Chinese proverbs that help with coping with life

This loosely knit group of proverbs all have to do with dealing with a particular predicament. Some of these just describe the situation without offering advice on how to deal with it.

Bīng tiān xuě [bing tian xue di]
ice sky snow ground
Ice in the sky and snow on the ground. Very wintry
Encountering adverse conditions
Bù bù gāo shēng [bu bu gao sheng]
step step tall ascend
Step by step promotion
Congratulation on promotion or a new job
Chòu bù kě dāng [chou bu ke dang]
smelly not can equal
Worst ever smell
To give off an unbearable stink
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
nián [du ri ru nian]
pass day as year
Each day passes as a year
Time seems to pass very slowly
Time drags on
ěr xīn [er mu yi xin]
ear eye one new
New sights and sounds
A change of place, everything fresh and new
Fēi qín zǒu shòu [fei qin zou shou]
flying bird walking animal
Birds and beasts
Wildlife
Fēng chuī cǎo dòng [feng chui cao dong]
wind blow grass move
The wind causes the grass to move
A minor repercussion of a larger action. A trifling consequence
Fù lì táng huáng [fu li tang huang]
good fortune beautiful hall emperor
Prosperous and beautiful
To have the best of good fortune
骨瘦
Gǔ shòu rú chái [gu shou ru chai]
bone thin as lath
Nothing but skin and bones
Emaciated
视眈眈
Hǔ shì dān dān [hu shi dan dan]
tiger look at stare stare
A tiger's stare. To look very covetously
To eye enviously
Huā huā shì jiè [hua hua shi jie]
flower flower lifespan limit
Life full of experience. Dazzling world of excitement
World seething with life
food, meal
A typical Chinese family meal. Photo by ZiCheng Xu available under a Creative Commons license .
Jī quǎn bù ning [ji quan bu ning]
chicken dog not stand
Even the chicken and dog are disturbed. General commotion
All in turmoil and excitement
,
Jiàn zài xián shàng, bù dé bù fā [jian zai xian shang, bu de bu fa]
arrow exist string on, not get no deliver
When the arrow is on the string, it must be shot
Things have reached a point when something must be done
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
Kōng qián jué hòu [kong qian jue hou]
empty before terminate behind
Neither seen in the future nor in the past
Something that is genuinely completely new
,
Léi shēng dà, diǎn xiǎo [lei sheng da, yu dian xiao]
thunder sound big, rain drop small
Thunder is loud but little rain falls
Overly portentous. Reality did not match expectation
Empty vessels make the most noise
漏洞
Lòu dòng bǎi chū [lou dong bai chu]
leak hole hundred get out
Leaking through one hundred holes. Full of holes
Full of mistakes and errors
Luàn qī zāo [luan qi ba zao]
chaos seven eight dregs
chaotic mess
To be in a terrible mess. Dirty and filthy
Mǎ daò chéng gōng [ma dao cheng gong]
horse arrive accomplish merit
Horse win easy victory
Gain immediate victory
Mǎ mǎ hǔ hǔ [ma ma hu hu]
horse horse tiger tiger
Some people say it comes from an old story in which a horse and a tiger get into a fight. Neither animal could defeat the other. In time, mentioning the two animals together came to mean a fight with no definite winner - and ma ma hu hu came to mean 'so so.'. There is also a story that, a long time ago, an artist drew an animal. He asked other people what the animal he drew was. Some said it looked like a horse while others said it was a tiger. They said, 'ma ma hu hu' because the drawing was just 'so-so'.
So so; average; careless
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
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
dèng kǒu dāi [mu deng kou dai]
eye stare mouth blank
Staring eyes and mouth open
Dumb struck
Hong Kong
Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak. January 2008
Image by Gernot Kurze available under a Creative Commons license
Mù yǐ chéng zhōu [mu yi cheng zhou]
tree cease make boat
The tree has been made into a boat
Too late to change anything
What's done is done
Qí hǔ nán xià [qi hu nan xia]
ride tiger difficult down
When on a tiger's back, it is hard to dismount
When taking risks you have to live with the consequences, it is difficult to back out
He who sups with the Devil should have a long spoon
妻离
Qī lí zǐ sàn [qi li zi san]
wife leave child break-up
Wife left; children scattered
A broken family
蚂蚁
Rè guō shàng de mǎ yǐ [re guo shang de ma yi]
heat pot up of ants
As active as ants in a hot pan
In a state of feverish activity and excitement
Rén shān rén hǎi [ren shan ren hai]
person mountain person sea
Huge crowds of people
yǐ jì yè [ri yi ji ye]
day take continue
Day and night continuously
Working without a break. Exhausted
针毡
