Chinese proverbs about planning

Proverbs about the wisdom of making plans to give the best chance of success.

Bù pò bù lì [bu po bu li]
not destroy not stand
If do not destroy will not stand
The old needs to be demolished before building the new
Start from scratch
Bú sǎ wǎng bù dé [bu sa da wang bu de da yu]
not cast large net not get large fish
Without casting a big net how can a big fish be caught
Need to think big if to succeed
善终
Bú shàn shǐ zhě bù shàn zhōng [bu shan shi zhe bu shan zhong]
not good beginning not good end
A bad beginning leads to a bad ending
Need to plan everything from the beginning
Don't put the cart before the horse
,殃
Chéng mén shī huó, yāng jí chí [cheng men shi huo, yang ji chi yu]
city gate destroy fire , calamity reach moat fish
Burning a city gate kills the fish in the moat
A drastic action may unintentionally affect other people. Show consideration for all
单枪
Dān qiāng pǐ mǎ [dan qiang pi ma]
single spear horse
A single spear and a single horse
Taking on the offensive on your own
畋,竭
Fén lín ěr tián, jié zé ěr yú [fen lin er tian, jie ze er yu]
burn forest but cultivate, exhaust pool but fishing
Burn a forest to farm; drain a pond to fish
Ignore the obvious consequences
Marry in haste, repent at leisure
Gāo wū jiàn líng [gao wu jian ling]
high house make water tank
Pouring water from the roof of a tall building
Being in a good position to repel attackers. Building a commanding position.
狐假
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
Jiàn yì yǒng wéi [jian yi yong wei]
see justice brave act
See the just cause and act on it
To see what is right and act with courage
骄兵必败
Jiāo bīng bì bài [jiao bing bi bai]
haughty weapon certainly defeated
An arrogant army is certain to be defeated
Over-confidence will lead to defeat
Pride cometh before a fall
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
使舵
Kàn fēng shǐ duò [kan feng shi duo]
look wind steer rudder
Steer the boat wherever the winds lead
Not sticking to the big plan. A fickle mind
Dragon Boat, festival
Dragonboat Racing Festival Macau 2005. Image by lidxplus available under a Creative Commons license
奸巨猾
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
Lì bù cóng xīn [li bu cong xin]
strength not from feeling
Strong ambition but no motivation
Falling short of ambition
If a job is worth doing it is worth doing well
欲熏
Lì yù xūn xīn [li yu xun xin]
sharp desire fogs heart
Strong ambition veils true feeling
To be obsessed with the desire of profit at the expense of happiness
临渴掘井
Lín kě jué jǐng [lin ke jue jing]
approach thirsty dig well
To start digging a well only when feeling thirsty
Begin to take measures when it is far too late
Failing to plan is planning to fail
鸣锣
Míng luó kāi dao [ming luo kai dao]
beat gong start road
Beating the gong to clear the way for dignitaries
To prepare the public for an event
鼎烹
Niú dǐng pēng jī [niu ding peng ji]
ox cauldron boil chicken
Cooking a chicken in a pot designed for an ox
Inappropriate scale for action. A minor event does not require such large preparation
Qiáng lóng nán yā dì tóu shé [qiang long nan ya di tou she]
strong dragon difficult press soil head snake
Even a dragon finds it difficult to conquer a snake in its lair
Knowledge of local area and people gives them a distinct advantage even against a strong enemy
Qiǎo fù nán wéi wú mǐ zhī chuī [qiao fu nan wei wu mi zhi chui]
skilful woman difficult pride nothing rice's cook
Even the cleverest cook cannot prepare rice without rice
You need to assemble the right materials for a job
Ròu bāo zǐ dǎ gǒu [rou bao zi da gou]
meat wrap child hit dog
Hitting a dog with a meat bun
To use a self defeating method to solve a problem
Shān yù lái fēng mǎn lóu [shan yu yu lai feng man lou]
mountain rain intend arrive wind tower
The wind sweeping through the tower heralds a rising storm in the mountain.
A premonition of something significant about to happen
Forewarned is forearmed
雄辩
Shì shí shèng yú xióng biàn [shi shi sheng yu xiong bian]
