Chinese Proverbs, Wise Sayings
Useful insights, knowledge and advice for life and living!
Chinese proverbs are thoughts and observations about everyday living and universal truths, often inspirational or motivational in nature. Let’s take a look at some of the best, most popular and wise Chinese proverbs ever written.
Origin of Chinese proverbs
The colloquial wisdom shared in these sayings comes from ancient Chinese literature, history, teachers and philosophers. This advice and knowledge has been passed down through the ages. Many of the proverbs are attributed to Confucius, the best-known Chinese philosopher.
The lessons within these pearls of wisdom provide useful insights and knowledge to modern readers. They help in our understanding of daily life, education, work, relationships and personal goals.
These expressions of Chinese attitudes and values are traditionally written in just four Chinese characters. The proverbs listed here are translated to English as closely as possible.
Click on any category below to jump to individual sections.
The best Chinese proverbs – top ten list
1.) Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.
2.) There are two kinds of perfect people: those who are dead, and those who have not been born yet.
3.) The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle.
4.) A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
5.) A crisis is an opportunity riding the dangerous wind.
6.) Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.
7.) Coming events cast their shadows before them.
8.) The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.
9.) The swiftest horse can’t overtake a word once spoken.
10.) When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.
Famous Chinese proverbs – wise thoughts for daily life
These phrases and idioms are used so commonly in everyday language, you may not know they originated from ancient Chinese proverbs.
11.) Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
12.) You get what you pay for.
13.) Insanity is doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different outcome.
14.) Haste makes waste.
15.) Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
16.) Learn to walk before you run.
17.) Ignorance is bliss.
18.) Too many cooks spoil the broth.
19.) Disaster comes from careless talk. (Loose lips sink ships!)
20.) Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.
21.) You reap what you sow.
22.) Never judge a person by his appearance. (Don’t judge a book by its cover.)
23.) A thousand mile journey starts with the first step.
24.) A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
25.) Love at first sight.
26.) Opportunity knocks at the door only once.
27.) Great minds think alike.
28.) Better the cottage where one is merry than the palace where one weeps.
29.) Distant water does not put out a nearby fire.
30.) He who thinks too much about every step he takes will always stay on one leg.
31.) Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one.
32.) All things change, and we change with them.
33.) Dig the well before you are thirsty.
34.) The wise listens to her mind, the foolish to the mob.
35.) The pine stays green in winter. . . wisdom in hardship.
36.) A straight foot is not afraid of a crooked shoe.
37.) Man cannot be judged by looks; seas cannot be measured by cup.
38.) A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.
39.) To know the road ahead, ask those returning.
40.) Great doubts, deep wisdom… small doubts, little wisdom.
41.) Even a hare will bite when it is cornered.
42.) Watch over workers at their labors, not their meals.
43.) No horse can wear two saddles.
44.) A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man perfected without trials.
45.) A needle is not sharp at both ends.
46.) Many a good face under a ragged hat.
47.) Dogs have no prejudice against the poor.
48.) He who cheats the earth will be cheated by the earth.
49.) If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.
50.) If your strength is small, don’t carry heavy burdens. If your words are worthless, don’t give advice.
Success – Chinese proverbs
51.) It is easy to open a store — the hard part is keeping it open.
52.) Failure is the mother of success.
53.) It is not the knowing that is difficult, but the doing.
54.) A wise man makes his own decisions, but an ignorant man mindlessly follows the crowd.
55.) The person who says something is impossible should not interrupt the person who is doing it.
56.) A man who cannot tolerate small misfortunes can never accomplish great things.
57.) If Heaven made someone, earth can find some use for them.
58.) His virtues exceed his talents–a superior man.
59.) To succeed, consult three old people.
60.) Those who just want speed don’t succeed.
61.) A man grows most tired while standing still.
62.) It is easy to find a thousand soldiers, but hard to find a good general.
63.) Stout men, not stout walls, make the stout city.
64.) A man who chases two rabbits catches neither.
65.) Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it.
66.) Habits are cobwebs at first; cables at last.
67.) The glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.
68.) All things are difficult before they are easy.
69.) An ant may well destroy a whole dam.
70.) Climb the mountains to see lowlands.
71.) Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
72.) While there are green hills, there’ll be wood to burn.
73.) Determination tempers the sword of your character.
