Chinese proverbs about striving towards success

When striving towards a better job, or bringing up a family you may need a proverb to keep yourself determined for the long haul towards success.

哀兵必胜
āi bīng bì shèng [ai bing bi sheng]
grief weapons certainly victory
A vengeful army will certainly win
Strong emotion galvanizes effort
Bǎi zhé bù náo [bai zhe bu nao]
hundred bend not scratch
Not to falter despite many setbacks
Persistence pays off in the end
Patience is a virtue
Bàn tú ér fèi [ban tu er fei]
half way but give-up
Give up half way through
To abandon work half way through
Bèn niǎo xiān fēi zǎo rù lín [ben niao xian fei zao ru lin]
stupid bird first fly early enter forest
A clumsy bird that flies first will get to the forest earlier
It is important to be early to achieve success
The tortoise beats the hare. The early bird catches the worm
Bù dào Huáng hé bù sǐ xīn [bu dao Huang he bu si xin]
not arrive Yellow River not die heart
Not giving up until one reaches the Yellow River
Keep going until you hit an insurmountable obstacle
He who hesitates is lost
Bú pà lù cháng zhǐ pà zhì duǎn [bu pa lu chang zhi pa zhi duan]
not fear road long only fear aspire short
Not fear a long road; fear aspiration to start
Do not be afraid of a long road to success only be afraid of a shortage of ambition
Rome was not built in a day
Bú pà màn jiù pà zhàn [bu pa man jiu pa zhan]
not fear slow come-near fear halt
Not fear slowing down; fear coming to a halt
Do not be afraid of slowing down as long as you keep going
A rolling stone gathers no moss
Bù rù hǔ xué yān dé hǔ zǐ [bu ru hu xue yan de hu zi]
not enter tiger den how get tiger cub
Without entering a tiger's den how can you hope to fetch a tiger cub
Great rewards require a great risk
Fortune favors the brave. Nothing ventured, nothing gained
,
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
Cì zǐ qiān jīn bù rú jiào zǐ [ci zi qian jin bu ru jiao zi yi yi]
grant child thousand cash not like teach child one skill
Better to teach a child a skill than give money
Gaining a skill has great value for the future
Cū zhī [cu zhi da ye]
thick branch big leaf
A large branch with large leaves. Unable to draw in fine detail
Lack of attention to detail
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
Sichuan, food
Roadside snacks at Chengdu, Sichuan
Diǎn shí chéng jīn [dian shi cheng jin]
touch stone accomplish gold
Turn stone into gold
To work something of no worth into something of value
蛾投
Fēi é tóu huǒ [fei e tou huo]
fly moth hurl fire
A moth throws itself into a flame
Heading for self destruction
废寝忘
Fèi qǐn wàng shí [fei qin wang shi]
abandon sleep forget eat
To forget to sleep and eat
To be absorbed in work and study
Fèng máo lín jiǎo [feng mao lin jiao]
phoenix hair unicorn horn
As rare as phoenix feathers and unicorn horns
Seeking the unobtainable
Gàn huó bú yóu dōng lèi sǐ yě wú gōng [gan huo bu you dong lei si ye wu gong]
do live no reason master pile up die also no merit
Working without obeying the boss will bring only hard work and no merit
Only work on what is needed to be done
Gōng kuī kuì [gong kui yi kui]
completion lost one basket of earth
New dam left incomplete due to lack of one basket of earth.
See things through to the end
集腋
Jí yè chéng qiú [ji ye cheng qiu]
gather armpit accomplish fur coat
A fur coat can be made from poor scraps
Make do with what you have
Beggars can't be choosers
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
Jìng huā shuǐ yuè [jing hua shui yue]
mirror flower water moon
Flowers in a mirror and the moon in water
Beautiful but unattainable dreams. Unrealistic ambitions
背井
Lí xiāng bèi jǐng [li xiang bei jing]
leave village behind well
Leave one's own village
To leave home
蚂蚁啃骨
Mǎ yǐ kěn gǔ tou [ma yi ken gu tou]
ant gnaw bone
Like ants gnawing at a bone
Dogged perseverance to achieve a long term end
逆境
Nì jìng chū rén cái [ni jing chu ren cai]
disobey border go out person ability
Rebellion creates capability
Hardship and adversity fosters talent
If life deals you lemons, make lemonade
Nanjing, Jiangsu
Nanjing skyline. September 2012.
Image by Ozonefrance available under a Creative Commons license
Nǐ sǐ wǒ huó [ni si wo huo]
you die I live
Fight to the death
To fight to the bitter end
破釜沉
Pò fǔ chén zhōu [po fu chen zhou]
