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
Thu 4th May

Preserving Confucian Temples

In this article in China Daily the role of Confucian temples is examined. Should the remaining temples be run to draw in tourists or return to be places where Confucian doctrine is studied? Under Mao Zedong, most Confucian temples were torn down and the monks and officials dismissed. Confucius was held up as the epitome of all that was backward and out-dated. Gradually, since about 1990 Confucius has come back into prominence. The Chinese government supports the many Confucius Institutes springing up all over the world to promote Chinese culture and education. He is now seen as an ancient father figure representing the distinctive Chinese culture and philosophy.

A report on the status of the remaining 546 Confucian sites highlights the difficulties in maintaining them. The province of Hunan has the most Confucian academies including Yuelu that has been going for over a thousand years. With massive redevelopment of towns and cities all over China the temple sites are coming under increasing pressure from development.

There are Confucian sites outside China: Vietnam, Japan and Korea and many Asian tourists come to visit the Chinese temples. Of particular interest is the vast temple complex at Confucius' birthplace Qufu which is still inhabited by his descendents.

Qufu, temple, Confucius, Shandong
Lingxing Gate of Qufu Confucian Temple, Qufu, Shandong. January 2009.
Image by Sean Shih available under a Creative Commons license

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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
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
foot binding
This is a pair of Chinese lady’s shoes for bound feet. They are very small as the ideal length for a bound foot was seven and a half centimeters. Shoes for bound feet were called foot-binding shoes and lotus slippers in many non-Chinese communities. They are referred to by a variety of names in China and Chinese literature. These include gongxie (arched shoes), xiuxie (embroidered slippers), jin lian (gilded lilies) and san cun jin lian (three inch golden lily/lotus). Object description: These are lotus shoes with a triangular sole. They are made of bright red and blue cotton and cream silk. Elaborate designs of dragons and flowers are embroidered on the silk. The blue panel at the top has white and green satin stitching along its length. The heel is covered in green fabric. History: Foot binding was a custom practiced in China and occurred during the Song Dynasty ( 960-1279 AD), over a thousand years ago. Small feet were greatly admired in China. To ensure that a young girl’s feet did not grow, her feet were usually bound after she was four years old. It was done with a stout bandage, the bandage being tightened daily after removal. The bound foot never ceased to cause pain while the woman walked. In 1911 this practice was banned by the Chinese government. Photo by Queensland Museum , available under a Creative Commons license .
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

shǎng to hand down

Made up of [ shàng still; yet; to value, bèi shell; precious; cowrie shell radical 154]

Origin

The 'shang' element gives phonetic, 'bei' for valuables gives the menaing
Full information for
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
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
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The Chinese language is rightly treasured as the country's greatest accomplishment. Our language section introduces the historical and linguistic background that greatly adds to the appreciation of China. The written script has fascinated Western scholars for centuries. In the language section we include some introductory lessons, a guide to how it is written and some of the oldest classical texts.
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
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
qilin, Foshan, Guangdong
Ceramic qilin as animal on roof ridge, Ancestral Temple, Foshan, Guangdong
,
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
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

shēn to extend; to state; to explain

Made up of [ tián field radical 102]

Origin

Originally a picture of a bolt of lightning but became a 'field' with an extended central line - hence concept of 'extend'
Full information for
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
Han dynasty, watchtower
Ancient carving on a Han dynasty watch tower
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
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
Wed 17th May

Belt and Road Initiative

Spending a trillion dollars (yes $1,000 billion) is a serious investment. China’s big idea is to open up the country for much wider trade. The primary focus is to develop stronger links with Central Asian countries on the route of the old Silk Road. However the initiative seems all embracing as even New Zealand, hardly on the Silk Road is keen to be involved. The idea is for both an overland ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ (China to Europe) and a ‘21st century Maritime Road’ (China through the Indian Ocean to Africa and then north to Egypt). This has been shortened to ‘One belt one road’ or ‘Belt and Road’ or just ‘OBOR’ for short.

It is hard to work out exactly what the initiative is all about, there seem to be several factors and motives. One is that President Trump has continued to threaten China with extra tariffs to protect U.S. jobs from cheap Chinese imports. If China can open up new markets for her exports she will not be as badly hit by any protectionist measures. The U.S. continues to have a huge balance of payments deficit with China, in March 2017 the U.S. exported $9.6bn but imported $34.2bn. China’s heavy dependence on sales into the U.S. is a problem that needed to be fixed. In 2015 China’s main trade partners were: United States $457bn, Hong Kong $273bn, Japan $152bn, Germany $97.4bn and South Korea $90.1bn. Shifting trade to new countries will strengthen and stabilize China’s economy.

Many analysts also point to the problems of over-capacity in China. Just looking at total imports and exports is too crude a measure, the real problem is that China’s growth rate has slowed and the excess capacity in building related industries (steel, cement, construction) need new markets. If China can kick-start economic development elsewhere in the world she solves two problems at once - over-capacity at home and opening up new markets abroad. The China Communications Construction Group has already agreed deals worth up $40 billion in contracts with ‘Belt and Road’ countries. Sinking so much money in loans that may never be repaid is quite a risk. Venezuela now owes China $65bn and is not in a position to repay. Analysts consider such a huge project will be impossible to manage effectively and huge amounts are likely to be misappropriated.

The initiative comes at a particularly opportune time for the U.K.. Always keen on free trade and instinctively anti-protectionist the U.K. has more to gain than most other countries. With difficult talks ahead on exit of the E.U. trading block the opening up of possible deals with China all over the world is very appealing. U.K. politicians have been very keen to promote the initiative and use its undoubted trading expertise to jointly open up new markets.

The initial proposals centered on the countries of central Asia - along the route of the old Silk Road out of China. The initiative is therefore a way of re-invigorating trading links that were active for a thousand years before trade moved to China’s southern ports. The vast bulk of Chinese development had been along the south and eastern coasts, the poorest inland provinces have been left well behind. Of particular importance is the troubled province of Xinjiang. Positioned on the fringes of China the province is more Central Asian than Chinese with a Muslim majority. With frequent terrorist attacks by separatists in the province, China struggles to keep tight control. Recently China has banned Muslim parents from giving their children Muslim names and is embarking on a system of DNA profiling of every citizen. With the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative deals with neighboring Central Asian states (Takjikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan) the increased economic activity should lessen instability in the region.

The key point is that China is changing from an inward to an outward-looking nation, no longer putting internal development as the top priority. With increased economic involvement comes political power too, and some hawkish observers see this as the first stage in the building of a new Chinese Empire.


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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
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
Mao Zedong, badge, PRC
Pin badges of Mao Zedong at a market stall
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.
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Citation information: Chinasage, 'Chinese Proverbs about personality and character', last updated 23 Nov 2016, Web, http://www.chinasage.info/proverbcharacter.htm.

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