The Definitive Guide to Chinese Proverbs, Sayings, and Quotes

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Chinese proverbs, sayings, and quotes have long been integral to Chinese culture, offering timeless wisdom that transcends generations. By exploring these nuggets of ancient Chinese wisdom, we can gain valuable insights into life, success, love, friendship, and more.

In this guide, we’ll delve into famous Chinese proverbs, inspirational quotes, and intriguing idioms to help you appreciate the depth and beauty of Chinese philosophy.

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Famous Chinese proverbs and sayings

Want to enrich your Chinese-speaking life? Love having a handy little life-affirming quote in your vocab arsenal? As well as being extremely useful for daily use, Chinese proverbs and sayings can provide guidance as well as insight into the rich culture of China. Whether you’re starting out with learning Chinese or are already a proficient speaker, understanding these pearls of wisdom can help guide your thinking and give context to conversations, even if it’s just on a subconscious level.

Chinese proverbs about life

If you’re eager to learn more Chinese, look no further than the many fascinating proverbs passed down from generation to generation. These ancient Chinese sayings provide profound insights into traditional values and beliefs, which can bring your learning to life while also being very cool for learning about Chinese culture.

We’ve gathered some of our favourite insightful Chinese proverbs about life, so you can better understand how these ideas still impact modern-day China, and maybe even gain some new bits of wisdom in the process.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

千里之行,始于足下 – (Qiān lǐ zhī xíng, shǐ yú zú xià)

Attributed to: Lao Tzu

This saying encourages us to take the first step toward success, no matter how daunting the journey may seem.

“When the old man from the frontier lost his horse, how could he have known it would be a blessing in disguise?”

塞翁失马,焉知非福 (sài wēng shī mǎ, yān zhī fēi fú) 

A common Chinese saying that highlights the unpredictable nature of life and encourages us to remain optimistic in the face of adversity, as misfortunes may sometimes lead to unexpected blessings.

“One cannot have both the fish and the bear’s paw.”

鱼与熊掌,不可兼得 (yú yǔ xióng zhǎng, bù kě jiān dé)

An often-quoted Chinese proverb serves as a reminder that we cannot have everything we desire in life and that we must often make choices and prioritise what is most important.

“Dripping water can penetrate the stone.”

水滴石穿 (shuǐ dī shí chuān)

This proverb is about the power of persistence and patience. Even the most challenging obstacles can be overcome with consistent effort and determination over time.

“There is nothing difficult in the world as long as you set your mind to it.”

天下无难事,只怕有心人 (tiān xià wú nán shì, zhǐ pà yǒu xīn rén)

This well-known Chinese saying inspires confidence and resilience by asserting that we can overcome any challenges and achieve our goals with determination and dedication.

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Chinese proverbs about success

Do you ever find yourself needing a little extra motivation? Or some words of wisdom to help remind you why it’s worth your time and effort to learn Chinese? If so, then this section is just what you need. Let’s check out some of the most inspiring and insightful Chinese proverbs about success. 

Through these words, we can understand how deeply the concept has been ingrained in Chinese culture since ancient times. This understanding will prove invaluable as we continue on our journey towards mastering this language.

“Better to be a broken piece of jade than an intact piece of pottery.”

宁为玉碎,不为瓦全 (nìng wéi yù suì, bù wéi wǎ quán) – 

This proverb emphasises the importance of maintaining one’s integrity and principles, even in the face of failure or adversity, as it is more valuable than compromising for mere success.

“A frog in a well.”

井底之蛙 (jǐng dǐ zhī wā)

In this Chinese expression, we learn that having a limited perspective or being narrow-minded can hinder success. It serves as a reminder to keep an open mind and continually expand our horizons to achieve greater accomplishments.

“Stand firmly in the present and focus on the future.”

立足当下,着眼未来 (lì zú dāng xià, zhuó yǎn wèi lái)

This wisdom from ancient China relates to the importance of being grounded in the present while keeping a long-term vision for the future. By doing so, we can build a solid foundation for lasting success.

“To have bamboo in one’s chest.”

胸有成竹 (xiōng yǒu chéng zhú)

According to a popular Chinese saying, having a well-thought-out plan or strategy in mind before taking action. It highlights the importance of preparation and foresight in achieving success and realising one’s goals.

