Chinese Proverbs

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Annotation And Connotations
Fish swim in vast sea as freely as birds fly in boundless sky.
(Chinese original: 海阔凭鱼跃,天高任鸟飞;Chinese Pinyin:  AudioHǎi kuò píng yú yuè, tiān gāo rèn niǎo fēi.)

The English counterpart is "Imagination is your only limit." Go for it.

BTW, this is a good example of a duilian or couplet. (See pp. 650-52, Berkshire Encyclopedia of China.)

Crashing live fish to death before selling them (Meaning: Making fresh fish foul before selling them).
(Chinese original: 活鱼摔死卖; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huó yú shuāi sǐ mài.)
Popular in Tianjin, a large port city in North China, this saying is to deride someone who tries to be clever only to end in blunder. In China, live fish are considered fresh and free from contamination that may cause illness when cooked and eaten.
Never harbor the intent to victimize others; but never let your guard down against being victimized.
(Chinese original: 害人之心不可有,防人之心不可无; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hài rén zhī xīn bù kě yǒu, fáng rén zhī xīn bù kě wú.)
Learning how the Handan residents walk.
(Chinese original: 邯郸学步; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hán-dān-xué-bù.)
A man hated the way he walked and decided to learn how people in the city of Handan carried themselves. The result was, however, not only did he fail to learn the new style, but he also forgot his own way of walking. He could only but crawl back to his hometown and became a laughing stock. The moral is that one should use critical thinking rather than blindly following others' models. Copying others without applying what is useful to one's practical needs can only make things worse.

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.

Shoot at a shadow with sand.
(Chinese original: 含沙射影; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hán-shā-shè-yǐng.)
A fairytale goes that a monster named Yu can make a person sick by shooting his shadow with sand it picked up from a river bed. If a person is said to do the trick, he is trying to frame someone while hiding himself in the dark.
A resourceful man knows to avoid a disadvantageous situation close at hand.
(Chinese original: 好汉不吃眼前亏; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hǎohàn bù chī yǎnqiánkuī.)
An unprepared confrontation will only end up in one's defeat. In that situation, avoid it
An ambitious horse will never return to its old stable.
(Chinese original: 好马不吃回头草; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hǎo mǎ bù chī huítóu cǎo.)
A capable employee never returns to the same employer after quiting him.
A crane standing amidst a flock of chickens.
(Chinese original: 鹤立鸡群; Chinese Pin yin: Audio Hè-lì-jī-qún.)
A crane is too obvious when it stands among a flock of chickens and looks very awkward. It is also true with a camel amidst a flock of sheep and a flea when it stands on top of a hairless head. They all carry a pejorative tone: the thing that out stands others is something awkward if not necessarily bad.
Walk sidewise and block the way.
(Chinese original: 横行霸道; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Héng-xíng-bà-dào.)
When one does this, his playing the tyrant.
Draw a cake to satisfy one's hunger.
(Chinese original: 画饼充饥; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huà-bǐng-chōng-jī.)
An unrealistic solution to a problem serves no other purpose than self deception.
Pluck flowers as they bloom; wait and you'll have only the twigs.
(Chinese original: 花开堪折只需折,莫待无花空折枝; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huā kāi kān zhé zhǐ xū zhé, mò dài wú huā kōng zhé zhī.)
Strike the iron while it is hot. Seize the opportunity that comes by; do not wait till it is gone.
Fill in the eyes to a painted dragon.
(Chinese original: 画龙点睛; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huà-lóng-diǎn-jīng.)
A finishing touch. It is said that a famous Chinese painter painted four dragons without eyes. When asked, he explained that with eyes they would fly away. Incredulous, his friends insisted on his filling in the eyes. Sure enough, as soon as the painter added eyes to two of the dragons, they started flying away. This proverb is most often used to describe a situation where one who uses succinct remarks to summarize the gist of an article or a speech.
A yellow weasel victimizes a sick duck. 黄鼠狼单咬病鸭子; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huángshǔláng dān yǎo bìng yāzi.)
See Add frost to snow.
(Chinese original: 雪上加霜; Chinese Pinyin: Xuě-shàng-jiā-shuāng.).
A dream that lasts as long as a millet soup is cooked.
(Chinese original: 黄粱一梦 or 一枕黄粱; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huáng-liáng-yī-mèng or Audio Yī-zhěn-huáng-liáng.)
Some got a magic pillow and dreamed all the happiness a human being could think of, but upon his awakening, he realized that the pot of millet soup was not yet ready next door. The proverb is akin to "day dreaming" - a fond hope that can never materialize.
Add legs to the snake one has just painted.
(Chinese original: 画蛇添足; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huà-shé-tiān-zú.)
Do something that is totally unnecessary and spoil what you already have done.
A fragrant bloom is not necessarily a beautiful flower; an orator may not be a crackerjack.
(Chinese original: 花香不一定美丽,能说不一定会做;Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huā xiāng bù yīdìng měilì, néng shuō bù yīdìng huì zuò.)
Action is better than oration.
Deadly as she can be, a tigress will never eat her own cubs.
(Chinese original: 虎毒不食子; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hǔ dú bù shí zǐ.)
Those parents who hurt their children are worse than beasts of prey.
A fox borrows the tiger's might.
(Chinese original: 狐假虎威; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hǔ-jiǎ-hǔ-wēi.)
A fox caught by a tiger struck an idea of survival. She led the tiger to parade among the other animals, who of course scampered for life as they saw the tiger coming. The fox, however, made the tiger believe that the animals feared her instead. As a result, the tiger let the fox go. The proverb says of a weaker soul borrowing a bigger one's might to accomplish something he can't do otherwise.

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.

To pull a tooth from a tiger's mouth.
(Chinese original: 虎口拔牙; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hǔ-kǒu-bá-yá.)
1. to be very daring; 2. to take unnecessary risks.
Survive the Jaw of a Tiger.
(Chinese original: 虎口余生; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hǔ-kǒu-yú-shēng.)
Survive great difficulties, dangers and illness.
Swallow a date with its stone.
(Chinese original: 囫囵吞枣; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hú-lún-tūn-zǎo.)
When someone does this, he is said to read without understanding.
Fish in muddled water.
(Chinese original: 混水摸鱼; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hún-shuǐ-mō-yú.)
Take the advantage of a confused situation to make personal gains.
Disasters never come alone.
(Chinese original: 祸不单行; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huò-bù-dān-xíng.)
Talking of extremely bad luck. Similar to "Misery loves company.”
Add oil to a flame.
(Chinese original: 火上浇油; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huǒ-shàng-jiāo-yóu.)
Add fuel to a flame
A good fortune may forebode a bad luck, which may in turn disguise a good fortune.
(Chinese original: 祸兮福所依,福兮祸所依; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Huò xī fú suǒ yī, fú xī huò suǒ yī.)
Do not over rejoice over good fortune and be over dejected by a mishap. There are always the unforeseeable turns for the better or worse.
A tiger's head and a snake's tail.
(Chinese original: 虎头蛇尾; Chinese Pinyin: Audio Hǔ-tóu-shé-wěi.)
A good beginning with a lousy ending.
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Last updated: October 13, 2014