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.

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
[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
[伯樂識馬]
Bó Lè shí mǎ [Bo Le shi ma]
Bo Le know horse
Bo Le, the horse expert
A person of good judgment. Someone who can quickly appreciate skill. The idiom refers to Bo Le from the Warring States period who was an acclaimed judge of horses. It is said that he came upon an old horse trudging along. Only Bo Le could see that this was once a great horse of strength and stamina.
[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
[葉公好龍]
Yè gōng hào lóng [Ye gong hao long]
Ye Gong fond of dragon
Duke ?e's love of dragons
Pretending to be fond of something which is actually greatly feared. The story is of Duke Ye who decorated whole his house and clothes with dragon motifs. However when a real dragon flew over and landed near his house he trembled in fear. Said of someone hiding their true feelings.
Putting on a brave face
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
弹冠 [彈冠相慶]
Tán guān xiāng qìng [tan guan xiang qing]
flick hat mutually celebrate
Knocking the dust off your hat and congratulating each other
Presumptively celebrate promotion/appointment to a job ahead of time. Arrogantly assume a job is already in the bag. The story is of two officials Wang Ji and Gong Yu of the Han dynasty, Both were dismissed but on Emperor Yuan's enthronement Wang Ji was re-appointed, on hearing the news Gong Yu flicked the dust off his official hat assuming he would follow his friend into office
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
[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.
[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
Zì gāo zì [zi gao zi da]
self tall self big
Think oneself tall and great
Full of conceit and ego
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
[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.
kite, dragon
A Chinese long dragon kite. Image by available under a Creative Commons license
[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
[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
[走官發財]
Zǒu guān fā cái [zou guan fa cai]
from government get rich
Become a government official to get rich
Attain riches by working a government career
[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
[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
[先斬後奏]
Xiān zhǎn hòu zòu [xian zhan hou zou]
early behead afterwards report
Execute first, report later
Taking the initiative; acting without orders. The story is of a newly appointed magistrate who was seeking a murderer. When she was found, the magistrate had her executed on the spot in spite of she being a servant to the Emperor's sister. An execution requires the Emperor's sanction and so the magistrate was in deep trouble,. In this case the magistrate managed to escape with his life.
Off you own bat
,败絮 [金玉其外,敗絮其中]
Jīn yù qí wài ? bài xù qí zhōng [jin yu qi wai ? bai xu qi zhong]
gold jade outside withered cotton wadding middle
Precious on the outside but shabby on the inside
Don't be fooled by outward appearances
Beauty is only skin deep
[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
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
, [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
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
[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
, [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
Don't judge a book by its cover
pine tree, carving
Traditional carving of a pine tree, a symbol of longevity
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
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
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
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
,[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
, [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
[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
陶醉
Zì wǒ táo zuì [zi wo tao zui]
self I drunk
Drunk with oneself. Narcissistic
Conceited and arrogant
, [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
[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.
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
[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
[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
taijiquan, Hong Kong
Tai chi show in Kowloon Park, Hong Kong
Image by Jakub Halun available under a Creative Commons license
骥伏枥, [老驥伏櫪志在千里]
Lǎo 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
[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
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
Sān lìng shēn [san ling wu shen]
three orders five explanations
Issuing three orders and five injunctions
Giving order after order. Someone who is officious and over-bearing. The use of three and five is often used to give idea of endless repetition.
Cracking the whip
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
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
引锥刺股 [引錐刺股]
Yǐn zhuī cì gǔ [yin zhui ci gu]
pull awl prick thigh
Pricking your thigh with an awl
Study hard with great determination. An awl is a sharp pointed tool for making holes in wood. The story is from the Three Character classic which tells how Su Qin of the Han dynasty pricked himself in the thigh to keep himself awake and alert for study. Used as a parent or teacher's encouragement for children to study diligently.
Hit the books
[河東獅吼]
Hé dōng shī hǒu [he dong shi hou]
He Dong lion roar
The lioness from Hedong roars
A husband under the control of a domineering wife. The story is of Chen Zao of the Song dynasty who often had guests around in the evening. If his wife got to hear that there were other women with him she would knock on the wall and roar. A hen-pecked man.