Rú zuò zhēn zhān [ru zuo zhen zhan]
like sit needle carpet
Like sitting on a carpet of needles
To feel tense and uneasy
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
Shān míng shuǐ xiù [shan ming shui xiu]
mountain bright water elegant
Beautiful mountain scenery
Beautiful landscape
Shaǒ jiàn duō guài [shao jian duo guai]
less look many odd
Things look strange to the unfamiliar
Unsettled by a new environment
Shēn lín qí jìng [shen lin qi jing]
body face its border
Present and observing
To be present at a location. A witness to an event
Shēng mǐ zhǔ chéng shú fàn [sheng mi zhu cheng shu fan]
produce rice cook accomplish well-cooked food
The rice has already been cooked
What has been done can not be done again. Actions have already been taken that can not be reversed
What's done is done
Hebei, Sui dynasty, bridge
The earliest spandrel bridge in the world at Anji, Hebei from Sui dynasty
Shí quán shí měi [shi quan shi mei]
ten complete ten beautiful
Completely whole and beautiful
Perfection; Faultless
Shǒu kǒu rú píng [shou kou ru ping]
guard mouth like bottle
To keep mouth shut, like a bottle
To avoid giving the game away; to not breathe a word
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
欲静
Shù yù jìng ěr fēng bù zhǐ [shu yu jing er feng bu zhi]
tree desire quiet but wind not still
The trees want to remain quiet, but the wind will not stop.
In spite of a wish for peace, trouble is brewing
Shuǐ shēn huǒ rè [shui shen huo re]
water deep fire hot
In deep water and fierce fire
In very deep trouble
曹操,曹操
Shuō Cáo Cāo, Cáo Cāo dào [shuo Cao Cao, Cao Cao dao]
speak Cao Cao, Cao Cao arrives
Speak of Cao Cao and he arrives. 'Cao Cao ' of the Three Kingdoms is the embodiment of evil.
Someone who you are talking about happens to appear unexpectedly
Speak of the devil and he is sure to appear
司空
Sī kōng jiàn guàn [si kong jian guan]
Sikong see usual
Sikong is the title of a minister in China who said that entertainers were a common sight at feasts.
An everyday occurrence; nothing out of the ordinary
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
Tiān nán dì běi [tian nan di bei]
heaven south land north
As distant as the heavens
Places or opinions that are very far apart
Wǎng kāi miàn [wang kai yi mian]
net open one side
To leave one side of net open. To allow a way out
To give someone a chance of escape
To let someone off the hook
Wéi miaò wéi xiaò [wei miao wei xiao]
tie clever tie resemble
Weave skillfully life like images
Produce an image remarkably true to life; highly skilled
丧胆
Wén fēng sàng dǎn [wen feng sang dan]
hear news lose courage
On hearing news panic. Terror stricken by the news
Panic stricken. Terrified by news
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
Hangzhou, Zhejiang, pagoda
Chinese pagoda in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. November 2007.
Image by Sitomon available under a Creative Commons license
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
Xiāng xiāo yù sǔn [xiang xiao yu sun]
fragrant vanish jade broken
Fragrance is dissipated; jade is broken
Spoken of on the death of a beautiful young woman
Whom the Gods love die young
Xīn gān qíng yuàn [xin gan qing yuan]
feeling sweet fine wish
Delighted and helpful. Glad to help out.
Happy to do something; Delighted to help
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
怡,
Xīn kuàng shén yí, shì shì shùn lì [xin kuang shen yi, shi shi shun li]
heart broad spirit joy, matter matter obey profit
Heart joyful, work profitable
Feeling happy and relaxed
悬崖勒
Xuán yá lè mǎ [xuan ya le ma]
precipice rein in horse
Rein in the horse at the cliff edge
Realize danger at the last moment
卵击
Yǐ luǎn tóu shí [yi luan tou shi]
use egg strike stone
Try to smash a stone with an egg
Overrate strength and be defeated. An ill-judged contest
Yì rú fǎn zhǎng [yi ru fan zhang]
easy as turn over palm
As easy as turning over your hand
Simple. Very easy
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
Zì yóu zì zài [zi you zi zai]
freedom unrestrained
Unrestricted freedom
To be carefree, peaceful and relaxed
Zuǒ yòu wéi nán [zuo you wei nan]
left right pride difficult
Both options are difficult
In a dilemma
Fēng chuī cǎo dòng [feng chui cao dong]
wind blow grass move
The wind causes the grass to move
A minor repercussion of a larger action. A trifling consequence
Guizhou, village, bridge
Zhenyuan village in Guizhou is home to many Miao minority people
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 situations', last updated 4 Sep 2013, Web, http://www.chinasage.info/proverbsituation.htm.

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