broken pot sink boat
Smash the pots and sink the boats. A story from the Qin dynasty tells of a general who refused to accept possibility of retreat by burning the boats and smashing the cooking pots.
No going back whatever happens. Cutting off all possibility of retreat
Don't burn your bridges behind you
Qiān lǐ zhī xíng shǐ yú zú xià [qian li zhi xing shi yu zu xia]
thousand mile's walk begin goto foot down
A long march starts from a single step
Perseverance will lead to eventual success
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow
Qiān shān wàn shuǐ [qian shan wan shui]
thousand mountain ten thousand rivers
Many mountains and many rivers
A long and arduous journey
,往低处流
Rén wǎng gāo chù zǒu, shuǐ wǎng dī chù liú [ren wang gao chu zou, shui wang di chu liu]
person towards high place walk, water towards low place flow
A person moves up while water always trickles down
There is always scope for improvement by struggle
Practice makes perfect
蛇吞
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
隔肚皮
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
yǐ jì yè [ri yi ji ye]
day take continue
Day and night continuously
Working without a break. Exhausted
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
Shēn tǐ lì xíng [shen ti li xing]
health strength walk
To maintain health by strenuous walk
Following the advice given oneself
Practice what you preach
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
Shú néng shēng qiǎo [shu neng sheng qiao]
mature can produce skill
Learning a skill from long experience
With practice one can learn the skill
Practice makes perfect
Beijing, lion
Bronze lion statue at the Summer Palace, Beijing
穿
Shuǐ dī shí chuān [shui di shi chuan]
water drip stone penetrate
Dripping water eventually wears away stone
If you persevere, you can eventually achieve your goal
Mighty oaks from little acorns grow
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
铁杵
Tiě chǔ chéng zhēn [tie chu cheng zhen]
iron pestle produce needle
Grind an iron rod down to a needle
Perseverance can achieve anything
Tù sǐ gǒu pēng [tu si gou peng]
rabbit dog cook
Trusted helpers are dispensable after their mission is complete
Watch your back. Once the job is done you may be sacked
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
shí bù xiào bǎi [wu shi bu xiao yi bai bu]
50 pace smile 100 pace
Fifty steps laugh at a hundred steps
Being complacent about the future. Believing a job done when only half done.
Pride cometh before a fall
补,
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
bù dēng tiān [yi bu deng tian]
one stride reach heaven
Approach heaven with a single stride
An attempt to achieve a goal all in one go without hard work
Rome was not built in a day
脚印
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
耕耘, 收获
fēn gēng yún, yī fēn shōu huò [yi fen geng yun, yi fen shou huo]
one part cultivation, one part harvest
Half growing the crop; half harvesting it. Can't expect a harvest without cultivating the crop
Hard work is needed to achieve a good result
Hard work never did anyone any harm
Yǒu hé bù kě [you he bu ke]
have what not can
Anything not possible
Anything may be possible
Qinghai, landscape, view, mountains
Mountain and lake on Qinghai-Tibet plateau
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
Yù bù zhuó bù chén qì [yu bu zhuo bu chen qi]
jade not polished not accomplish gem
Jade requires fashioning to turn into a gem
Training and discipline are needed to build character
Yú gōng yí shān [yu gong yi shan]
foolish man move mountain
The foolish old man who moved mountains?. The old story is that an old man wanted to move a mountain that blocked his path. Despite widespread cynicism he and his descendents gradually wore down the mountain
Anything can be achieved with persistence
Zhì bù kě màn shí bù kě shī [zhi bu ke man shi bu ke shi]
aspiration not can slow, time not can lose
Do not let your aspirations weaken; do not waste time
Keep hold of your hopes and dreams, waste no time in achieving them
Don't change horses in midstream
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 striving towards a goal', last updated 4 Sep 2013, Web, http://www.chinasage.info/proverbstrive.htm.

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