Chinese idioms about people's characters

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

隔肚
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
[吃軟不吃硬]
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
怀 [坐懷不亂]
Zuò huái bù luàn [zuo huai bu luan]
sit lap no disorder
Not to be tempted even when a beautiful woman sits on one's lap
To describe a man who refuses to be tempted by lustful thoughts
Wǒ xíng wǒ sù [wo xing wo su]
I work I usual
To continue in habitual ways
Stuck following old ways
Yuè xià laǒ rén [yue xia lao ren]
moon under wise person
The old man under the moon
The deity of matchmakers for marriage . said of someone who is trying to get a couple together. The tradition was that husband and wife had an invisible red thread tying them together from birth.
狐悲
Tù sǐ hú bēi [tu si hu bei]
hare die fox sorrow
A fox mourns the death of a rabbit
Feigning concern to conceal true feeling
To weep crocodile tears
[空洞無物]
Kōng dòng wú wù [kong dong wu wu]
cavity has no thing
Vacuous
Empty and devoid of worthwhile content. Usually applied to poor writing that is devoid of meaning.
Empty words
[請君入甕]
Qǐng jūn rù wèng [qing jun ru weng]
invite lord enter vat
Please step into the vat
To fall victim to a punishment that you yourself devised. The story is from the reign of Empress Wuzetian when two cruel ministers vied to create the vilest tortures. Zhou Ying suggested a large vat should be heated and the victim placed in it. His fellow minister threatened to apply the torture on Zhou Ying himself. He then confessed to all his crimes.
To give someone a taste of their own medicine
, [人無完人金無足赤]
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 pure gold
Having to settle for something less than perfection
Haǒ rén haǒ shì [hao ren hao shi]
good person; good deeds
Good personality good deeds
Pleasant person who behaves well
A good man is hard to find
[道聽途說]
Dào tīng tú shuō [dao ting tu shuo]
road listen road speak
Paying heed to gossip
Listening to roadside gossip or tittle-tattle.
[听其言觀其行]
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
[龍飛鳳舞]
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
[東窗事發]
Dōng chuāng shì fā [dong chuang shi fa]
east window matter expose
The plot at the east window has been exposed
The game is up. Generally said of villains whose evil plans have been thwarted. The story is of Qin Hui of the Song dynasty who hatched a plot under the east window of his house to tell lies about General Yue Fei. Qin Hui and his son died shortly after Yue Fei was executed. Qin's wife Wang used a necromancer who discovered the truth and was told by Qin's spirit that the East window plot had been exposed.
The chickens havee come home to roost
骨悚然
Maó gǔ sǒng rán [mao gu song ran]
hair bone fearful promise
Hair standing on end
Petrified with fright
[毛遂自薦]
Máo Suì zì jiàn [Mao Sui zi jian]
Mao Sui self recommend
Mao Sui recommends himself
Volunteering your services for a difficult task. The story is of a servant named Mao Sui to negotiate with the king of Chu over a Qin attack on the kingdom of Zhao (Warring States era). Not enough people volunteered to go on the mission so Mao Sui volunteered against the wishes of his lord. When reluctantly allowed to go Mao Sui proved an able negotiator.
cái xiǎo yòng [da cai xiao yong]
big ability tiny use
Big ability barely used
Wasting talent on trivial things. Using someone talented for a menial task
All dressed up and nowhere to go
[不恥下問]
Bù chǐ xià wèn [bu chi xia wen]
not shame under question
There is no shame in asking help from those less fortunate or senior than yourself.
A cat may look at a king
,[人不可貌相海水不可斗量]
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
music, guzheng
Guzheng is a traditional Chinese musical instrument belonging to the zither family of string instruments
[字里行間]
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
[能者多勞]
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
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
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
, [千軍易得一將難求]
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
否认 [矢口否認]
Shǐ kǒu fǒu rèn [shi kou fou ren]
arrow mouth deny
To shoot arrows from the mouth
To flatly deny the truth
穿鞋, [穿新鞋走老路]
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
[亦步亦趨]
Yì bù yì qū [yi bu yi qu]
also step also walk fast
To follow in someone's footsteps
To imitate slavishly. The story is of a devoted pupil of Confucius, Yan Hui, who aped everything Confucius did including his walk. Pointless copying
A copycat
Míng chá qiū háo [ming cha qiu hao]
clear observe autumn hair
Able to see an animal?s autumn fur
A perceptive and sharp-sighted person who is able to grasp all the detail. In autumn some animals grow new, fine fur to keep themselves warm in winter.
On the ball
模棱 [模棱兩可]
Mó léng liǎng kě [mo leng liang ke]
pattern edge both permit
To equivocate
Position is unclear or uncertain. Failing to make up your mind.
