Chinese proverbs about patience and perseverance

A set of proverbs that help cope stoically with life's ups and downs. Perseverance and restraint are the common themes.

Bái shǒu qǐ jiā [bai shou qi jia]
clear hand make house
Empty hand make house
To build up something from nothing
Bīng dòng sān chǐ, fēi zhī hán [bing dong san chi, fei yi ri zhi han]
ice freeze three foot, wrong one day single cold
Three feet of ice is not formed in a single day
Everything comes to him who waits
Cháng jiāng yǒu sī wú rì, mò jiāng wú shí xiǎng yǒu shí [chang jiang you ri si wu ri, mo jiang wu shi xiang you shi]
normal support has day think nothing day, noone support nothing time think has time
When rich there is time to think all day, when poor there is no time to think
When rich, you have time to dream, but do not dream of riches when you are poor
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
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
Fù shuǐ nán shōu [fu shui nan shou]
spilled water difficult collect
Spilled water can not be brought back
What is done is done
There's no use crying over spilt milk
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
Hǎi nà bǎi chuān [hai na bai chuan]
sea admit hundred rivers
All rivers run to the sea
We all shared a common destiny
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
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
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 .
Jié wài shēng zhī [jie wai sheng zhi]
joint outside produce branch
Leaves emerge from where they should not
New problems pop up unexpectedly
Jié zú xiān dēng [jie zu xian deng]
victory foot first climb
The winning foot is the first to climb
To succeed need to start off first
The early bird gets the worm
Kǔ jìn gān lái [ku jin gan lai]
bitter exhuast sweet arrive
Bitterness over, happiness arrives. At the end of suffering comes relief
After troubles comes happiness
The darkest hour is just before the dawn
Lái fāng cháng [lai ri fang chang]
arrive day region long
Long time ahead
There is adequate time
All things come to those who wait
Lè jí shēng bēi [le ji sheng bei]
joy extreme produce sorrow
After extreme joy will come sorrow
All good things must come to an end
Liú dé qīng shān zài, bù pà méi chái shāo [liu de qing shan zai, bu pa mei chai shao]
remain get green mountain exist, no fear have no firewood
So long as the green mountains are preserved, there will be no shortage of firewood
Do not despair, there is plenty of time and opportunity
Everything comes to him who waits
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
Nǐ sǐ wǒ huó [ni si wo huo]
you die I live
Fight to the death
To fight to the bitter end
Niàn niàn bù wàng [nian nian bu wang]
study study not neglect
Do not neglect your studies. Bear in mind constantly
Study hard. Keep thinking about a problem
Where there's a will there's a way
Nìng wéi yù suì, bù wéi wǎ quán [ning wei yu sui, bu wei wa quan]
stand pride jade broken, no pride tile complete
Don't be a proud piece of broken jade, be a complete tile
Better to persevere than face destruction by standing out
Oǔ duàn sī lián [ou duan si lian]
lotus root break silken thread links
Although the lotus root may be cut, its fibered threads are still connected
Friendship survives adversity
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
Official session in a Chinese Yamen, Guangzhou, pre-1889. Image available under a Creative Commons license
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
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 bù zhuǎn lù zhuǎn [shan bu zhuan lu zhuan]
mountain no turn road turn
A mountain cannot turn, but a road can
It is not necessary to continue in the same direction, there are other alternatives to avoid an obstacle
There's more than one way to skin a cat
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
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 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
Tiān xià méi yǒu bù sàn de yàn xí [tian xia mei you bu san de yan xi]
world does not have no break up of banquet
No banquet in the world goes on forever
Good fortune can not last for ever
All good things must come to an end
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
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
Xiǎo dòng bù bǔ, dòng chī kǔ [xiao dong bu bu, da dong chi ku]
small hole no mend big hole eat bitter
A small hole not mended in time will soon become a larger hole more difficult to mend
Do not put off taking action to put things right
A stitch in time saves nine
Xún xù jiàn jìn [xun xu jian jin]
follow order gradually enter
Make gradual progress a step at a time
To make steady step by step progress towards an end
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
Yà miáo zhù zhǎng [ya miao zhu zhang]
pull up seedling help lengthen
Young plants can not be forced to grow by stretching them
Be patient and let nature run its course
Patience is a virtue. A watched pot never boils
Wu Daozi, painter, Tang dynasty, sculpture
Statue of the Tang dynasty painter Wu Daozi
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
gè jiǎo yìnr [yi bu yi ge jiao yinr]
one stride one footprint
Every step leaves a footprint
Work steadily one step at a time in order to make solid progress
Rome was not built in a day
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
xiào jiě qiān chóu [yi xiao jie qian chou]
one smile separate ten thousand worries
One smile can erase a myriad worries
Keep cheerful against all the odds
Keep your chin up
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
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
Hǎo mǎ bù chī huí tóu cǎo [hao ma bu chi hui tou cao]
good horse not eat turn head grass
A good horse does not eat the grass behind it
Do not dwell on past actions, progress forward
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 restraint and patience', last updated 4 Sep 2013, Web,

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