She who must be obeyed
Shí yán ér féi [shi yan er fei]
eat words and so fat
Getting fat by eating one?s words
Someone is forever retracting what was previously said. Someone with poor judgment and a big mouth. The story is of a minister Meng Wubo of the kingdom of Lu who often pontificated only to contradict himself. A snide commentator suggested that Meng was growing fat because he ate so many of his own words.
Shoot your mouth off
[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
[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
[傾城傾國]
Qīng chéng qīng guó [qing cheng qing guo]
collapse city overturn country
Triumph over city and country
Overwhelm the entire area. Usually applied to a woman of outstanding beauty.
The face that launched a thousand ships
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
Mao Zedong, badge, PRC
Pin badges of Mao Zedong at a market stall
[再作馮婦]
Zài zuò féng fù [zai zuo feng fu]
again feel Feng Fu
Becoming Feng Fu again
Returning to old ways and habits. Feng Fu was a renowned tiger hunter from the state of Jin in the Zhou dynasty. After a successful career he vowed never to hurt another living thing. However when he chanced upon a local hunt for a vicious tiger he could not resist temptation to go back to old ways and killed the tiger single handed.
A leopard cannot change its spots
[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.
[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.
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
[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
[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 a world
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
[東山再起]
Dōng shān zài qǐ [dong shan zai qi]
east mountain again rise
To rise again from the east mountain
Coming back after voluntary retirement into public life. Particularly for taking on high office after a long break away from all the action.
To make a comeback
[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
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.
[談虎色變]
Tán hǔ sè biàn [tan hu se bian]
chat tiger look transform
Turning pale at the mere mention of a tiger
To be so timid that even mentioning danger causes fear.
Afraid of your own shadow
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
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
bamboo
A Chinese bamboo book, open and unfolded to display the contents. This copy of The Art of War by Sun Wu is part of a collection at the University of California, Riverside . It was either commissioned or transcribed by the Qing Emperor Qianlong.
Image by bluefootedbooby available under a Creative Commons license
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
Don't judge a book by its cover
[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
[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
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
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
, 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
[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
养晦 [韜光養晦]
Tāo guāng yǎng huì [tao guang yang hui]
hide brightness nourish darkness
Conceal your strength
Bide your time before showing your strength
Hiding your light under a bushel
[大發雷霆]
léi tíng [da fa lei ting]
big develop thunder
Develop large thunderstorm
Fly into a furious rage
To spit nails
Rú zǐ kě jiào [ru zi ke jiao]
child permit teach
A student worth teaching
A promising youngster who is open to learning. The story is of Zhang Liang who had failed in an attempt to assassinate the first Qin Emperor and went into hiding. He came across a mysterious old man who set him a series of tests to judge his keenness to learn from him. After passing all the test the old man gave him a book on military strategy and Zhang became a leading military strategist.
Yè láng zì [ye lang zi da]
Ye Lang self big
Ye Lang thinks highly of himself
Pompous and conceited. The story is of the king of Ye Lang a tiny country in south-western China who in Han dynasty times considered himself the equal of the Emperor of China.
As proud as a peacock
[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
[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.
Tang dynasty, Sancai, porcelain
Photo by Rosemania , Palace Museum, Beijing. Sancai horse, Tang Dynasty, 618-907 A.D. Available under a Creative Commons license .
[生吞活剝]
Shēng tūn huó bāo [sheng tun huo bao]
raw swallow alive skin
Swallowing it all
To unthinkingly take on board someone's opinion. Uncritical application. Copying someone else's actions. The story is of Zhang Huaiqing of the Tang dynasty who plagiarized other poet's work by mechanically adding a few characters here and there. The resultant poems were gibberish.
Monkey see: monkey do
[洛陽紙貴]
Luò yáng zhǐ guì [Luo yang zhi gui]
Luoyang paper expensive
To make paper expensive in Luoyang
The story is of a book that initially failed to find any interest, when he came to the then capital of Luoyang several respected scholars found it exceptional. The book then became so popular that printers exhausted the supply of paper to print copies of it. It therefore is used to describe a book that is destined to be a sensation.