Sitting on the fence
shí hán [yi pu shi han]
one sunning ten cold
One day in the sun and then ten days of freezing
The story is that second sage of Confucianism, Mencius (Menzi) said this of the king of Qi. He considered him a person who only showed enthusiasm for Mencius' ideas for a short time while he was around to encourage him to ruling well. So it has come to describe the many people who have short bursts of enthusiasm - no staying power.
Blowing hot and cold
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
鹏程
Péng chéng wàn [peng cheng wan li]
Peng journey ten thousand li
Peng Niao flies ten thousand miles
Emergence of great talent. The Peng Niao is a mythical bird of huge size and power that could fly huge distance with little effort. Said of someone of immense potential.
[一鳴驚人]
míng jīng rén [yi ming jing ren]
one cry startle people
One chirp surprises everyone
To rise to stardom overnight. Discovering an unknown talent. The story is of an Emperor who kept a bird that did not fly or sing and people wondered why he kept it. One day the Emperor rose to meritorious action surprising everyone
[欲速則不達]
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. Too much interest in the short term rather than the overall strategy
More haste less speed
[安步當車]
Ān bù dàng chē [an bu dang che]
content walk replace vehicle
Choosing to walk rather than take the limousine
Turn down luxury and high office for a simpler life. The story is of a scholar from the Warring States period who was offered great wealth and his own carriage to serve the King of Qi.
[開門見山]
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
, [水能載舟亦能覆舟]
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
Events and people can have both positive and negative influences
[同床異夢]
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
Beijing, hutong, courtyard, architecture
Courtyard houses Si He Yuan (siheyuan) is a classical architectural style. The narrow streets between the courtyard houses are called Hutongs.
病复 [舊病復發]
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
[錦上添花]
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
[行屍走肉]
Xíng shī zǒu ròu [xing shi zou rou]
walk corpse walk flesh
A walking zombie
An unworthy person. Someone bereft of value - just a walking body with no active mind.
麻雀,脏俱 [麻雀雖小五臟俱全]
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
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
[大公無私]
gōng wú sī [da gong wu si]
large just not selfish
Selflessness
Helping everyone else. Not motivated by self-interest.
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
管齐 [雙管齊下]
Shuāng guǎn qí xià [shuang guan qi xia]
two writing brush simultaneous down
Painting with two brushes at the same time
To be able to do two things at once. The story is of a painter who was so skilled he could paint two pictures at the same time with a brush in either hand.
A dab hand
Zì kuì fú rú [zi kui fu ru]
self ashamed not like
Ashamed at own inferiority
Ashamed of oneself
陶醉
Zì wǒ táo zuì [zi wo tao zui]
self I drunk
Drunk with oneself. Narcissistic
Conceited and arrogant
负荆[負荊請罪]
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. The story is from the Zhou dynasty when Lin Xiangru of the Zhao kingdom had an adversity in Lian Po. Lian Po used every opportunity to dis his boss Lin Xiangru. Lian Po was then shown that solidarity was key to the state's survival and offered a humble apology. Lian Po carried brambles on his back for some distance to show his contrition
Swallowing your pride
[老當益壯]
Lǎo dāng yì zhuàng [lao dang yi zhuang]
old able to increase strength
Old but still vigorous
Remaining vigorous, skillful and healthy in old age.
[遲開的花未必不香]
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
It's never too late to try something new
, [蘿卜白菜各有所愛]
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
Zì gāo zì [zi gao zi da]
self tall self big
Think oneself tall and great
Full of conceit and ego
[老氣橫秋]
Laǒ qì héng qiū [lao qi heng qiu]
old spirit across autumn
Old and decrepi but experienced
No longer youthful
[言過其實]
Yán guò qí shí [yan guo qi shi]
words excessively that's true
To embellish the facts
Overstate the facts or exaggerate skills. Someone who is a bit of a windbag.
恩负 [忘恩負義]
Wàng ēn fù yì [wang en fu yi]
forget favor lose justice
Forget a previous favor
Ungratefully forget to acknowledge a favor.
[恩將仇報]
Ēn jiāng chóu baò [en jiang chou bao]
kindness will enemy repay
Repay kindness with hostility
Reject kindness
Biting the hand that feeds it
pine tree, carving
Traditional carving of a pine tree, a symbol of longevity
[弱不禁風]
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
[習慣成自然]
Xí guàn chéng zì rán [xi guan cheng zi ran]
habit grow nature
Become habitual, normal
Habit becomes engrained
忍辱负 [忍辱負重]
Rěn rǔ fù zhòng [ren ru fu zhong]
endure disgrace bear repetition
Enduring humiliations in line of duty
Willing to put up with disgrace and humiliation so that work can be done. Often applied to someone given a very difficult but important task.
