Chinese idioms to discourage procrastination
Proverbs aimed at encouraging people to snap out of idleness and laziness.
Eating in the east and sleeping in the west
Taking fully advantage of kindly offers - accepting hospitality in a selfish way. The story is of a girl who was asked to choose whether to live with a family in the east or west side of a village. She chose to eat with the rich family of one suitor on the east side but also sleep with the poor but good looking suitor on the west side.
Roughly equivalent to: Butter one's bread on both sides.
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.
Want the horse to prosper, but not want the horse to eat grass
To prosper you must make compromises, you can not have it all your own way.
Roughly equivalent to: You can't have your cake and eat it.
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.
Fifty steps laugh at a hundred steps
Being complacent about the future. Believing a job is all but done when only half done.
Roughly equivalent to: Pride comes before a fall.
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.
Roughly equivalent to: Shoot your mouth off.
Looking at the flowers while riding a horse
To take a cursory look at something. Smug.
Comfortable living is like drinking poisoned wine
Lulled into laziness and indifference by comfortable living.
Roughly equivalent to: Sofa spud.
To look on with folded arms
To look on without offering any help or showing concern.
A large branch with large leaves. Unable to draw in fine detail
Lack of attention to detail.
Flowering but not bearing fruit
Said of someone is all show and no substance.
Roughly equivalent to: All that glitters is not gold.
Distant water will not extinguish the nearby fire
There is no point in waiting for far off help. Get to it and solve the problem now.
Roughly equivalent to: Make it snappy.
Approach heaven with a single stride
An attempt to achieve a goal all in one go without hard work.
Roughly equivalent to: Rome was not built in a day.
Mend the pen after the sheep are lost
Can mean taking action too late or else taking action to protect against a future repeat of misfortune.
Roughly equivalent to: Mending the stable door after the horse has bolted.
Rein in the horse at the cliff edge
Realize danger at the last moment.
Unable to move forward due to misgivings. To hesitate about getting on and doing something.
Roughly equivalent to: All of a dither.
Wasting a great deal of time
Spending a protracted length of time on a task. A waste of time.
Roughly equivalent to: A wild goose chase.
Building a drain onto neighbor's land
Diverting flood water onto neighbor's land - moving a problem onto others rather than try to solve it. Acting selfishly.
Roughly equivalent to: Look out for number one.
Someone who agrees with everything said. More likely to be so as to not give any offense rather than ingratiating.
Do not let your aspirations weaken; do not waste time
Keep hold of your hopes and dreams, waste no time in achieving them.
Roughly equivalent to: Don't change horses midstream.
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.
Roughly equivalent to: Blowing hot and cold.
Just about good enough an effort. Someone showing minimum of commitment to meet a goal. Barely satisfactory.
Roughly equivalent to: Swinging the lead.
Do not block but welcome arrival
Deal with things as they happen; do not put them off.
Today's task, today's job to complete
Finish the current job before starting something new.
Roughly equivalent to: Don't put off until tomorrow what can be done today.
Paying heed to gossip
Listening to roadside gossip or tittle-tattle.
Pursuing trivia while neglecting essentials
Concentrating on the little details rather than the important stuff.
Roughly equivalent to: Putting the cart before the horse.
A contented life saps the will
Living a life of idleness and contentment can lead to idleness and laziness.
Roughly equivalent to: A Lotus eater.
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 (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.