Become all the rage
Láng xīn gǒu fèi [lang xin gou fei]
wolf feeling dog lungs
Wolves are aggressive, dog bark. Ungrateful; cruel and unscrupulous
Ungrateful and unscrupulous
, [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
[罄竹難書]
Qìng zhú nán shū [qing zhu nan shu]
to exhaust bamboo distress book
So many crimes that there is not enough bamboo to record them all
So evil that there is not enough paper to record all the misdemeanors. Records used to be made on bamboo strips before paper was invented.
[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
[老氣橫秋]
Lǎo qì héng qiū [lao qi heng qiu]
old spirit across autumn
Old and decrepi but experienced
No longer youthful
[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
qiū zhī hé [yi qiu zhi he]
single mound's raccoon
Raccoons of the same mound
People of the same bad character. Referring to people of similar ill repute who tend to behave the same way.
Birds of a feather flock together
[風馬牛不相及]
Fēng mǎ niú bù xiāng jí [feng ma niu bu xiang ji]
custom horse cow not each other reach
Horses and cows keep themselves separate
People moving in different circles, different agendas. Having nothing in common.
Apples and oranges
[杞人憂天]
rén yōu tiān [Qi ren you tian]
Qi man worried sky
The from Qi who fears the sky is falling
Unnecessary concern. A person who is over-fearful or credulous. The idiom is based on the story of man from the state of Qi who feared the sky would fall and also that the Earth might cave in.
Afraid of your own shadow
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
[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
calligraphy, children
Child practising calligraphy
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
[髀肉復生]
Bì ròu fù shēng [bi rou fu sheng]
thigh flesh return life
The thigh muscles have recovered
To get fit and become reinvigorated. The story is from the end of the Han dynasty after the battle of Guandu Zhi Zhan when Cao Cao beat Liu Bei. Liu Bei then fled t o Henan and took things easy. One day he noticed that he had become flabby particularly in his thighs so he realized he had to get fit again. He did so and eventually beat Cao Cao in battle.
Get fighting fit
[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.
破浪 [乘風破浪]
Chéng fēng pò làng [cheng feng po lang]
ride wind break wave
Ride the winds and break the waves
To have high ambitions. The story is Zong Que who lived in southern China around 450CE. On his wedding day at the age of 14 (as was the tradition then) a group of bandits attacked the village. Zong Que fought them off almost single-handed. He was asked what was his future ambition and he replied that he wanted to 'ride the wind and break the waves'. He went on to be a leading general who helped maintain the peace in the region.
Man with a plan
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
[百發百中]
Bǎi bǎi zhòng [bai fa bai zhong]
hundred arrows hundred middles
One hundred arrows, one hundred bullseyes
A superb marksman; showing great skill. Yang Youji and Houyi were archers of great renown.
A dab hand
顾茅庐 [三顧茅廬]
Sān gù máo lú [san gu mao lu]
three visits to thatched hut
Calling three times at the thatched cottage
Committed to get best possible advice. The story is of Liu Bei in the Three Kingdoms Period who wanted the help of the master strategist Zhuge Liang. Zhuge Liang refused to answer the door on Liu's first two visits. When Liu made a third visit Zhuge was sufficiently convinced that Liu was genuinely desperate for his help.
Zhāo sān mù [zhao san mu si]
morning three evening four
Say three in the morning, four in the evening
Indecisive saying one thing and then changing mind later and saying another. The story is of a monkey trainer who reduced their chestnut rations from 3 in the morning and 4 in the evenings. The monkeys were most unhappy but when the trainer changed it to 4 in the morning and 3 in the evenings they were delighted. And so the phrase can also mean being foolishly deceived.
Hemming and hahing
Cǎo mù jiē bīng [cao mu jie bing]
vegetation all warlike
Every bush harbors an enemy
Being paranoid - believing everyone is out to get you. To be beleaguered
[一身是膽]
shēn shì dǎn [yi shen shi dan]
one body is courage
Full of courage
Fearless, intrepid. A heroic disposition.
