always be marketable.
Each law suit is a fire; you can't avoid its burning flame.
(Chinese original: 一场官司一场火,人你好汉没处躲;Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī chǎng guānsi yī chǎng huǒ, rèn nǐ hǎohàn méi chù duǒ.)
It may not be true, but this is a traditional Chinese belief. People would rather suffer some loss than find themselves entangled in a law suit that could prove more costly.
Each sovereign keeps a team of his own men.
(Chinese original: 一朝天子一朝臣 Chinese Pinyin: Audio Yī cháo tiānzǐ yī cháo chén.)
For instance, each president has his own cabinet.
An inch of time is an inch of gold, but an inch of time cannot be purchased for an inch of gold. (Chinese original: 一寸光阴一寸金,寸金难买寸光阴; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī cùn guāngyīn yī cùn jīn, cùn jīn nán mǎi cùn guāngyīn.)
Disregard the different use of unit words describing nouns in different cultures. This proverb tells the truth that time is more valuable than money. Money spent or lost can be earned; time lost is lost for good. No money can buy it back. The motto is that we got to make good use of our time.
A deliberate inaction is better than a blind action.
(Chinese original: 一动不如一静; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī dòng bù rú yí jìng.)
Think before you leap.
Fight poison with poison.
(Chinese original: 以毒攻毒; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yǐ-dú-gōng-dú.)
Use the opponent's tactics to attack the opponent. Similar to "Fight fire with fire."
One monk shoulders water by himself; two can still share the labor between them. When it comes to three, they have to go thirsty.
(Chinese original: 一个和尚挑水喝,两个和尚抬水喝,三个和尚没水喝; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī gè héshang tiāo shuǐ hē, liǎng gè héshang tái shuǐ hē, sān ge héshang méi shuǐ hē.)
It is a scenario where lack of individual initiative could breed dependence upon each other so that the more people the lesser things are done.
A single merit cannot make a hundred demerits fade; a hundred merits cannot hide a single demerit.
(Chinese original: 一好遮不了百丑,百好遮不了一丑; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yì hǎo zhē bù liǎo bǎi chǒu; bǎi hǎo zhē bù liǎo yī chǒu.)
 
Kill two vultures with one arrow.
(Chinese original: 一箭双雕; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī-jiàn-shuāng-diāo.)
Kill two birds with one stone.
It is impossible to add much weight with a single morsel; it is hard to travel afar with a single step.
(Chinese original: 一口吃不成胖子,一步跨不到天边; Chinese Pinyin:   Audio Yī kǒu chī bū chéng pàngzi, yī bù kuà bù dào tiānbiān.)
One can't expect success overnight. Used to encourage people to work hard instead of seeking an impossible shortcut.
The dragon has nine sons, each different from the others.
(Chinese original: 一龙生九种, 种种不同; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī lóng shēng jiǔ zhǒng, zhǒng zhǒng bù tóng.)
Rarely do sibblings have the same temperament and characters.
Hit a stone with an egg.
(Chinese original: 以卵击石; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yǐ-luǎn-tóu-shí.)
Overrate one's power and gets defeated because of it.
Once bitten by a snake, one is scared all his life at the mere sight of a rope.
(Chinese original: 一年遭蛇咬,十年怕井绳; Chinese Pinyin:   Audio Yī nián zāo shé yǎo, shí nián pà jǐngshéng.)
Once bitten, twice shy.
A year's harvest counts on spring; a man's success counts on his diligence.
(Chinese original: 一年之际在于春,一生之际在于勤; Chinese Pinyin:   Audio Yī nián zhī jì zài yú chūn, yī shēng zhī jì zài yú qín.)
Used to encourage people to study hard.
One cannot refuse to eat just because there is a chance of being choked.
(Chinese original: 因噎废食; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yīn-yè-fèi-shí.)
You can't refuse to do the thing you need to just because there is a slight chance to fail.
One dog snarls at a shadow; a hundred howl at each others barking.
(Chinese original: 一犬吠影,白犬吠声; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī quǎn fèi yǐng, bǎi quǎn fèi shēng.)
Blindly follow a trend without even knowing what it is.
Two tigers cannot share one mountain (forest).
(Chinese original: 一山不容二虎 or 一林不二虎 Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī shān bù róng èr hǔ. Or  Audio Yī lín bú èr hǔ.)
Two equally talented or able employees cannot work well side by side in one unit . That may not be the case with everyone, but people do become jealous of their peers sometimes.
A man of honor will feel ashamed by a single question to which he does not know the answer.
(Chinese original: 一事不知,君子知耻; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī shì bù zhī, jūnzǐ zhī chǐ.)
This is to encourage people to learn everything he can and be ashamed at not knowing even one bit of what they have learned.
One thing well done is a hundred done; one thing that fails dooms the rest.
(Chinese original: 一事精百事精,一无成白无成; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī shì jīng, bǎi shì jīng, yī wú chěng, bǎi wú chéng.)
If one is capable of accomplishing one thing, he is likely to accomplish many more or vice versa.
Force tells weak from strong for a moment; truth tells right from wrong all the time.
(Chinese original: 一时强弱在于力,万古胜负在于理; Chinese Pinyin:   Audio Yīshí qiángruò zàiyú lì, wàngǔ shèngfù zàiyú lǐ.)