Taking the flak
[各自為政]
Gè zì wéi zhèng [ge zi wei zheng]
each person act as government
Each following his own policy
Acting selfishly. Following own plans and ideas with no regard for others.
, [凡人不可貌相海水不可斗量]
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
招愮 [招愮過市]
Zhāo yáo guò shì [zhao yao guo shi]
provoke agitation cross market
Parading through the busy streets
Boastful behavior; to be puffed up with pride . Walking the streets seeking the adulation of the crowds.
Pride comes before a fall
[走馬看花]
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
Guǐ yóu xīn shēng [gui you xin sheng]
ghost caused by mind life
Ghosts are figments of the mind
Being scared of the paranormal; irrational fear of dark and shadows.
Frightened of your own shadow
[為富不仁]
Wéi fù bù rén [wei fu bu ren]
be good fortune not benevolent
Have riches but not be generous
Be rich but heartless
[海納百川]
Hǎi nà bǎi chuān [hai na bai chuan]
sea admit hundred rivers
All rivers run to the sea
We all shared a common destiny
落叶[落叶歸根]
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
[虎父無犬子]
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
[羊質虎皮]
Yáng zhì hǔ pí [yang zhi hu pi]
goat character tiger skin
A goat in a tiger?s skin
Someone not living up to outward appearance. Looking fierce but actually timid.
All that glisters is not gold
[齊人擢金]
rén zhuó jīn [qi ren zhuo jin]
Qi man grab gold
The gold grabber from Qi
Blinded by lust for gain. Greed. Avarice. Blinded by ambition. The story if of a man from the kingdom of Qi who seeing gold just grabbed it and ran off, oblivious of the consequences.
Blind ambition
[半斤八兩]
Bàn jīn liǎng [ban jin ba liang]
half catty eight taels
Two equivalent measures
Nothing to choose between two alternatives
Six of one, and half a dozen of the other
挑肥拣瘦 [挑肥揀瘦]
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
[作法自斃]
Zuò fǎ zì bì [zuo fa zi bi]
compose law self harm
Making laws that harm yourself
To fall foul of rules of your own making.
[華而不實]
Huá ér bù shí [hua er bu shi]
flower but not fruit
Flowering but not bearing fruit
Said of someone is all show and no substance
All that glitters is not gold
[非驢非馬]
Fēi lú: fēi mǎ [fei lu: fei ma]
not donkey not horse
Neither a donkey nor a horse
A person or place that is neither one thing nor another. Indeterminate or strange combination.
Neither fish nor fowl
Yungang, buddhism, Shanxi
Cave 11, Yungang Grottoes, near Datong, Shanxi. October 2005.
Image by Felix Andrews available under a Creative Commons license
[所向無前]
Suǒ xiàng wú qián [suo xiang wu qian]
actual direction nothing previous
No obstacle in any direction
To be able to conquer anyone on all fronts. Invincible against all opponents. An irresistible force
[同病相憐]
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
[兔子不吃窩邊草]
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
[呆若木雞]
Dāi ruò mù jī [dai ruo mu ji]
stupid like wood chicken
As dumb as a wooden chicken
Dumbstruck, unable to move or say anything out of fear.
Caught like a rabbit in the headlights
[好馬不吃回頭草]
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
鼻息
Yǎng rén bí xī [yang ren bi xi]
rely on person nose breath
Depend on someone, even for breathe
To be totally dependent on others, as if unable to breathe without their help. Showing great weakness.
Wet fish
Xiōng yǒu chéng zhú [xiong you cheng zhu]
mind have finished bamboo
Keeping the appearance of bamboo in mind
To be able to paint bamboo (or anything else), you have to have a mental image of how it looks. An admonishment to plan ahead carefully and acquire the skill to carry it out.
Forewarned is forearmed
, 嫁 [嫁雞隨雞嫁狗隨狗]
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
[和顏悅色]
Hé yán yuè sè [he yan yue se]
harmony face contended colour
Having a happy face looking contented
Amiable appearance
[勢如破竹]
Shì rú pò zhú [shi ru po zhu]
situation as if split bamboo
Like splitting bamboo
Continuing a successful series. Once you get the knack of splitting bamboo it's best to keep on going. The story is of a general who was advised to rest his army for the winter after a series of successes. The general disagreed, his army had high morale and went on to complete the victory.
Don't stop while you are winning
Gē ròu zì dàn [ge rou zi dan]
cut flesh oneself eat
Eating one's own flesh
A foolish, self defeating stratagem.