As bold as brass
Bēi gōng shé yǐng [bei gong she ying]
cup bow snake image
Seeing a bow?s reflection in a cup as a snake
Suspicious and frightened; plagued by fearful imagination. The story is of a man who was terrified by the sight of what he thought was a snake swimming in the cup of tea he was drinking. The experience made him ill and only when it was demonstrated that it was just the reflection of a bow left hanging on the wall did he recover.
Afraid of your own shadow
Guǒ zú bù qián [guo zu bu qian]
bind foot not ahead
Dithering about
Unable to move forward due to misgivings. To hesitate about getting on and doing something.
All of a dither
Zì zhī zhī míng [zi zhi zhi ming]
self know self understand
Knowing oneself
Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is an essential first step in life. being able to judge yourself objectively as others see you is a path to harmony and true friendship.
Know thyself
Dunhuang, Gansu, music
Musicians in paradise, Yulin cave 25, Dunhuang, Tang Dynasty
Image available under a Creative Commons license
[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
灰复燃 [死灰復燃]
Sǐ huī fù rán [si hui fu ran]
die ash return fire
Ashes burn again
Resuming work after a long break. Taking up a previously held position of authority. Another flush of youthful energy in later life.
[天下無雙]
Tiān xià wú shuāng [tian xia wu shuang]
heaven below no pair
Unequalled under heaven
Something or someone with superlative skills.
[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
越俎
Yuè zǔ dài páo [yue zu dai pao]
surpass sacrificial food replace kitchen
Laying down the sacrificial vessels and take over the kitchen
To move beyond current work and meddle in other's duties. To take things into your own hands. A back seat driver.
Poke your nose in someone else's business
螳臂 [螳臂當車]
Táng bì dāng chē [tang bi dang che]
praying mantis arm obstruct vehicle
Mantis obstructing a chariot
Overrate abilities and attempt the impossible. A mantis is a fearsome insect that does not back down even if faced with a much larger predator. So it means someone full of pride making an idle threat.
Sòng Xiāng zhī rén [Song Xiang zhi ren]
Song Xiang 's benevolence
Kindness like Song Duke Xianggong
Showing mercy and consideration to opponents. The story is from the Spring and Autumn period when Duke Xianggong of the kingdom of Song confronted an army from the kingdom of Chu. His officers pleaded with the duke to attack while they were still crossing the river, the duke refused considering this an unfair tactic.
[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
Hǎo rén hǎo 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
, [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
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
[味如雞肋]
Wèi rú jī lèi [wei ru ji lei]
taste as if chicken rib
As tasteless as chicken ribs
A humdrum, boring activity and by extension a person lacking character. Insipid, bland.
[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.
compass, invention
A Han dynasty magnetic compass, the needle is in the form of a carefully balanced ladle that points south.
The compass shows divisions for use in Feng Shui and Yi Jing
Image available under a Creative Commons license
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
[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.
[南柯一夢]
Nán kē mèng [nan ke yi meng]
Nan Ke one dream
A dream of Nanke
An absurdly ambitious plan divorced from reality. A dream of grandeur and splendor.
A pipe dream
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
助桀[助桀爲虐]
Zhù jié wéi nu:è [zhu jie wei nu:e]
assist Jie to become oppressive
Aiding King Jie in his cruelty
An admonishment not to turn to the dark side. King Jie was the last ruler of the Xia dynasty and a byword for cruelty and depravity.
Supping with the Devil
折腰 [不爲五斗米折腰]
Bù wèi dǒu mǐ zhé yāo [bu wei wu dou mi zhe yao]
not act five peck rice bend waist
Refuse to bow for the sake of five measures of rice
Refusing inducements to betray a principles. Incorruptible. The story is of a man who refused to work for a corrupt and arrogant official even though he lost out on a generous salary.