affair real victory goto mighty debate
A real victory is better than a great debate
Better to act than just talk about it
Actions speak louder than words
Shǔ cùn guāng [shu mu cun guang]
mouse eye inch bright
A mouse's vision is only one inch long
Looking ahead for only a short time. Only planning for the immediate future.
chess, people
Chinese Chess (Xiangqi) players
Shuō daò zuò daò [shuo dao zuo dao]
speak arrive make arrive
Say and then make
Do what one says
Actions speak louder than words
Tán hé róng yì [tan he rong yi]
chat what look easy
Talking makes look easy
Not as easy as it seemed
Easier said than done
Tóu tóu shì daò [tou tou shi dao]
head head correct way
Thinking carefully about the way to proceed
Logically and rigorously argued
There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip
望梅
Wàng méi zhǐ kě [wang mei zhi ke]
gaze plum stop thirst
Gaze at a plum to quench thirst
Vain hope for something unattainable
Wèi chóu móu [wei yu chou mou]
not yet rain silk repair
Before rain repair cloth. Make preparations ahead of time
Plan ahead, be prepared
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
,,
Wǒ kàn jiàn wǒ wàng jì, wǒ tīng jiàn wǒ jì zhù, wǒ zuò wǒ liǎo jiě [wo kan jian wo wang ji, wo ting jian wo ji zhu, wo zuo wo liao jie]
I catch sight of I forget, I hear I remember, I do explained
When I see, I forget; when I hear, I remember but when I do, I understand.
You learn only by trying it, not by just observing or talking about it
,
Wú yuán zhī shuǐ, wú běn zhī mù [wu yuan zhi shui, wu ben zhi mu]
no source water, no root tree
A river without a source, a tree without roots
Something without a proper foundation. Not properly planned
虾兵蟹将
Xiā bīng xiè jiàng [xia bing xie jiang]
shrimp soldier crab general
Shrimp soldiers led by a crab general. An ineffective army
A laughably ineffective solution to a problem
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
Xīng xīng zhī huǒ kě yǐ liáo yuán [xing xing zhi huo ke yi liao yuan]
spark's fire can burn plain
A spark can burn a whole plain
Need for great care and meticulous planning
眼泪救
Yǎn lèi jiù bù liǎo huǒ [yan lei jiu bu liao huo]
tears rescued not fire
Tears do not put out the fire
Decisive action is needed in a crisis not regrets
Yáng maó chū zài yáng shēn shàng [yang mao chu zai yang shen shang]
wool come out at sheep body on
Wool comes from a sheep
Unrealistic expectations. You get what you pay for
Laozi, philosopher
Statue of Lao Tzu (Laozi) in Quanzhou, Fujian. Image by Tom@HK available under a Creative Commons license .
因噎废
Yīn yè fèi shí [yin ye fei shi]
because choke abandon eat
If is foolish to refuse to eat just because of the chance of choking
Life does not come without risks. Risk of failure is not an argument for not trying
使推磨
Yǒu qián néng shǐ guǐ tuī mò [you qian neng shi gui tui mo]
have money can send devil push grindstone
If you have money you can make the devil push a grind stone
Money can buy you anything
,
Yǒu zhì zhe, shì jìng chéng [you zhi zhe, shi jing cheng]
have aspiration, matter accomplished
If a person has ambition, anything can be accomplished
It requires ambition to succeed in life
guò tiān qíng [yu guo tian qing]
rain past heaven bright
The rain has gone, the sky brightens
Things are improving. Hope for the future
Yuǎn shuǐ jiǔ bù liaǒ huǒ [yuan shui jiu bu liao huo]
far water rescued not near fire
Distant water will not extinguish the nearby fire
There is no point in waiting for far off help. Get to it and solve the problem now
谈兵
Zhǐ shàng tán bīng [zhi shang tan bing]
paper on chat weapon
Talk about battle strategy. An armchair general.
Making theoretical plans ignoring practical considerations
A little knowledge is a dangerous thing
Zuǒ yòu wéi nán [zuo you wei nan]
left right pride difficult
Both options are difficult
In a dilemma
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 showing the wisdom of planning ahead', last updated 4 Sep 2013, Web, http://www.chinasage.info/proverbplan.htm.

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