Chinese proverbs about character

People are all different, so proverbs that stress how important it is that we all rub along together are always helpful.

Bàn jīn liǎng [ban jin ba liang]
half catty eight taels
Two equivalent measures
Makes no difference; nothing to choose between alternatives
Six of one half a dozen of the other
Bié jù yī [bie ju yi ge]
classify tool one pattern
Possessing a unique style
Doing things your own way
Bù chǐ xià wèn [bu chi xia wen]
not shame under question
There is no shame in asking help of those less fortunate
A cat may look at a king
Chí kāi de huā wèi bì bú xiāng [chi kai de hua wei bi bu xiang]
slow opening flower did not certainly not smell
A late-blooming flower is not necessarily lacking in fragrance
Success late in life is still success
Chī ruǎn bù chī yìng [chi ruan bu chi ying]
eat soft not eat hard
Only able to chew tender food, not the tough
Unable to withstand harsh criticism
穿鞋,
Chuān xīn xié, zǒu lǎo lù [chuan xin xie, zou lao lu]
put on new shoes, walk old road
Wear new shoes but follow old paths
Stick to the old ways while appearing to follow the latest trends
léi tíng [da fa lei ting]
big develop thunder
Develop large thunderstorm
Fly into an extreme rage
To spit nails
西
Dōng bēn xī zǒu [dong ben xi zou]
east hasten west walk
Busy everywhere
Be busy; bustling about
恩将仇
ēn jiāng chóu baò [en jiang chou bao]
kindness will enemy repay
Repay kindness with hostility
Reject kindness
Biting the hand that feeds it
,
Fán rén bù kě mào xiàng, hǎi shuǐ bù kě dòu liàng [fan ren bu ke mao xiang, hai shui bu ke dou liang]
every person can not looks mutual, sea water can not argue capacity
Neither a person can be judged by his looks nor can the sea be fathomed
Judging by appearance is dangerous
Do not judge a book by its cover
负荆
Fù jīng qǐng zuì [fu jing qing zui]
carry thorns ask pain
To carry a cane and ask to be punished
Admit a fault and offer an apology
斧快柴硬
Fǔ kuài bú pà mù chái yìng [fu kuai bu pa mu chai ying]
axe sharp no fear wood hard
A sharp axe does not fear hard wood
A talented person is not afraid of a difficult task
temple, roof
Yellow glazed tiles on a temple roof
Hǎi nà bǎi chuān [hai na bai chuan]
sea admit hundred rivers
All rivers run to the sea
We all shared a common destiny
Hǎo mǎ bù chī huí tóu cǎo [hao ma bu chi hui tou cao]
good horse no eat return head grass
A good horse will not eat the grass behind it
Pride may forbid a person going back to his home town after failure. Do not dwell on past actions, progress forward
Haǒ rén haǒ shì [hao ren hao shi]
good person; good deeds
Good personality good deeds
Pleasant person; good actions
A good man is hard to find
Hè lì jī qún [he li ji qun]
crane stand chicken crowd
A crane standing amidst a flock of chickens
Being conspicuously different (often superior)
Standing head and shoulders above the opposition.
Hé yán yuè sè [he yan yue se]
harmony face contended colour
Having a happy face looking contented
Amiable appearance
Hǔ fù wú quǎn zǐ [hu fu wu quan zi]
tiger father not dog child
A tiger does not father a dog
A son is similar to his father
Like father, like son
, 嫁
Jià jī suí jī, jià gǒu suí gǒu [jia ji sui ji, jia gou sui gou]
marry chicken follow chicken, marry dog follow dog
Marry a chicken and live with its ways, marry a dog and live with its ways
Changing approach and actions according to who you are with
When in Rome do as the Romans do
Jǐn shàng tiān huā [jin shang tian hua]
tapestry up add flower
Add another flower to a tapestry
Taking too much trouble with detail to try to achieve perfection. Fiddling when already complete.
Gilding the lily
赤,
Jìn zhū zhě chì, jìn mò zhě hēi [jin zhu zhe chi, jin mo zhe hei]
near vermilion that red, near ink that black
He who stays near vermilion is stained red; he who stays near ink is stained black
Taking on the color of the company kept. Adapting to surroundings
A person is known by the company he keeps
病复