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Chinese Proverbs

Chinese proverbs about family

If you’re learning Chinese, do more than just memorise character pronunciations and grammar. Take the time to explore the cultural heritage imbued in each proverb. The lessons on family values they impart are timeless and transcultural, words that any parent, grandparent or sibling can appreciate. From honouring parents to valuing siblings, these proverbs speak of the importance of close kin relationships.

“A harmonious family leads to prosperity in everything.”

家和万事兴 (jiā hé wàn shì xīng)

This Chinese saying highlights the importance of family harmony and unity in achieving success and happiness in life.

“Among hundreds of virtues, filial piety comes first.”

百善孝为先 (bǎi shàn xiào wéi xiān)

The essence of this Chinese saying highlights the importance of respecting and honouring one’s parents in Chinese culture. It serves as a reminder of the fundamental role that generational respect plays in family relationships and values.

Related Reading: How to Say “I Miss You” In Chinese

“A golden nest or a silver nest is not as good as one’s own doghouse.”

金窝银窝不如自己的狗窝 (jīn wō yín wō bù rú zì jǐ de gǒu wō)

This proverb highlights the value of a sense of belonging and the comfort of one’s own home and family, regardless of wealth or material possessions.

“A family with many mouths needs a wise decision-maker.”

家有千口,主事一人 (jiā yǒu qiān kǒu, zhǔ shì yì rén)

This widely recognised Chinese proverb stresses the importance of having a responsible and wise leader within the family who can make sound decisions for the well-being of all family members. It serves as a reminder that successful families rely on strong leadership and good decision-making.

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Chinese proverbs about love

Chinese proverbs about love

Love is a universal language everyone can relate to, and Chinese proverbs about love offer insight on relationships, romance, and how the world works. Whether you’re in a relationship or searching for one, these ancient sayings will give you valuable insight into what it takes to make love work long-term. With their age-old wisdom and modern relevance, let’s explore some of the most popular Chinese proverbs about love.

“Lovers will eventually become a family.”

有情人终成眷属 (yǒu qíng rén zhōng chéng juàn shǔ)

This romantic proverb expresses the belief that true love will ultimately overcome obstacles and lead to a lasting union.

“To moisten each other with spittle.”

相濡以沫 (xiāng rú yǐ mò)  

A cherished Chinese saying that describes the deep bond and mutual support between two people in love, even during difficult times. It’s about the importance of standing by one another and sharing what we have, no matter the hardships of life together.

“The old man under the moon ties the knot.”

月老牵线 (yuè lǎo qiān xiàn)

This traditional Chinese proverb refers to Yue Lao, the Chinese god of marriage, who is believed to connect destined lovers with an invisible red thread. The proverb highlights the idea of fate or destiny playing a role in bringing two people together in love.

Related Reading: 35 Chinese Nicknames For Lovers, Friends, And Strangers

“In the eyes of a lover, a beauty like Xi Shi appears.”

情人眼里出西施 (qíng rén yǎn lǐ chū xī shī)

Xi Shi was one of the Four Beauties of ancient China. This proverb explains that love is subjective, and a person in love will see their partner as the most beautiful and perfect person, regardless of any flaws.

“To love the house and also the crow.”

爱屋及乌 (ài wū jí wū)

This thought-provoking Chinese proverb highlights loving someone unconditionally, including their family and surroundings. It serves as a reminder that true love extends beyond the individual and encompasses everything connected to them.

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Chinese proverbs about love

Chinese proverbs about friendship

Next up, let’s explore some fascinating proverbs related to friendship, as expressed through centuries-old wisdom. From philosophical musings on companionship to humorous expressions of camaraderie, these sayings capture various emotions that reflect how different cultures think about close relationships.

“In adversity, true feelings are revealed.”

患难见真情 (huàn nàn jiàn zhēn qíng)

This profound Chinese saying shares the wisdom that it’s during difficult times that we can see the true nature of our friendships. Genuine friends will stand by us and support us through adversity, while fair-weather friends may disappear.

“Isn’t it delightful to have friends coming from afar?”

有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎? (yǒu péng zì yuǎn fāng lái, bù yì lè hū?)

This quote from Confucius highlights the joy of connecting with friends from different places and backgrounds. It serves as a reminder to cherish the diverse friendships we form throughout our lives.

“Friends walk together throughout their lives.”

朋友一生一起走 (péng yǒu yī shēng yī qǐ zǒu)

This proverb relates to the importance of loyalty and commitment in long-lasting friendships. It serves as a reminder that true friends stick together through the ups and downs of life, accompanying each other on the journey.