Wèi néng miǎn sú [wei neng mian su]
not able avoid convention
Bound up by conventions
Unable to do what you want because social conventions forbid it. Doing something just because it is expected.
Creature of habit
[趾高氣揚]
Zhǐ gāo qì yáng [zhi gao qi yang]
toe high energy raise
Putting on airs and graces
An arrogant person who may well face a comeuppance due to complacency and self-conceit.
Pride comes before a fall
柱鼓瑟 [膠柱鼓瑟]
Jiāo zhù gǔ sè [jiao zhu gu se]
glue peg strike zither
Gluing the tuning pegs of a zither
Inflexible and stubborn. Gluing the tuning pegs of a musical instrument so it can not be tuned and brought into harmony.
As stubborn as a mule
[鄭人買履]
Zhèng rén mǎi lǔ: [zheng ren mai lu:]
Zheng person buy shoe
The man from Zheng buys shoes
Stubbornly sticking to a silly plan; inflexible and stupid. The story is of a man from Zheng who measured his own feet in readiness to buying new shoes. When he reached the shop in a distant town he found he had forgotten the paper on which the measurement was recorded. So he walked all the way home to fetch it rather than just try on shoes in the shop.
Stupid is as stupid does
[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
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
[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
abacus
Chinese abacus. Photo by Loadmaster (David R. Tribble), available under a Creative Commons license .This image was modified from its original form.
[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.
[爾虞我詐]
Ěr yú wǒ zhà [er yu wo zha]
you cheat me swindle
Cheating and deceiving each other
Mutual distrust and deception. A relationship without any trust.
Dog eat dog
Wàng zì zūn [wang zi zun da]
absurd self respect great
Having an inflated opinion of oneself
Full of inflated pride. There are many examples throughout history of people thinking rather too highly of themselves.
Pride comes before a fall
[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.
rén shí xīn [mu ren shi xin]
wood person rock heart
Body of wood, heart of stone
A heartless person or also someone who is unwaveringly determined to carry out a task and will not be distracted
Heart of stone
Guā xiāng kàn [gua mu xiang kan]
scrape eye appearance look at
Rubbing one?s eyes when seeing someone
Noticing that someone has changed for the better. Show respect for improvement and progress. Changing a view of someone's abilities.
Seeing someone in a new light
Hǎo hǎo xiān shēng [hao hao xian sheng]
good good mister
Yes-man
Someone who agrees with everything said. More likely to be so as to not give any offense rather than ingratiating
[驚弓之鳥]
Jīng gōng zhī niǎo [jing gong zhi niao]
frightened bow's bird
A bird startled even by the twang of a bow string
Someone who is easily frightened especially if triggered by a previous bad experience. The story is of a great archer who claimed he could shoot a goose out of the sky without releasing an arrow. He then twanged the bow and a goose did fall to the ground. The goose showed signs of a previous arrow injury and had died of fright.
[外強中乾]
Wài qiáng zhōng gān [wai qiang zhong gan]
outside strong middle dry
Outwardly strong but inwardly weak
Looking strong and powerful but actually weak. Flattering appearance that does not represent true worth.
Don't judge a book by its cover
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.
[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
[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
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.
qilin, Foshan, Guangdong
Ceramic qilin as animal on roof ridge, Ancestral Temple, Foshan, Guangdong
[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
[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
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
[習慣成自然]
Xí guàn chéng zì rán [xi guan cheng zi ran]
habit grow nature
Become habitual, normal
Habit becomes engrained
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
望洋[望洋興嘆]
Wàng yáng xīng tàn [wang yang xing tan]
towards ocean excitement sigh
Consider one?s competance before the ocean
To feel inadequate to perform a great task. Feel misgivings before a big endeavor. The story is of the river god of the Huanghe caused a great flood that made the river a mile wide but when it met the sea it was overcome with relative inadequacy.