Jiù bìng fù fā [jiu bing fu fa]
old illness duplicate issue
An old ailment returns
It is difficult to shake off a deeply rooted habit
The leopard does not change his spots
Jiǔ niú èr hǔ zhī lì [jiu niu er hu zhi li]
nine ox two tiger 's strength
The strength of nine bulls and two tigers
Tremendously strong
Jiǔ ròu péng yǒu [jiu rou peng you]
wine meat friends
Friends only for the food and drink
Cupboard love. Fair weather friends
Inner Mongolia, stupa, Buddhism
Buddhist stupas near Dazhao Monastery, Hohhot, Inner Mongolia
Kāi mén jiàn shān [kai men jian shan]
begin entrance see mountain
As soon as the door is opened see the mountain
To come straight to the point. Avoid procrastination
Brevity is the soul of wit
Láng xīn gǒu fèi [lang xin gou fei]
wolf feeling dog lungs
Wolf aggression, dog bark. Ungrateful; cruel and unscrupulous
Ungrateful and unscrupulous
骥伏枥,
Laǒ jì fú lì, zhì zài qiān lǐ [lao ji fu li, zhi zai qian li]
old thoroughbred hidden stable, aspiration exist 1000 miles
The old horse in the stable still yearns to gallop 1000 miles
High ambitions never fade
Old soldiers never die, they just fade away
Laǒ qì héng qiū [lao qi heng qiu]
old spirit across autumn
Old and decrepit. Well experienced
No longer youthful
Lóng fēi fèng wǔ [long fei feng wu]
dragon fly phoenix dance
A dragon's flight and a phoenix's dance - very powerful and invigorating.
Flamboyant. Lively and vigorous
Lóng zhēng hǔ dòu [long zheng hu dou]
dragon war tiger battle
Bitter fight between a dragon and tiger. An evenly matched big fight
Struggle between two equal leaders
,
Luó bo bái cài, gè yǒu suǒ ài [luo bo bai cai, ge you suo ai]
radish cabbage, each have place fond
Some prefer radish while others like cabbage
Everyone has their own preferences
Each to his own
落叶
Luò yè guī gèn [luo ye gui gen]
fall leaf return root
Fallen leaves return to the root
Returning to place of birth
There's no place like home
麻雀,脏俱
Má què suī xiǎo, zàng jù quán [ma que sui xiao, wu zang ju quan]
rough sparrow although small, five innards all complete
Small as it is, the sparrow has all the vital organs
A person is a person regardless of size. Complete in every detail
骨悚然
Maó gǔ sǒng rán [mao gu song ran]
hair bone fearful promise
Hair standing on end. Petrified with fright
Petrified with fright
罗雀
Mén kě luó què [men ke luo que]
gate can net bird
The gate can catch birds. With so few visitors the door could catch birds
Having few visitors
Mò cè gāo shēn [mo ce gao shen]
cannot measure high deep
Too high or deep to measure
Enigmatic, unfathomable. Too profound to be readily understood
Still waters run deep
Qilin
Ming Tomb exhibit, Royal Ontario Museum. July 2013. Image by KristyVan available under a Creative Commons License
沐猴
Mù hóu ér guàn [mu hou er guan]
tree monkey but wear hat
A hat-wearing macaque
A worthless person hiding behind imposing looks. Trying to impress too hard
All that glitters is not gold
Néng zhě duō láo [neng zhe duo lao]
capable those who many work
The talented are kept busy
Busy people are busy because they are capable
If you want something done ask a busy man
,
Qiān jūn yì dé, yī jiang nán qiú [qian jun yi de, yi jiang nan qiu]
thousand troops easy get , one general difficult beg
It is easy to find a thousand soldiers, but hard to find a good general
It is hard to find an outstanding leader
,
Rén bù kě mào xiàng, hǎi shuǐ bù kě dǒu liáng [ren bu ke mao xiang, hai shui bu ke dou liang]
person not judge appearance mutual, sea water not judge bucket measure
A person cannot be judged by appearance just as the sea cannot be measured with a bucket
First appearances can be deceptive
Judging a book by its cover
Rén gè yǒu néng yǒu bù néng [ren ge you neng you bu neng]
person each have capability have no capability
Every person has things that he can do and those that he cannot do
Everyone has their own particular set of skills
It takes all sorts to make a world
,
Rén wú wán rén, jīn wú zú chì [ren wu wan ren, jin wu zu chi]
