Chinese Proverbs

"The genius, wit, and spirit of a nation are discovered in its proverbs." - Francis Bacon. Chinese proverbs are no exception – they too, as Bacon so rightly mused, reveal the essence of Chinese culture and history. Quite apart from its literal, or nominal meaning, a Chinese proverb often has a hidden if not a double meaning that may be ironic.

Because many of the most popular Chinese proverbs express distilled wisdom, they are as much in use today as when they were first coined. To help strangers to China better understand the implicit as well as the explicit meanings of Chinese proverbs, below is a collection of the most common Chinese proverbs and their complete English-language equivalences.

Quite apart from its literal or nominal meaning, a Chinese proverb often has a hidden if not a double meaning that may be ironic. To help learners of Chinese better understand the implicit as well as the explicit meanings of Chinese proverbs, below is a collection of the most common Chinese proverbs and their complete English-language equivalences.

Chinese Four-Character Idioms

Chinese four-character idioms, or 成语 (chengyu in Chinese pinyin), literally meaning ‘set phrases’, are a type of traditional Chinese idiomatic expressions. They mostly consist of four Chinese characters. They mainly originated from myths, fables, historical stories or poems. They are widely used in classical Chinese, and are still in common use in Chinese writing and speaking today.

Those who are contented with what they have are often happy.

New things are good, old friends are intimate.

Reading enriches a man, conversation makes a man shrewd.

Adversity produces human ability, not necessarily wealth.

The friendship of a gentleman is insipid as water.

A day's planning is done in the morning.

In lovers' eyes beauty is produced.

A candle illuminates others and exterminates itself.

It is better to travel ten thousand miles than to read ten thousand books.

A year's planning is done in the spring.

Dripping water pierces a stone: a saw made of rope cuts through wood.

Quiet thoughts mend the body.

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