Cutting off your nose to spite your face
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
[莫測高深]
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
[發憤忘食]
Fā fèn wàng shí [fa fen wang shi]
to work diligently to forget food
Working so hard as to forget to eat
Concentrating on work so much that appetite is forgotten. Implication that work is interesting rather than drudgery.
[大義滅親]
yì miè qīn [da yi mie qin]
great justice wipe out relative
Uphold justice by killing one?s own family
Prepared to kill one's own family to keep to the law. Back in the Spring and Autumn Period a father, Shi Que, uncovered the murder of the king of Wei was done by a treasonous group which included his own son Shi Hou. Believing he could not show him special treatment he had him executed.
[門可羅雀]
Mén kě luó què [men ke luo que]
gate can net bird
The gate can catch birds
There are so few visitors that the door could be used to catch birds. Having very few visitors
磨杵[磨杵成針]
Mó chǔ chéng zhēn [mo chu cheng zhen]
grind pestle accomplish needle
Grinding an iron pestle down to a needle
Patiently setting about a great, lengthy task step by step. Anything can be achieved with a firm resolve,
Little strokes fell great oaks
Jiǔ ròu péng yǒu [jiu rou peng you]
wine meat friends
Friends only for the food and drink
Cupboard love
Fair weather friends
[大發雷霆]
léi tíng [da fa lei ting]
big develop thunder
Develop large thunderstorm
Fly into a furious rage
To spit nails
Ming dynasty, porcelain, plate
Photo by Anonymous, Chinese plate, Ming dynasty, Yongle period 1403-1424, porcelain with under-glaze blue, 23 inches [58 cms] diameter, Honolulu Academy of Arts. Available under a Creative Commons license .
Láng xīn gǒu fèi [lang xin gou fei]
wolf feeling dog lungs
Wolves are aggressive, dog bark. Ungrateful; cruel and unscrupulous
Ungrateful and unscrupulous
[別別具一格]
Bié jù yī [bie ju yi ge]
classify tool one pattern
Possessing a unique style
Doing things your own way
[龍爭虎斗]
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
[一夜十徃]
shí wǎng [yi ye shi wang]
one night ten towards
Ten visits in one night
Showing great care and concern. The story comes from the Han dynasty when an official checked the state of a sick relative ten times during the night.
逐末 [捨本逐末]
Shě běn zhú mò [she ben zhu mo]
abandon foundation pursue end
Pursuing trivia while neglecting essentials
Concentrating on the little details rather than the important stuff
Putting the cart before the horse
殿 [無事不登三寳殿]
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
[後起之秀]
Hòu qǐ zhī xiù [hou qi zhi xiu]
after raise him refined
Promising young talent
Said of someone showing talent at an early age.
He/she will go far
[子不教父之過]
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
[言而無信]
Yán ér wú xìn [yan er wu xin]
word but nothing true
Speak but not mean it
To go back on one's word
[眾口難調]
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
骥伏枥, [老驥伏櫪志在千里]
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 1,000 miles
Ambitions never fade. An old person still has high hopes
Old soldiers never die, they just fade away
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
脸, [人要臉樹要皮]
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') must be maintained at all costs
[家喻戶曉]
Jiā yù hù xiǎo [jia yu hu xiao]
home as household know
Known in every household
A person or fact known to everybody. Something or somebody well known
A household name
徙宅
Xǐ zhái wàng qī [xi zhai wang qi]
change residence forget wife
Move house but overlook wife
Foolish and forgetful. Move to a new house and take everything - except your partner.
Soft in the head
西 [東奔西走]
Dōng bēn xī zǒu [dong ben xi zou]
east hasten west walk
Busy everywhere
Be busy; bustling about
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
, [近朱者赤近墨者黑]
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. Adapt to surroundings
A person is known by the company he keeps
[鶴立雞群]
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.
Sichuan, food
Roadside snacks at Chengdu, Sichuan
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
井观 [坐井觀天]
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
Shí quán shí měi [shi quan shi mei]
ten complete ten beautiful
Completely whole and beautiful
Perfection; faultless
yì gū xíng [yi yi gu xing]
one idea lonely walk
Obstinately clinging to one's course
Acting dogmatically in pursuit of own objectives without regard to others.Dogged determination. Sometimes this approach is honorable and sometimes leads to ruin but it is the single-mindedness that is being admired.
Steely-eyed
China motif
Our proverbs come with full information. The modern Chinese characters are given first with links that give information on the character. If the phrase uses traditional characters these are shown in brackets and gray text. As proverbs are so old you will often see them written in the old form. The characters are followed by the proverb (Chengyu) 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 are in need of improvement, so please let us know your ideas. For background on the types and history of proverbs please see our guide.

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