Chinese proverbs about misfortune

Proverbs to give you strength to face misfortune stoically.

堑,
Chī qiàn, cháng zhì [chi yi qian, chang yi zhi]
eat one chasm long one wise
Fall into a pit but learn from the experience
Gain wisdom from experience of set backs
Learn from your mistakes
Cū chá dàn fàn [cu cha dan fan]
coarse tea bland food
Eat a simple home-made food and yet be healthy
On starvation diet
尺,魔
Dào gāo chǐ, mó gāo zhàng [dao gao yi chi, mo gao yi zhang]
virtue tall one foot, devil tall ten foot
Where good flourishes, evil can flourish even more
There is always opportunity for evil to take root
è guàn mǎn yíng [e guan man ying]
evil string of cash everywhere full
If evil was put like discs on a string it would be always be full. Traditionally coins had holes in them and they were strung together.
Evil is all around
,祸
Fú wú chóng zhì, huò bú dān xíng [fu wu chong zhi, huo bu dan xing]
good fortune not double arrive, misfortune not single walk
Blessings come along alone; troubles often come together
Bad fortune is more frequent than good
骨瘦
Gǔ shòu rú chái [gu shou ru chai]
bone thin as lath
Nothing but skin and bones
Emaciated
Huàn nàn jiàn zhēn qíng [huan nan jian zhen qing]
suffer difficult see true affection
In adversity, true feelings are shown
Only in a crisis do you know who your friends really are
A friend in need is a friend indeed
Huò bù dān xíng [huo bu dan xing]
disaster not alone walk
Disasters do not walk alone
Misfortunes tend to come all at once
Jī bù zé shí [ji bu ze shi]
hunger not choose eat
When hungry don't care what you eat
The starving aren't fussy over their food. Pragmatically taking what is available.
Beggars can't be choosers
蛋打
Jī fēi dàn dǎ [ji fei dan da]
chicken fly egg broken
The hen has flown and the eggs destroyed. All is lost.
Complete disaster
集腋
Jí yè chéng qiú [ji ye cheng qiu]
gather armpit accomplish fur coat
A fur coat can be made from poor scraps
Make do with what you have
Beggars can't be choosers
Jiā tú [jia tu si bi]
house empty four walls
To have nothing but the bare walls of a house
To be very poor
Hebei, Chengde, Qing dynasty, temple
Chengde, Hebei has many palaces built as replicas of buildings in China. This palace is a recreation of the Potala Palace Tibet Copyright © Dreamstime see image license
烂额
Jiāo tóu làn é [jiao tou lan e]
beaten head burnt brow
Head bruised and brow burned
In terrible trouble
Beaten black and blue
Jié wài shēng zhī [jie wai sheng zhi]
joint outside produce branch
Leaves emerge from where they should not
New problems pop up unexpectedly
Luàn qī zāo [luan qi ba zao]
chaos seven eight dregs
chaotic mess
To be in a terrible mess. Dirty and filthy
逆境
Nì jìng chū rén cái [ni jing chu ren cai]
disobey border go out person ability
Rebellion creates capability
Hardship and adversity fosters talent
If life deals you lemons, make lemonade
否极泰
Pǐ jí tài lái [pi ji tai lai]
evil extreme good arrive
At the extreme point of misfortune, good will surely arrive
Things at the worst will mend
The darkest hour is just before the dawn
妻离
Qī lí zǐ sàn [qi li zi san]
wife leave child break-up
Wife left; children scattered
A broken family
黔驴
Qián lǖ jì qiong [qian lu ji qiong]
black donkey skill poor
Even a clever donkey can not solve the problem. The story is that a tiger first spotted a donkey and was scared of the new monster, but seeing it do very little but kick it killed and ate the donkey.
No more ideas on how to proceed
Be at wit's end
塞翁,
Sài wēng shī mǎ, ān zhī fēi fú [sai weng shi ma, an zhi fei fu]
frontier old man lose horse, peace know wrong blessing
When the old man from the frontier lost his horse; how could he have known that it would not be fortuitous? The story is that a man lost his horse but actually it went over the Great Wall and brought back several horses with it
A setback may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Every cloud has a silver lining
Shān qióng shuǐ jìn [shan qiong shui jin]
mountain poor water exhaust
Run out of food and water
Thirsty and starving; destitute
Shī bài shì chéng gōng zhī mǔ [shi bai shi cheng gong zhi mu]
failure is achieve merit's mother
Failure is the mother of success
Learning from mistakes
Cut your coat to suit your cloth
则溢
Shuǐ mǎn zé yì [shui man ze yi]
water full level overflow
Water rises only to overflow
At the point of a crisis. Things are about to turn around
The tide is on the turn
Shuǐ shēn huǒ rè [shui shen huo re]
water deep fire hot
In deep water and fierce fire
In very deep trouble
Mongol dynasty, battle
Battle between Mongols and Chinese (1211). Painted 1430. Image by Sayf al-Vâhidî. Hérât. Afghanistan available under a Creative Commons license .
面楚
miàn chǔ gē [si mian chu ge]
four side Chu song
In the battle of Gaixia troops surrounding the enemy sang songs of home, breaking their spirit.
Ambushed from all sides. Under sustained attack
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
Tù sǐ gǒu pēng [tu si gou peng]
rabbit dog cook
Trusted helpers are dispensable after their mission is complete
Watch your back. Once the job is done you may be sacked
物极必
Wù jí bì fǎn [wu ji bi fan]
thing extreme certainly turn around
Extreme conditions will surely calm down
Things will turn around in the opposite direction when they reach the highest point
The tide is on the turn
屋漏偏逢连
Wū lòu piān féng lián yè [wu lou pian feng lian ye yu]
house leak slanting happen upon continuous night rain
When the roof is leaking, there will be continuous nights of rain
Misfortunes tend to come all at once
When it rains, it pours
加霜
Xuě shàng jiā shuāng [xue shang jia shuang]
snow up add frost
Add frost to snow
To add to misfortunes unnecessarily
Add insult to injury
Yè cháng mèng duō [ye chang meng duo]
night long dream many
The longer the night, the more dreams there will be
When in hard times it is foolish to merely dream of better things
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride
Zì kuì fú rú [zi kui fu ru]
self ashamed not like
Ashamed at own inferiority
Ashamed of oneself
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 coping with bad luck and misfortune', last updated 4 Sep 2013, Web, http://www.chinasage.info/proverbmisfortune.htm.

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