 
Fruits of the same tree have different tastes; children of the same mother have various qualities.
(Chinese original: 一树之果有酸有甜,一母之子有愚有贤; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī shù zhī guǒ yǒu suān yǒu tián, yī mǔ zhī zǐ yǒu yú yǒu xián.)
 

One failure leads to another; so does success.
(Chinese original: 一损俱损,一荣俱荣; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī sǔn jù sǔn, yī róng jù róng.)
It is usually true among people who share the same interest and lot.
A base person often thinks of a man of honor as mean as himself.
(Chinese original: 以小人之心度君子之腹; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yǐ xiǎorén zhī xīn dù jūnzǐ zhī fù.)
 
When good fortune finally comes, no one can ever stop it.
(Chinese original:一朝时运至,半点不由人; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī zhāo shí yùn zhì, bàn diǎn bù yóu rén.)
 
One justice can overpower a hundred evils.
(Chinese original: 一正压百邪; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yī zhèng yā bǎi xié.)
We always believe in the power of justice.
One bee makes no honey; one grain makes no rice soup.
(Chinese original: 一只蜂酿不成蜜,一颗米熬不成粥; Chinese Pinyin:   Audio Yī zhī fēng niàng bù chéng mì; yī kē mǐ áo bù chéng zhōu.)
An individual's effort is limited.
Don't suspect someone you employ, but if one is suspicious, don't employ him.
(Chinese original: 用人不疑,疑人不用; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yòng rén bù yí, yí rén bù yòng.)
 
A flower you plant may not necessarily bloom; but the seed of a tree you happen to drop may grow into a forest.
(Chinese original: 有意栽花花不开,无意插柳柳成荫; Chinese Pinyin:   Audio Yǒu yì zāi huā huā bù kāi, wú yì chā liǔ liǔ chéng yīn.)
This irony happens often in real life. For instance, one's spouse may not be the sweetheart one used to spent so much time and energy to woo. Some discoveries and inventions happen in the same manner: Coca Cola is for one.
To catch fish on a tree.
(Chinese original: 缘木求鱼; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yuán-mù-qiú-yú.)
Apparently it is a fruitless effort.
Distant water won't quench your immediate thirst.
(Chinese original: 远水解不了近渴; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yuǎn shuǐ jiě bù liǎo jìn kě.)
Same as above.
Distant water won't help to put out a fire close at hand.
(Chinese original: 远水救不了近火; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yuǎn shuǐ jiù bù liǎo jìn huǒ.)

A slow remedy can't meet an emergency.
As a snipe and a clam are entangled in a fight, a fisherman catch them both.
(Chinese original: 鹬蚌相争,渔翁得利; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yù bàng xiāng zhēng, yúwēng dé lì.)
When two dogs fight for a bone, a third runs always with it. The proverb tells us that all parties in a dispute may end up being losers to the benefit of others.
A jade stone is useless before it is processed; a man is good-for-nothing until he is educated.
(Chinese original: 玉不琢不成器,人不教难成才; Chinese Pinyin:   Audio Yù bù zhuó bù chéng qì, rén bù jiào nán chéng cái.)
It is an emphasis on the need of education.
The more you try to cover things up, the more exposed they will be.
(Chinese original: 欲盖弥彰; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yù-gài-mí-zhāng.)
 
"The Foolish Old Man" Removes a Mountain.
(Chinese original: 愚公移山; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yú-gōng-yí-shān.)
The legend goes that an old man was leading his family in picking away at a mountain in front of his house. When asked how he could accomplish this feat, the "Foolish Old Man" replied that if his family worked ceaselessly generation after generation, the mountain would eventually be leveled. He said, "An inch removed, it has an inch lesser." This proverb was once quoted by Mao Tse-tung to encourage the Chinese to fight the formidable Japanese invaders during WWII. The moral is, in dealing with a seemingly very difficult task, keep on working at it without fear, and you will eventually succeed.
For the full story, please read my book Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales of the Han Chinese, to be published in spring 2006 by Libraries Unlimited.
Like bamboo shoots after rain.
(Chinese original: 雨后春笋; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yǔ-hòu-chūn-sǔn.)
Grow like mushrooms.
Pass off a fish eye for a pearl.
(Chinese original: 鱼目混珠; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yú-mù-hùn-zhū.)
Sell, use or present the fake or sham instead of the genuine.
To enjoy a grander sight, climb to a greater height.
(Chinese original: 欲穷千里目,更上一层楼; Chinese Pinyin:   Audio Yù qióng qiān lǐ mù, gèng shàng yī céng lóu.)
To make a greater achievement on the basis of previous successes.
Be considerable to others and you will be treated likewise.
(Chinese original: 与人方便,自己方便; Chinese Pinyin:  Audio Yù rén fāngbiàn, zìjǐ fāngbiàn.)
 

 

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Last updated: October 13, 2014