“Know yourself and know your enemy, and you will never be defeated.”

知己知彼,百战不殆 (zhī jǐ zhī bǐ, bǎi zhàn bù dài)

Attributed to: Sun Tzu

This thoughtfully expressed Chinese proverb is related to the importance of understanding oneself and others to maintain solid friendships and overcome challenges.

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Chinese proverbs about friendships

Chinese proverbs about learning

Proverbs can be a compelling way to learn a new language and dive into a culture. They often incorporate key points about life’s lessons, making them easy to remember and (probably more importantly) entertaining. Let’s check out some of the most treasured proverbs used when discussing learning in a traditional Chinese culture.

“Live to be old, learn to be old.”

活到老,学到老 (huó dào lǎo, xué dào lǎo)

This Chinese saying encourages lifelong learning and personal growth, regardless of age.

“Review the old and learn the new.”

温故而知新 (wēn gù ér zhī xīn)

This Chinese saying reminds us of the importance of revisiting and building upon past knowledge to gain new insights and understanding. It serves as a reminder that learning is a continuous process, and we should always be open to expanding our knowledge base.

Related reading: 50 Chinese Slang Words to Make You Sound Like A Native

“When three people walk together, there must be one I can learn from.”

三人行,必有我师 (sān rén xíng, bì yǒu wǒ shī)

This proverb stresses the value of learning from others, regardless of their background or status. It serves as a reminder that everyone has something to teach us if we’re open to learning from them.

“Not afraid of slow progress, just afraid of standing still.”

不怕慢,就怕站 (bù pà màn, jiù pà zhàn)

This evocative Chinese proverb points out the importance of persistence and patience in the learning process. It encourages us to keep moving forward and making progress, even if it’s slow, as stagnation hinders growth and development.

Chinese proverbs about learning

Chinese proverbs about hard work

If you’re looking for motivation to study hard and reach your language goals, look no further than these Chinese proverbs. They can inspire, motivate and remind us of the important life lessons that come with hard work.

Here are some of the most popular Chinese proverbs related to hard work, so you can keep these words of wisdom in mind as you progress towards fluency in Mandarin. So get ready for some time-tested advice from generations past.

“Persist and keep at it, and even rotten wood can be broken; never give up, and even metal and stone can be engraved.”

锲而舍之,朽木不折;锲而不舍,金石可镂 (qiè ér shě zhī, xiǔ mù bù zhé; qiè ér bù shě, jīn shí kě lòu)

This proverb underlines the power of persistence and determination to achieve success. No matter how challenging the task may be, we can overcome obstacles and accomplish our goals with enough effort and unwavering dedication.

“An ant’s hole can cause the collapse of a dam.”

蚁穴溃堤 (yǐ xué kuì dī)

A meaningful Chinese saying that reveals the idea that even small, consistent efforts can lead to significant outcomes. It serves as a reminder that, in the long run, hard work and determination can bring about substantial results, even if progress initially seems minimal.

“Three parts fate, seven parts hard work.”

三分天注定,七分靠打拼 (sān fēn tiān zhù dìng, qī fēn kào dǎ pīn)

This proverb indicates the importance of hard work and perseverance in achieving success rather than relying solely on destiny.

“Jingwei fills the sea.”

精卫填海 (jīng wèi tián hǎi)  

This Chinese saying, which is drippingly rich in meaning, comes from a mythological story about a determined bird named Jingwei, who persistently carried stones and twigs in an attempt to fill the sea. The proverb symbolises unwavering determination and persistence in the face of adversity, illustrating the power of hard work and dedication to achieve seemingly impossible goals.

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Chinese proverbs about hardwork

Chinese proverbs for business

Are you a businessperson looking to add a layer of cultural insight when dealing with clients and coworkers from China? Have you wondered what time-tested wisdom can be found in the Chinese language? Look no further. There are many important Chinese proverbs related to business, from thoughts on personal growth to the power of professional relationships.

“You can’t catch a cub without entering the tiger’s den.”

不入虎穴,焉得虎子 (bù rù hǔ xué, yān dé hǔ zǐ)

A Chinese adage that stresses the importance of taking risks and facing challenges to achieve business success. It serves as a reminder that to accomplish great things, we must be willing to face potential dangers and difficulties.