[見怪不怪]
Jiàn guài bù guài [jian guai bu guai]
see monster not monster
Calm at the sight of the unknown
Face the unexpected and disturbing with calmness and fortitude
Keep a cool head
Jiǔ ròu péng yǒu [jiu rou peng you]
wine meat friends
Friends only for the food and drink
Cupboard love
Fair weather friends
[一窮二白]
qióng èr bái [yi qiong er bai]
one poor stupid blank
Both poor and stupid
A disparaging term for backwardness
[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
[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
类聚 [物以類聚]
Wù yǐ lèi jù [wu yi lei ju]
thing with similarity congregate
Like attracts like
People tends to form groups with like-minded individuals.
Birds of a feather flock together
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
calligraphy, Mifu, Song dynasty
Calligraphy by Mifu (c. 1097), Song Dynasty, Jiangsu province.
[專心致志]
Zhuān xīn zhì zhì [zhuan xin zhi zhi]
concentrate mind devote ambition
Study hard to achieve ambitions
An admonishment to encourage full concentration in order to study effectively and so achieve ambitions.
Zì kuì fú rú [zi kui fu ru]
self ashamed not like
Ashamed at own inferiority
Ashamed of oneself
Zhì sǐ bù wù [zhi si bu wu]
until death not comprehend
Failing to understand even to death
Stubbornly holding to views. Obstinate and set in ways.
As stubborn as a mule
[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
[從容不迫]
Cóng róng bù pò [cong rong bu po]
unhurried not urgent
Calm and unhurried
Taking life calmly and in your stride. Untroubled.
Without a care in the world
[和顏悅色]
Hé yán yuè sè [he yan yue se]
harmony face contended colour
Having a happy face looking contented
Amiable appearance
Zhì zài fāng [zhi zai si fang]
ambition exist four directions
Having high ambition
Willing to travel far and wide to achieve aims. Aspiring to achieve great things in life.
Driving ambition
西 [東奔西走]
Dōng bēn xī zǒu [dong ben xi zou]
east hasten west walk
Busy everywhere
Be busy; bustling about
鸿鹄 [鴻鵠之志]
Hóng hú zhī zhì [hong hu zhi zhi]
great swan 's aspiration
The aspirations of a great swan
Having unrealistic ambitions.
Wish for the moon
Shí quán shí měi [shi quan shi mei]
ten complete ten beautiful
Completely whole and beautiful
Perfection; faultless
[欺世盜名]
Qī shì dào míng [qi shi dao ming]
deceive world steal fame
Deceiving the public to gain fame
A con artist. Someone who sets out to become famous by lies and deception.
Every trick in the book
骨悚然
Máo gǔ sǒng rán [mao gu song ran]
hair bone fearful promise
Hair standing on end
Petrified with fright
[返老還童]
Fǎn lǎo huán tóng [fan lao huan tong]
return old return child
Return to youthful vigour
Returning to youthful energy. Turning back the years. Often used as a compliment to someone sprightly in old age.
New lease of life
dragon, graphic
Carving of a dragon at a Chinese temple
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
Tuī xīn zhì fù [tui xin zhi fu]
elect heart put stomach
Having full confidence
Put give someone your full support - body and soul. To trust someone implicitly.
Rú huǒ rú tú [ru huo ru tu]
as fire as flourishing
Raging like a fire
Daunting and vigorous. An intimidating prospect.
Vim and vigour
[其貌不揚]
Qí mào bù yáng [qi mao bu yang]
its appearance not raised
Undistinguished in appearance
Unappealing appearance.
Plain Jane
[難兄難弟]
Nàn xiōng nàn dì [nan xiong nan di]
problem elder brother problem younger brother
Brothers of the same ilk
Two brothers showing similar personalities. Two people hard to tell apart.
One is just as bad as the other
讳疾忌 [諱疾忌醫]
Huì jí jì yī [hui ji ji yi]
avoid mentioning sickness fear medical
Hiding sickness for fear of treatment
Keeping mistakes and shortcomings to yourself. Refuse to listen to advice.
Sweep it under the carpet
[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
[英雄無用武之地]
Yīng xióng wú yòng wǔ zhī dì [ying xiong wu yong wu zhi di]
hero powerful not employ military place
A hero having no opportunity to display his talents
A situation where someone's undoubted talents can not be utilized.
