Chinese idioms about showing due consideration for other people
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 some of the characters have been simplified the traditional form is shown in brackets and gray text. The characters are followed by the proverb (normally a 成语 chéng yǔ) 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.
For background on the types and history of proverbs please see our guide.
Working together requires consideration for other people, and this thought features in many Chinese proverbs. Things get along much better if everyone works in harmony.
Keeping a good reputation is as essential as bark is to a tree
Reputation ('face') must be maintained at all costs.
Rù xiāng suí sú
When entering a village, follow its customs
Take account of local people and opinions.
Roughly equivalent to: When in Rome do as the Romans do.
Shù daǒ hú sūn sàn
When the tree falls, the monkeys scatter
When a leader loses power, his followers are disorganized and also lose power. Often said to warn someone that they hold their position only so long as their patron is in power.
Tù zi bù chī wō biān cǎo
Rabbits do not eat the grass around their burrows
Thieves do not steal from neighbors.
Xiù shǒu páng guān
To look on with folded arms
To look on without offering any help or showing concern.
Zhǐ sāng mà huái
Pointing to the mulberry tree when the locust tree is to blame
Deliberately deflecting criticism to someone or something else - often to protect friends or family.
Qiān lǐ sòng é máo
A swan feather from a thousand miles away
Showing appreciation on receiving a gift that shows the sender has taken time and trouble to choose it. Traveling a very long way to deliver what seems to be a trifle. The tale is from the Tang dynasty when Mian Bogai sent a gift of a special swan to the Emperor. However one feather was all that was left from the swan when he eventually arrived. So this is a rejoinder when someone receives a gift that is seemingly of low value.
Roughly equivalent to: Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
Yīn shì lì dǎo
Helping things along
To encourage something along to its natural fulfillment.
Jǔ àn qí méi
Lifting the tray up to the eyebrows
Showing respect and affection for someone. It is a traditional show of respect to lift a tray high when presenting food to a respected guest. Lasting love and consideration.
Lè bù sī Shǔ
So happy that the kingdom of Shu is forgotten
Lost in present pleasures so as to forget home and duties. Said of Liu Chan ruler of the Shu kingdom (Sichuan province) who when defeated and in exile heard songs of his old kingdom but did not become melancholy like his other guests. So it refers to someone living in the present and not caring about the past. Lost in the moment.
Hé dōng shī hǒu
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.
Roughly equivalent to: She who must be obeyed.
Shì dú zhī ài
The love of a cow licking her calf
An example of parental love and devotion. A biased assessment due to family ties - caring for one's own relatives.
Roughly equivalent to: The fruit does not fall far from the tree.
Jié cǎo xián huán
Tying grass and delivering rings
Generously repaying a debt of gratitude. The story is of Yang Bao who nursed a sick bird back to health. After he had released the siskin into the wild he dreamed of the bird carrying grass tied in rings in its beak which transformed into a boy with precious jade rings . The boy gave Yang Bao enduring good fortune in gratitude.
Wán bì guī zhào
Returning the jade bi to Zhao
A jade bi is a large round piece with a hole in the middle. The story is of an ancient Imperial 'crown jewel' the 'He shi bi' that was stolen by the king of Qin. The ruler of the state of Zhao then managed to get it back. It has come to mean returning something (in good condition) to its rightful owner.
Small as it is, the sparrow has all the vital organs
A person is a person regardless of size. Complete in every detail.
Yǐn shuǐ sī yuán
When drinking water remember the origin
Do not forget the source of your good fortune (particularly your parents)
Roughly equivalent to: Count your blessings.
Fǎn fù tuī qiāo
Carefully considering the words push and knock
Spending considerable time to get the words just right. Showing excessive concern on minor details. Based on the story of an Tang dynasty official who spent ages deciding whether 'knock' or 'push' was the appropriate word in a poem.
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.
Sòng Xiāng zhī rén
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.
Bīn zhì rú guī
Guests feel at home
Warmly welcoming guests to your home. Guests treated as part of the family.
Roughly equivalent to: Be my guest.
Yuē fǎ sān zhāng
Setting out the three articles of law
Imposing simple and clear laws. At the end of the bitter Civil War that brought the Qin dynasty to an end in 206BCE, the leader Liu Bang chose to dispose of all the laws of the Qin, replacing them with three simple laws: do not kill; do not harm and do not steal. Liu Bang went on to found the Han dynasty that ruled for 400 years.
Ān jū lè yè
Live and work in peace and contentment
Wishing you well in a new home.
Chū shēng rù sǐ
To risk one's life
Offer unquestioning support.
Roughly equivalent to: Through thick and thin.
Gù zuǒ yòu ér yán tā
Looking both ways and changing the subject
Avoiding talking about something; taking a long digression.