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

授人以鱼不如授人以渔 (shòu rén yǐ yú bù rú shòu rén yǐ yú)

A Chinese saying that most of us know underlines the importance of teaching others valuable skills and knowledge in business rather than providing temporary solutions. By empowering others with the ability to learn and grow, businesses can create long-term value and sustainable success.

“Attract wealth and treasure.”

招财进宝 (zhāo cái jìn bǎo)

This auspicious saying is often used in the context of business to wish for prosperity and success.

“A good bird chooses a tree to nest in, a wise official chooses a ruler to serve.”

良禽择木而栖,贤臣择主而事 (liáng qín zé mù ér qī, xián chén zé zhǔ ér shì)

This proverb highlights the importance of choosing the right environment and business partnerships. Just as a good bird chooses a strong tree to build its nest, wise business professionals should seek reliable and supportive partners or organisations to ensure success.

“When drinking water, think of its source.”

饮水思源 (yǐn shuǐ sī yuán)

In this eloquent Chinese saying, we find a notion that encourages gratitude and humility in business dealings. It serves as a reminder to always appreciate and recognise the contributions of others, whether they are employees, partners, or mentors, and to remember where we came from and the support we received along the way.

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Inspirational Chinese quotes

If you’re learning Chinese, you work hard to practise your pronunciation and memorise vocabulary words, but motivation can sometimes be hard to come by. That’s why we’ve compiled some of our favourite inspirational Chinese quotes.

We hope these words of wisdom will lighten your spirits and encourage you on your journey to fluency in Mandarin. Read on to learn about classic sayings from some legendary figures and get inspired like never before.

Quotes from Confucius

“Isn’t it a pleasure to learn and practise what you have learned at the right time?”

学而时习之,不亦说乎?” (“xué ér shí xí zhī, bù yì yuè hū?”)

This quote from Confucius is about the joy of learning and the satisfaction of applying knowledge in our daily lives.

“Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire.”

己所不欲,勿施于人 (jǐ suǒ bù yù, wù shī yú rén)

Confucius encourages us to treat others with respect and kindness, reminding us to consider how we would like to be treated before taking action.

“If you govern people by punishment and regulations, they will avoid them but have no sense of shame. If you govern them with virtue and propriety, they will have a sense of shame and become upright.”

道之以政,齐之以刑,民免而无耻;道之以德,齐之以礼,有耻且格 (dào zhī yǐ zhèng, qí zhī yǐ xíng, mín miǎn ér wú chǐ; dào zhī yǐ dé, qí zhī yǐ lǐ, yǒu chǐ qiě gé)

Confucius stresses the importance of leading by example and inspiring morality through virtue and good character rather than relying on punishment and strict rules.

Quotes from Lao Tzu

Quotes from Lao Tzu

“Those who know do not speak, those who speak do not know.”

知者不言,言者不知 (zhī zhě bù yán, yán zhě bù zhī)

In this quote, Lao Tzu explains the value of humility and the wisdom of recognising that true understanding often lies in silent observation rather than in speaking.

“The way that can be spoken of is not the eternal Way; the name that can be named is not the eternal name.”

道可道,非常道;名可名,非常名。 (dào kě dào, fēi cháng dào; míng kě míng, fēi cháng míng)

This quote from Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, speaks to the ineffable nature of the Tao (the Way) and the limitations of language in describing the ultimate truth.

“The highest good is like water.”

上善若水 (shàng shàn ruò shuǐ)

This quote from Lao Tzu highlights the importance of adaptability and flexibility in life. Just as water naturally flows and takes the shape of its surroundings, so should we strive to adapt and accommodate various situations.

“Governing a large country is like cooking a small fish.”

治大国若烹小鲜 (zhì dà guó ruò pēng xiǎo xiān)

Lao Tzu uses this metaphor to explain the need for a light touch and careful management when governing or leading others. Just as overcooking a small fish can ruin it, heavy-handed leadership can lead to discontent and disorder.

Quotes from Sun Tzu

Quotes from Sun Tzu

“The art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road to safety or ruin.”

兵者,国之大事,死生之地,存亡之道,不可不察也。(bīng zhě, guó zhī dà shì, sǐ shēng zhī dì, cún wáng zhī dào, bù kě bù chá yě)

This quote from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” underscores the importance of understanding warfare and strategy for the security and well-being of a nation. Many people take Sun Tzu’s works as directly applicable to the modern business environment.

“Warfare is the way of deception.”

