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15 most common Chinese quotes and proverbs to level up your Mandarin skills

Pierre Cerchiaro | November 20, 2019 | | 0 Comments
Pensive business man with thought bubbles around his head

There's nothing like a Chinese proverb to learn Chinese. Chinese proverbs are short, easy to remember, and reflect the philosophy and art of living in the Chinese way. The use of Chinese proverbs allows you to create a real connection with your Chinese friends, and to make yourself 100% understood.

Chinese proverbs are broadly categorized as either 谚语 yànyǔ (proverbs or ‘familiar saying’) or 成语 chéngyǔ (meaning ‘become language’ usually translated as ‘idiom’ or ‘accepted saying’). The short standard form of Chengyu is made up of four characters and there are thousands of them, one for every possible situation. They are written in Classical Chinese where often one character takes the place of two or more in Modern Chinese.

Read More: How to use Chengyu properly

 

There are also the 俗语 súyǔ which are popular sayings and the 歇后语 xiēhòuyǔ which are two part allegorical sayings that are pretty hard to translate. In the first part of a xiehouyu the situation is described and the second gives the underlying truth, so in English there is the similar “a bird in the hand, is worth two in the bush” construction. Often only the first part needs to be said as the second part is implied. Puns are also used in xiehouyu adding to the difficulty in understanding and translating them.

 

This article is perfect for learners who are advanced in Chinese, but beginners and intermediate are also welcome. Learning Chinese proverbs is always fun and interesting! Let’s see now 15 common Chinese proverbs

 

授人以魚,不如授人以漁 Shòu rén yǐ yú, bùrú shòu rén yǐ yú

意思:我給你魚吃,那不如教你如何釣魚

English equivalent: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

 

人生何处不相逢 Rénshēng hé chù bù xiāngféng

意思: 人的一生总会在别离之后再见面的

English equivalent: It’s a small world (used when you run into someone you haven’t seen for a long time).

 

塞翁失马,焉知非福 Sàiwēngshīmǎ, yān zhī fēi fú

意思:比喻虽然一时受到损失,但也有可能带来好处。

English equivalent: A blessing in disguise (the old man lost his mare, but it all turned out for the best). Used when something bad that happened to you actually brings you something good (e.g.  You miss your plane but meet the love of your life on your way back home). 

 

 

百闻不如一見 Bǎiwén bùrú yījiàn

意思:形容了解事物不如亲自观察更为确实。

English equivalent: One look is worth a thousand words / Seeing by yourself is a hundred times better than hearing from others

 

活到老,学到老 Huó dào lǎo, xué dào lǎo

意思:年轻时,学是为了理想,为了安定;中年时,学是为了补充空洞的心灵;老年时,学则是一种意境,慢慢品味,自乐其中。

English equivalent: It’s never too old to learn (lit. study as long as you live).

 

曾经沧海难为水,除却巫山不是云 Céngjīngcānghǎi nàn wéi shuǐ, chúquè wūshān bùshì yún

意思:曾经到过沧海,看到别处的河流也就不足为顾了。后人引用多喻指对爱情的忠诚,说明非伊莫属、爱不另与。

English equivalent: One who has seen the world doesn’t stop at small things (lit. There are no rivers to one who has crossed the ocean, and no clouds to one who has passed Mount Wu). Mount Wu (巫山Wushan), located in Chongqing, is famous for its Little Three Gorges (小三峡).

 

欲速则不达 Yù sù zé bù dá

意思:无欲速,无见小利;欲速则不达,见小利则大事不成。

English equivalent: Haste brings no success (lit. Don’t try to run before you can walk)

 

笨鸟先飞 Bènniǎoxiānfēi

意思:比喻做事慢、能力差的人,怕落后,就比别人先走一步,多用作谦辞。

English equivalent: A slow sparrow should make an early start (lit. Clumsy birds have to start flying early). Meaning that people who struggle to learn need to work harder than the “smart” ones to compensate.

 

 

三十年河东,三十年河西 Sānshí nián hédōng, sānshí nián héxī

意思:世事盛衰兴替,感叹世事变化无常。

English equivalent: Life has ups and downs (i.g. Time changes)

 

由俭入奢易,由奢入俭难 Yóu jiǎn rù shē yì, yóu shē rù jiǎn nán

意思:从节俭到奢侈容易,从奢侈到节俭困难

English equivalent: It is easy to go from frugality to extravagant, but difficult to go from extravagance to frugality (e.g. it is easy to go from poor to rich than from rich to poor).

 

城门失火,殃及池鱼 Chéng mén shīhuǒ, yāngjíchíyú

意思:比喻因受连累而遭到损失或祸害

English equivalent: A fire in the city gates is also a calamity for the fish in the moat (idiom); the bystander will also suffer (fig. You can't escape responsibility for your actions).

 

路遥知马力,日久见人心 Lù yáo zhī mǎlì, rì jiǔ jiàn rénxīn

意思:意为路途遥远,才可以知道马的力气的大小;经历的事情多了,时间长了,才可识别人心的善恶好歹。

English equivalent: As a long road tests a horse’s strength, so a long task proves a person’s heart (lit. Distance tests a horse's stamina;Time reveals a man's heart).

 

 

物以類聚,人以群分 Wùyǐlèijù, rén yǐ qún fēn

意思:比喻同类的东西常聚在一起,志同道合的人相聚成群

English equivalent: Birds of a feather flock together.

 

无风不起浪  Wúfēngbùqǐlàng

意思:没有刮风,就不会起波浪。比喻事情的发生总有起因。

English equivalent: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, meaning there’s always some reason for a rumor (lit. No wind, no waves).

 

严以律己,宽以待人 Yányǐlǜjǐ, kuān yǐ dàirén

意思:对自己要求严格,待别人则很宽厚
English equivalent: Be strict with yourself. Be lenient with others.

 

We hope you enjoy learning these famous Chinese proverbs and learn the story behind some of them. Don’t hesitate to share on the comments which one is your favorite and what other proverbs do you know.

If you want to improve your Chinese skills rapidly, you can try our free demo online class by clicking on the link below. We have certified TutorMing teachers that can give you a real Chinese class experience and help you overcome the challenges encountered when learning Mandarin. They are really nice and very skilled, so don’t hesitate to have a try 

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Pierre Cerchiaro

Pierre Cerchiaro

Pierre Cerchiaro is a contributing writer at TutorMing. He is a French expat working in Taiwan and has had both studying experience in China and Taiwan. He is passionate about the Chinese language and is a foodaholic.

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