洋洋
Dé yì yáng yáng [de yi yang yang]
complacent self-satisfied
Smug and self-satisfied
To be very pleased with oneself. Giving an air of sublime complacency.
I'm all right Jack
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
[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
[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.
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
Henan, Kaifeng, garden, bridge, pagoda
Classical garden at Qingming Riverside, Kaifeng, Henan
[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
专横跋扈 [專橫跋扈]
Zhuān hèng bá hù [zhuan heng ba hu]
imperious bossy
Imperious and domineering
Someone who likes bossing people around. Arrogant and tyrannical.
Bossy boots
[一鼓作氣]
gǔ zuò qì [yi gu zuo qi]
single drum grow energy
Gathering courage from a single drum beat
A sudden burst of energy. Easily stimulated into action.
[前倨後恭]
Qián jù hòu gōng [qian ju hou gong]
first stubborn after respectful
First scornful then respectful
Treating people in a two-faced manner according to people's perceived power and influence. A snobbish person who changes their manner according to who they are dealing with.
Two faced
[大公無私]
gōng wú sī [da gong wu si]
large just not selfish
Selflessness
Helping everyone else. Not motivated by self-interest.
眨眼 [殺人不眨眼]
Shā rén bù zhǎ yǎn [sha ren bu zha yan]
kill person not blink eye
Killing without blinking an eye
Ruthless; cold-blooded.
糟糠
Zāo kāng zhī qī [zao kang zhi qi]
Chaff wife
A wife of chaff-eating days
A loyal wife. Chaff is only eaten when no other food is available and so it means someone who is prepared to share in depredations - sharing the bad times as well as the good.
Through thick and thin
[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
Tuī jǐ jí rén [tui ji ji ren]
push self to reach person
Imagine being in someone's position
To understand a situation from someone else's perspective.
Get the bigger picture
[傍人門戶]
Bàng rén mén [bang ren men hu]
near person door
Hanging on another?s door
Someone dependent on a household without making much contribution. A hanger-on.
A sponger
[膠漆相投]
Jiāo qī xiāng tóu [jiao qi xiang tou]
glue paint mutually refuge
As close as glue and paint
A loyal and strong friendship.
勾销 [一筆勾銷]
bǐ gōu xiāo [yi bi gou xiao]
one pen strike-out cancel
To dismiss with one stroke of the pen
Taking tough, decisive action to solve a problem. The story is of a statesman who sacked a whole host of incompetent officials working for him with one stroke of the brush.
[得過且過]
Dé guò qiě guò [de guo qie guo]
contented get along yet live
Getting by
Muddling through life without great ambitions. Contended to just live from day to day.
Enough is as good as a feast
lion dance, people, festival
Young lion dancers
[膽大如斗]
Dǎn rú dǒu [dan da ru dou]
gall big as peck
A gall bladder as big as a football
Someone who is immensely bold and courageous. In traditional medicine the gall bladder was considered the controller of aggression and courage, so someone with a huge gall bladder was expected to be very courageous.
As bold as brass
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
[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
Wǒ xíng wǒ sù [wo xing wo su]
I work I usual
To continue in habitual ways
Stuck following old ways
斧疑 [失斧疑鄰]
Shī fǔ yí lín [shi fu yi lin]
lose hatchet doubt neighbor
Lose an axe and suspect a neighbour
Groundless suspicions. Jumping to conclusions.
[異曲同工]
Yì qǔ tóng gōng [yi qu tong gong]
other song same skill
Different tunes played with the same skill
Different methods giving the same result. Different but equally satisfactory.
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
Wèi shǒu wèi wěi [wei shou wei wei]
fear head fear tail
Fearing both the head and the tail
Nervous and afraid. Fearful at both the start and end of some event.
Afraid of your own shadow
China motif
Our proverbs come with full information. The modern Chinese characters are given first with links that give information on the character. As proverbs are so old you will often see them written using the traditional form of characters; so if of the characters have been simplified the phrase is shown in brackets and gray text. . 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 shown.

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.