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.
A celebration of luck and good fortune in Chinese sayings. Some wish for the luck to arrive, others show gratitude for the marvelous state of affairs.
Ài wū jí wū
Strong love that encompasses all, including the crow sitting on the roof
In love with everything in the world.
Roughly equivalent to: Love is blind.
Chí kāi de huā wèi bì bú xiāng
A late-blooming flower is not necessarily lacking in fragrance
It's never too late to try something new.
Fēi huáng téng dá
To fly in the sky like the legendary horse Fei Huang (flying yellow)
A meteoric rise to success and honour.
Jīn zhāo yǒu jiǔ jīn zhāo zuì
When have some wine, all will get drunk
Take advantage of good fortune while it is around.
Honored by a visit of someone distinguished who is showing an interest. A passport to getting on in social circles. The story is that a horse expert was persuaded to give a mere glance at a horse that was for sale and by so doing its price rose enormously in value.
The whole nation is rejoicing at some happy event.
Gǎn ēn tú bào
Gratefully returning kindness
Repaying a debt of kindness. The story is from the Zhou dynasty when the state of Wu was mounting a war against the state of Zheng. A Zheng fisherman offered to try to stop the conflict. He boldly went to the enemy general Wu Zixu and reminded him that his father had saved Wu's life a long time ago. The general then recalled the incident and in repayment of the kindness called off his attack on Zheng.
Roughly equivalent to: One good turn deserves another.
Bitterness over, happiness arrives. At the end of suffering comes relief
After troubles comes happiness.
Roughly equivalent to: The darkest hour is just before the dawn.
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.
Yún xiāo wù sàn
Cloud and mists disperse
All becomes clear again. Troubles are over.
Luò yáng zhǐ guì
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.
Roughly equivalent to: Become all the rage.
Bīn zhì rú guī
Guests feel at home
Warmly welcoming guests to your home. Guests treated as part of the family.
Riding high on someone else's success. When someone gets a plum job all his friends and family will also prosper. Alternatively can mean once a problem has been cracked anyone can solve it.
Yú yīn rào liáng
The music lingers around the roof beams
Music so beautiful it seems to reverberate around the roof. A pleasant musical performance and by analogy memory of a joyous occasion.
Roughly equivalent to: Transport of delight.
Qín sè hé míng
Qin and harp in harmony
In blissful harmony. The story is from the Song dynasty when Zhao Mingcheng and Li Qingzhao fell in love and lived a life of bliss. They collected ancient inscriptions and played the guqin (type of zither) and harp together. Tragedy struck when the Jurchen invaded Shandong. The couple fled south to Hangzhou but Zhao died and Li spent 25 years as a mournful widow.
Roughly equivalent to: A match made in heaven.
Bù zhī ròu wèi
Not notice the smell of meat
Totally entranced and distracted. The story is from the Analects of Confucius. The great sage was walking in woodland and heard someone performing Shao music. He was so entranced by the blissful sound that he could not be distracted even by the smell of roasting meat (then a rare treat).