Chinese proverbs about cunning

The advantages and disadvantages of using clever tactics to achieve your ends.

Bīng bù yàn zhà [bing bu yan zha]
weapon not detest cheat
In conflict cheating is permitted
In warfare nothing is too dishonest
All is fair in love and war
Diào hǔ lí shān [diao hu li shan]
move tiger leave mountain
Lure a tiger down its mountain. This is one of the age old strategms of war.
Lure an enemy out of its home territory in order to attack it
è rén xiān gàozhuàng [e ren xian gaozhuang]
evil person first tell complaint
The offender is the first to complain
The perpetrator diverts attention by being the first to complain
Crying wolf
Fān yún fù [fan yun fu yu]
turn over cloud overturn rain
Conjuring clouds with one hand and rain with the other
Impressing by conjuring tricks
Gù zuǒ yòu ér yán tā [gu zuo you er yan ta]
look at left and right sides but then talk him
Looking both ways and changing the subject
Avoiding talking about something; taking a long digression
Hǔ jiǎ hǔ wēi [hu jia hu wei]
fox fake tiger power
A fox will pretend to have the power of a tiger. The story is that a fox followed a tiger in a parade. The animals panicked and the fox claimed that this was because they were frightened of the fox not the tiger
A trick of cunning to appear more powerful
Jiǎo tù sān kū [jiao tu san ku]
crafty hare three burrows
A crafty rabbit has three burrows
To succeed there must be several alternative strategies
There's more than one way to skin a cat
Laǒ jiān jù huá [lao jian ju hua]
old crafty great cunning
To be very crafty and cunning
To be tricky, cunning, crafty. Well versed in the ways of the world
All's fair in love and war
Míng zhī gù wèn [ming zhi gu wen]
bright know incident ask
Already knowing the answer
To ask a question when already knowing the answer
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
Shǐ kǒu fǒu rèn [shi kou fou ren]
arrow mouth deny
To shoot arrows from the mouth. To deny the truth
To flatly deny
Tōu liáng huàn zhù [tou liang huan zhu]
steal girder change post
Steal beams and replace them with poles
To carry out a crafty deception
food, meal
A typical Chinese family meal. Photo by ZiCheng Xu available under a Creative Commons license .
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
Xiān xià shǒu wéi qiáng [xian xia shou wei qiang]
first set about act strong
Striking first to demonstrate strength
To gain the upper hand by striking first
Strike while the iron is hot
Xiaò lǐ cáng dāo [xiao li cang dao]
smile inside conceal knife
A dagger concealed in a smile
Malice concealed by apparent friendliness
Zéi hǎn zhuō zéi [zei han zhuo zei]
thief shout 'stop thief'
A thief cries 'Stop thief!'
Diverting attention to cover misdoing
What the eye doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over
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 with a cunning plan', last updated 4 Sep 2013, Web,

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