person nothing whole person, gold nothing pure gold
It is as impossible to find a perfect person as it is to discover 100% pure gold
Have to settle for something less than perfection
蛇吞
Rén xīn bù zú shé tūn xiàng [ren xin bu zu she tun xiang]
person heart no attain snake swallow elephant
A person's greed is like a snake that seeks to swallow an elephant
Greed is insatiable
隔肚皮
Rén xīn gé dù pí [ren xin ge du pi]
person heart separate belly
A person's heart is not discernible from looking just at the body
People are inscrutable. Do not judge by appearance
Do not judge a book by its cover
脸,
Rén yaò liǎn, shù yaò pí [ren yao lian, shu yao pi]
person must have face, tree must have skin
Keeping a good reputation is as essential as bark is to a tree
Reputation ('face') is important to maintain at all costs
乳臭
Rǔ chòu wèi gān [ru chou wei gan]
suckle smelly not yet made
Still suckling and in nappies. Still an infant. Young and inexperienced
Infantile and immature
乳臭
Rǔ chòu wèi gān [ru chou wei gan]
breast stink not yet make
Still smelling of mother's milk
Young and inexperienced
Ruò bù jīn fēng [ruo bu jin feng]
weak not restrict wind
Too weak to stand a gust of wind
Fragile, unable to withstand further setbacks
qilin, carving
Qilin also known as Kylin or Kirin, is a mythical Chinese creature that brings serenity and prosperity
否认
Shǐ kǒu fǒu rèn [shi kou fou ren]
arrow mouth deny
To shoot arrows from the mouth. To deny the truth
To flatly deny
Shí quán shí měi [shi quan shi mei]
ten complete ten beautiful
Completely whole and beautiful
Perfection; Faultless
,
Shuǐ néng zài zhōu, yì néng fù zhōu [shui neng zai zhou, yi neng fu zhou]
water can carry boat, also can sink boat
Not only does water float a boat, it can sink it too
Forces and people can have positive and negative influences
Suǒ xiàng wú qián [suo xiang wu qian]
actual direction nothing previous
This way has no problem. Be able to conquer in all directions
Invincible against all opponents
挑肥拣瘦
Tiāo féi jiǎn shòu [tiao fei jian shou]
carry fat select thin
To separate out the fat and pick only the lean meat
A very picky person. Over zealous attention to detail
Tīng qí yán guān qí xíng [ting qi yan guan qi xing]
listen his speech observe his travel
Listen to what a person says and then watch what is done
Judge people by their actions, not by their words
Actions speak louder than words
Tóng bìng xiāng lián [tong bing xiang lian]
same ill mutual pity
People with similar illness empathize with each other
People suffering the same misfortune sympathize with each other
Birds of a feather flock together
Tóng chuáng yì mèng [tong chuang yi meng]
same bed different dream
Dream different dreams on the same bed
Not everyone thinks the same
It takes all sorts to make the world
狐悲
Tù sǐ hú bēi [tu si hu bei]
hare die fox sorrow
A fox mourns the death of a rabbit
Showing false grief to conceal true feeling
To weep crocodile tears
窝边
Tù zi bù chī wō biān cǎo [tu zi bu chi wo bian cao]
rabbit no eat burrow side grass
Rabbits do not eat the grass around their burrows
Thieves do not steal from neighbors
忘恩负
Wàng ēn fù yì [wang en fu yi]
forget favor lose justice
Ungratefully forget a previous favor
Forget to acknowledge a favor. Ungratefulness
Wéi fù bù rén [wei fu bu ren]
be good fortune not benevolent
Have riches but not be generous
Be rich but heartless
banquet, Song dynasty
An Elegant Party (detail), an outdoor painting of a small Chinese banquet hosted by the emperor for scholar-officials from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Although painted in the Song period, it is most likely a reproduction of an earlier Tang Dynasty (618-907) work of art. The painting is attributed to Emperor Huizong of Song (r. 1100?1125 AD). Image by PericlesofAthens available under a Creative Commons license .
Wǒ xíng wǒ sù [wo xing wo su]
I work I usual
To continue in habitual ways
Stuck continuing in old ways
殿