兵者,诡道也 (bīng zhě, guǐ dào yě) 

In this quote, Sun Tzu emphasises the importance of strategy and cunning in warfare, suggesting that deception and misdirection are essential tools for achieving victory on the battlefield.

“Know yourself and know your enemy, and you will never be defeated in a hundred battles.”

知己知彼,百战不殆 (zhī jǐ zhī bǐ, bǎi zhàn bù dài)

Sun Tzu highlights the importance of understanding both your own strengths and weaknesses and those of your competitors. Having a deep knowledge of both sides, one can formulate effective strategies and succeed in any conflict.

“In the art of war, do not attack an enemy on high ground, and do not meet him when he has the advantage of a hill.”

故用兵之法,高陵勿向,背丘勿逆 (gù yòng bīng zhī fǎ, gāo líng wù xiàng, bèi qiū wù nì)

This quote highlights the importance of choosing favourable terrain when engaging in battle. Sun Tzu suggests that attacking a competitor from a disadvantageous position will likely result in defeat.

“The rule of attacking a city is only as a last resort.”

攻城之法,为不得已 (gōng chéng zhī fǎ, wéi bù dé yǐ)

Sun Tzu advises against laying siege to a city unless absolutely necessary, as it consumes significant resources and time. Instead, he encourages finding alternative strategies that may lead to a swifter and less costly victory.

“A general should possess wisdom, trustworthiness, benevolence, courage, and discipline.”

将者,智、信、仁、勇、严也 (jiàng zhě, zhì, xìn, rén, yǒng, yán yě)

Sun Tzu outlines the essential qualities of an effective military leader, emphasising the importance of both intellectual and moral virtues. By cultivating these traits, a leader can inspire loyalty and achieve success in battle.

Chinese idioms and their origins

Chinese idioms and their origins

As anyone who has studied Chinese will tell you, there’s no better way to understand the culture and language than immerse yourself in its most colourful expressions. Let’s look at some of China’s unique idioms, from their meanings to their fascinating stories. It’s like a crash course on one of the oldest living languages.

狐假虎威 (hú jiǎ hǔ wēi) — “The fox borrows the tiger’s fierceness.”

Origin: From the Chinese fable of a cunning fox that used a tiger’s reputation to intimidate other animals.

Meaning: This idiom refers to someone who gains power or influence by relying on the strength of others.

画蛇添足 (huà shé tiān zú)  —“To draw a snake and add legs.”

Origin: From an ancient Chinese story about a man who tried to improve a drawing of a snake by adding legs, only to ruin the artwork.

Meaning: This idiom warns against overdoing something or making unnecessary additions that can lead to negative consequences.

班门弄斧 (bān mén nòng fǔ) — “Showing off one’s skills with an axe before the master carpenter.”

Origin: Derived from a story about a man who tried to demonstrate his wood-cutting skills in front of a master carpenter, only to be ridiculed.

Meaning: This idiom is used to describe the act of displaying one’s limited knowledge or skills in front of an expert, often leading to embarrassment.

Chinese expressions for daily life

Chinese expressions for daily life

吃苦 (chī kǔ) — “To endure hardship.”

This expression is often used to encourage resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity.

加油 (jiā yóu) — “Add oil.”

This popular Chinese expression serves as a cheer or encouragement, similar to “keep up the good work” or “keep going” in English.

Translating and interpreting Chinese proverbs, sayings, and quotes

Translating Chinese sayings, proverbs, and quotes can be challenging due to linguistic and cultural differences. Understanding the cultural context and historical background is essential to accurately interpret and convey the intended meaning.

When translating, try to preserve the essence of the proverb or quote without sacrificing readability or comprehension for English speakers.

Understanding and appreciating Chinese proverbs, sayings, and quotes can bring a lot more benefits than you might think, including personal growth, improved relationships, and a deeper understanding of Chinese culture. 

Applying the lessons of Chinese proverbs, sayings, and quotes

As we’ve explored in this definitive guide, Chinese proverbs, sayings, and quotes provide invaluable insights into various aspects of life, from success and love to friendship and personal growth.

By delving into the rich world of Chinese wisdom, we can better understand human nature and the world around us. So, go ahead and embrace the timeless wisdom of Chinese proverbs, sayings, and quotes to enrich your life and the lives of those around you.

Don’t miss this opportunity to unlock the beauty and depth of Chinese culture. Start your adventure today and transform the way you see the world.

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