74.) To be heard afar, bang your gong on a hilltop.
75.) The person who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.
76.) Solve one problem, and you keep a hundred others away.
77.) Each has his own task, and nobody is dispensable.
78.) To have principles first have courage.
79.) To stop drinking, study a drunkard while you are sober.
80.) If you survived a storm, you won’t be bothered by the rain.
81.) A man who cannot tolerate small misfortunes can never accomplish great things.
82.) The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed.
83.) Do everything at the right time, and one day will seem like three.
84.) Ripe fruit falls by itself — but it doesn’t fall in your mouth.
85.) Govern a family as you would cook a small fish – very gently.
86.) A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.
87.) Parents who are afraid to put their foot down usually have children who step on their toes.
88.) To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without root.
89.) Easier to rule a nation than a child.
90.) Giving your son a skill is better than giving him one thousand pieces of gold.
91.) The more acquaintances you have, the less you know them.
92.) A friend to everybody is a friend to nobody.
93.) No guests at home, no hosts abroad.
94.) With true friends… even water drunk together is sweet enough.
95.) A man should choose a friend who is better than himself. There are plenty of acquaintances in the world; but very few real friends.
96.) Married couples tell each other a thousand things without speech.
97.) Love isn’t about having, it’s about enjoying (what you have).
98.) Love is not about possession, it’s all about appreciation.
99.) Hold hands with you, grow old with you.
Happiness – Chinese proverbs
100.) If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap, If you want happiness for a day, go fishing, If you want happiness for a month, get married, If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune, If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.
101.) I was angered, for I had no shoes. Then I met a man who had no feet.
102.) Make happy those who are near, and those who are far will come.
103.) To know others, know yourself first.
104.) What you don’t see, you don’t desire.
105.) Stare at the profit and step in the pitfall.
106.) While you are bargaining, conceal your coin.
107.) Neither fortunes nor flowers last forever.
108.) If you want to avoid being cheated, ask for prices at three different stores.
109.) Simple to open a shop; another thing to keep it open.
110.) Experience is a comb which nature gives us when we are bald.
111.) A nation’s treasure is in its scholars.
112.) If you are planning for a year, sow rice — if you are planning for a decade, plant trees — if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.
113.) Teachers open the door but you must walk through it yourself.
114.) Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time.
115.) Studying is like rowing upstream: no advance is to drop back.
116.) He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left.
117.) A good teacher. . . better than a barrowful of books.
118.) Fall into the pit, a gain in your wit.
119.) Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.
120.) We can study until old age. . . and still not finish.
121.) The ripest fruit falls by itself.
122.) When you say one thing, the clever person understands three.
123.) “I heard” is good; “I saw” is better.
124.) Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
125.) He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.
126.) Blame yourself as you blame others; forgive others as you forgive yourself.
127.) A fall into a ditch makes you wiser.
128.) Learning is a weightless treasure you can always carry easily.
129.) Genius can be recognized by its childish simplicity.
Knowledge – Chinese proverbs
130.) If you want to find out about the road ahead, then ask about it from those coming back.
131.) A book holds a house of gold.
132.) When the waters drop, the rocks appear.
133.) One beam, no matter how big, cannot support an entire house on its own.
134.) A fool judges people by the presents they give him.
135.) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
136.) To believe in one’s dreams is to spend all of one’s life asleep.
137.) In a group of many words, there is bound to be a mistake somewhere in them.
138.) The best fighter is never angry.
139.) It’s better to be without a book than to believe a book entirely.
140.) Three feet of ice were not frozen in a day.
141.) O eggs, don’t fight with rocks.
142.) A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood.
143.) Without sorrows no one becomes a saint.
144.) Tile tossed over the wall. . . who knows where it will fall?
145.) A good book is a good friend.
146.) Do not believe that you will reach your destination without leaving the shore.
147.) Before preparing to improve the world, first look around your own home three times.
148.) A hundred no’s are less agonizing than one insincere yes.
149.) A clear conscience never fears midnight knocking.
150.) If you stand straight, do not fear a crooked shadow.
151.) Nurture the plant one year–ten days of flowers.
152.) If the first words fail, ten thousand will then not avail.
153.) There are always ears on the other side of the wall.
154.) To know a fish go to the water; to know a bird’s song go to the mountains.