Wú shì bū dēng sān bǎo diàn [wu shi bu deng san bao dian]
nothing matter no climb three treasure hall
No-one comes to pray at the Temple of Three Treasures unless in trouble
Often it is obvious when somebody is after something
Xí guàn chéng zì rán [xi guan cheng zi ran]
habit grow nature
Become habitual, normal
Habit becomes engrained
掩瑜
Xiá bù yǎn yú [xia bu yan yu]
defect not conceal jewel
A speck on a jade stone can't obscure its brilliance
One small fault won't spoil the impression of an overall exceptional person
Xīn huā nù fàng [xin hua nu fang]
heart flower in full bloom
The flower of the heart in full bloom
Full flowering of joy
Yán ér wú xìn [yan er wu xin]
word but nothing true
Speak but not mean it
To go back on one's word
míng jīng rén [yi ming jing ren]
one cry startle people
One chirp surprises everyone
To rise to stardom overnight. Discovering an unknown talent
Yǔ maó wèi fēng [yu mao wei feng]
feather not yet mature
Not yet grown adult plumage. A fledgling bird. Young and inexperienced
Still too young and immature
欲速则
Yù sù zé bù dá [yu su ze bu da]
desire fast level not extend
A desire for speed but unable to reach destination
More interest in working fast than working effectively
Less haste more speed
Yuè xià laǒ rén [yue xia lao ren]
moon under wise person
The minor god of marriage Matchmakers
Someone enabling people to meet with marriage in mind
Zhòng kǒu nán tiáo [zhong kou nan tiao]
many mouth difficult mix
Difficult to make a meal to suit everyone
You can't please everyone all the time. Everyone has different tastes
One man's meat is another man's poison
Zǐ bù jiào fù zhī guò [zi bu jiao fu zhi guo]
child no teach father's past
A father is responsible for his son's conduct
Parents are responsible for their children's education
Xuanzang, Buddhism, Shanxi, Xian
Statue of Xuanzang at the Great Wild Goose Pagoda, Xi'an, Shaanxi
Zì gāo zì [zi gao zi da]
self tall self big
Think oneself tall and great
Full of conceit and ego
Zì kuì fú rú [zi kui fu ru]
self ashamed not like
Ashamed at own inferiority
Ashamed of oneself
Zì lǐ háng jiān [zi li hang jian]
character inside line between
Between the lines
Uncovering the hidden meaning or character
Reading between the lines
陶醉
Zì wǒ táo zuì [zi wo tao zui]
self I drunk
Drunk with oneself. Narcissistic
Conceited and arrogant
Zǒu mǎ kàn huā [zou ma kan hua]
walk horse look flower
Looking at the flowers while riding a horse
To take a cursory look at something. Smug
怀
Zuò huái bù luàn [zuo huai bu luan]
sit lap no disorder
Not to be tempted even if a beautiful woman sits on one's lap
To describe a man who refuses to be tempted by lustful thoughts
井观
Zuò jǐng guān tiān [zuo jing guan tian]
sit well watch sky
To sit at the bottom of a well and view the sky
A blinkered or limited view of the world
China motif
Our proverbs come with lots of information. The modern Chinese characters are followed by the proverb in pinyin. Next, there is a crude character by character transliteration into English, followed by a more accurate English translation. If this is a Chinese proverb alluding to history the meaning may still not be clear in English, so the general meaning follows. Finally some proverbs have fairly direct English equivalents, if so the English proverb is included at the end.

Our translations need improving, so please let us know if you can help.
Share on Facebook Share on Google+

Chinasage is a new web resource, started in 2012, pages will be added, enhanced and re-formatted regularly. Please check back soon for updated information about China.

We would be most grateful if you have any comments or suggestions to help improve this page. Our contact page is also available if you have a longer comment. Just type in a quick remark here:

 

Citation information: Chinasage, 'Chinese Proverbs about personality and character', last updated 4 Sep 2013, Web, http://www.chinasage.info/proverbcharacter.htm.

Copyright © Chinasage 2012 to 2016