Chinese proverbs concerning skill and ability

As well as careful planning, it is necessary to have the right skills and abilities to do the job. There is no point in carrying out a task without the aptitude to do it well.

xiān guò hǎi, gè xiǎn shén tōng [ba xian guo hai, ge xian shen tong]
eight immortal past sea each show god knowledge
The eight Immortals crossing sea all have there own special skills
Everyone has their own special skills to contribute
Bái shǒu qǐ jiā [bai shou qi jia]
clear hand make house
Empty hand make house
To build up something from nothing
Bàn jīn liǎng [ban jin ba liang]
half catty eight taels
Two equivalent measures
Makes no difference; nothing to choose between alternatives
Six of one half a dozen of the other
Bié jù yī [bie ju yi ge]
classify tool one pattern
Possessing a unique style
Doing things your own way
Cáng lóng wò hǔ [cang long wo hu]
hide dragon lie tiger
Hidden dragon, crouching tiger
There are people lurking with great power and strength
Fēi huáng téng dá [fei huang teng da]
fly yellow gallop extend
To fly in the sky like the legendary horse Fei Huang (flying yellow)
Sudden rise to success and honour
Fù tāng dǎo huǒ [fu tang dao huo]
wade hot water tread fire
Wade through scolding water and burning flame
Showing great courage and valour
Gāo bù chéng dī bù jiù [gao bu cheng di bu jiu]
high no accomplish low no come near
Although not qualified for high office will not accept a lower position
Exaggerating one's self importance to the point of stubbornness
Hán dān xué bù [han dan xue bu]
Handan study gait
Learning how the residents of Handan walk . A story of a man who took on the gait of a cityfolk trying to impress but could no longer walk properly
Pompous and pretentious. Trying too hard to impress
Haǒ rén haǒ shì [hao ren hao shi]
good person; good deeds
Good personality good deeds
Pleasant person; good actions
A good man is hard to find
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.
Hǔ tóu shé wěi [hu tou she wei]
tiger head snake tail
Tiger's head; snake's tail
Begins promisingly but ends badly
Huangshan, Anhui, mountain
Huangshan mountain with Pinus hwangshanensis trees, Nov 2010
Image by Peter05031960 available under a Creative Commons license
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
Làn yú chōng shù [lan yu chong shu]
excessive yu pipe supply fate
Passing oneself off as a proficient Yu pipe player
Pretending to be well qualified for a job
Jack of all trades, master of none
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
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
Lǖ chún bù duì mǎ zuǐ [lu chun bu dui ma zui]
donkey lips no match horse mouth
Donkey's lips do not fit a horse's mouth
Something that is out of place and inappropriate
Nìng zuò jītóu, bù dāng fèng wěi [ning zuo jitou, bu dang feng wei]
serene make chicken head, no equal phoenix tail
Rather be a chicken's head than a phoenix's tail
Better to be leader of a humble organization than the stooge of a grand one
A big fish in a small pond
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
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
Qīng chū yú lán ér shèng yú lán [qing chu yu lan er sheng yu lan]
indigo blue comes out foremost blue but excel foremost blue
Indigo is obtained from the indigo plant, but such color is bluer than the plant itself
Wise schooling has produced excellence beyond the teacher. The follower has surpassed the master.
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 100% pure gold
Have to settle for something less than perfection
Shì bèi gōng bàn [shi bei gong ban]
work multiple times merit half
Work very hard for half the result
Work with care rather than speed
Less haste more speed
急,授 则解
Shòu rén zhǐ jiù shí zhī jí, shòu rén yǐ yú zé jiě yī shēng zhī xū [shou ren yi yu zhi jiu yi shi zhi ji, shou ren yi yu ze jie yi sheng zhi xu]
award person use fish one explain once quick, award person use fishing standard separate one produce must
Give a fish and be fed for only a day. Teach how to fish and be free from hunger forever
It is important to learn a skill that will last for life
SunXinde, calligraphy
Calligraphy by the Chinese calligrapher Sun Xinde July 2005 Photo by Immanuel Giel , available under a Creative Commons license .
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
Tuō yǐng ér chū [tuo ying er chu]
take off sharp point and yet emerge
A sharp stick points out
A talented person can't help but be noticed
Yǎn gāo shǒu dī [yan gao shou di]
eye high hand low
Eyes look up but the hands go down
To have high ambitions but possess limited skills
sī bù gǒu [yi si bu gou]
one thread not careless
To take care of every thread in a cloth
To be meticulous. To pay atttention to every detail.
If a job is worth doing it is worth doing well
Yǒu yǎn bù shí tài shān [you yan bu shi tai shan]
have eye not know great mountain
To fail to see the great Taishan mountain
To be too arrogant/ignorant to notice true talent
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
Less haste more speed
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
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 skill and aptitude', last updated 4 Sep 2013, Web,

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