155.) No man is a perfect man; no gold is sufficiently bare.
156.) A whitewashed crow soon shows black again.
157.) One meal won’t make a fat man.
158.) Honest scales and full measure hurt no one.
159.) Want a thing long enough and you don’t.
160.) Don’t fear the enemy that attacks you, but the fake friend that hugs you.
161.) Talk does not cook rice.
162.) If you don’t want anyone to know, don’t do it.
163.) What you hear about may be false; what you see is true.
164.) Touch black paint, have black fingers.
165.) Laws control a lesser person; right conduct controls a greater one.
166.) With virtue you can’t be completely poor; without it you can’t be truly rich.
167.) Distance tests a horse’s strength. Time reveals a person’s character.
168.) A candle lights others and consumes itself.
169.) The judge with seven reasons states only one in court.
170.) Bad things never walk alone.
171.) The people who talk the best are not the only ones who can tell you the most interesting things.
172.) Do not want others to know what you have done? Better not have done it anyways.
Life and living
173.) Outside noisy, inside empty.
174.) A little impatience will spoil great plans.
175.) A careful foot can step anywhere.
176.) Better lean and good than fat and evil.
177.) A bad word whispered echoes a hundred miles.
178.) Every step makes a footprint.
179.) If you always give you will always have.
180.) Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.
181.) Happiness is the best cosmetic.
182.) Fate brings people together from far apart.
183.) In a flood of words, surely some mistakes.
184.) Before telling secrets on the road, look in the bushes.
185.) A good name is better than a good face.
186.) If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.
187.) Divide an orange–it tastes just as good.
188.) Two good talkers are not worth one good listener.
189.) It’s better to walk thousands of miles than to read thousands of books.
190.) Man’s schemes are inferior to those made by heaven.
191.) Only one who can swallow an insult is a man.
192.) At birth we bring our nothing; at death we leave with the same.
193.) Small men think they are small; great men never know they are great.
194.) Men trip not on mountains they trip on molehills.
195.) A king’s riches cannot buy an extra year.
196.) Don’t waste your hour–the sun sets soon.
197.) Time is money, and it is difficult for one to use money to get time.
198.) Slow work–fine work.
199.) It takes more than one cold day for a river to freeze a meter deep.
200.) A bad beginning makes a bad ending.
201.) To build it took one hundred years; to destroy it one day.
202.) Do everything at the right time, and one day will seem like three.
203.) To be totally at leisure for one day is to be immortal for one day.
204.) My life–a candle in the wind… frost on the leaves.
205.) Age and time do not wait for people.
206.) If you hurry through long days, you will hurry through short years.
207.) Don’t miss opportunities: time doesn’t come round again.
208.) An inch of gold can’t buy an inch of time.
209.) If you want your dinner, don’t insult the cook.
210.) ‘After you’ is good manners.
211.) Patience is a bitter plant, but its fruit is sweet.
212.) A bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers.
213.) Forget the favors given; remember those received.
214.) A filthy mouth will not utter decent language.
215.) Beat the drum inside the house to spare the neighbors.
216.) If you bow at all, bow low.
217.) A sharp tongue or pen can kill without a knife.
218.) A smile will gain you ten more years of life.
219.) Behave toward everyone as if receiving a guest.
220.) When you drink the water, remember the spring.
221.) Listening well is as powerful as talking well, and is also as essential to true conversation.
222.) A smile dispels many worries.
223.) A man without a smiling face must not open shop.
How to use these Chinese proverbs
The wisdom expressed in these short sayings provides insight into many areas of life. Much can be learned by simply thinking about how the lessons relate to your individual life and applying the knowledge to your own particular circumstances.
Beyond that, here are more ideas on how you can use these idioms in everyday life:
- Classroom: Teachers will find these proverbs useful in classroom studies and teachings.
- Sports: Team mottos or slogans can unify and focus players.
- Businesses, charities and events: Print your favorite proverb on banners and t-shirts to communicate your cause.
- Personal: Use your favorite Chinese proverbs as guiding principles in everyday life.
- Social: These proverbs and idioms are great conversation starters. Use them in discussions with friends or just to impress people with your vast knowledge of the world!
— Claire Evans
Claire writes about pop culture, entertainment, personalities, and movies.
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