Chinese idioms about love

Some Chinese sayings concerning the allure and perils of love.

[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
, [笑一笑十年少]
Xiào xiào, shí nián shào [xiao yi xiao, shi nian shao]
smile a smile, 10 year less
Just one smile makes you ten years younger
Happiness is the best cosmetic
Xiù sè kě cān [xiu se ke can]
beautiful appearance can eat
A lovely sight to feast the eyes on
A beautiful woman
A feast for the eyes
送炭
Xuě lǐ sòng tàn [xue li song tan]
snow neighbourhood deliver charcoal
Send charcoal in a snow storm
To offer assistance when it is needed
A friend in need is a friend indeed
焉附 [皮之不存毛將焉附]
Pí zhī bù cún maó jiāng yān fù [pi zhi bu cun mao jiang yan fu]
skin no exist hair support how add
If the skin is missing hair can not grow
Everything needs its proper environment for nurture
No man is an island
[愛不釋手]
Ài bù shì shǒu [ai bu shi shou]
love not let go hand
Locked in love's clutches
藕断 [藕斷絲連]
Oǔ duàn sī lián [ou duan si lian]
lotus root break silken thread links
Although the lotus root may be cut, its fibered threads are still connected
Friendship survives adversity
舐犊 [舐犢之愛]
Shì dú zhī ài [shi du zhi ai]
lick calf's love
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
The fruit does not fall far from the tree
, [月到中秋分外明每逢佳節倍思親]
Yuè dào zhōng qiū fèn wài míng, měi féng jiā jié bèi sī qīn [yue dao zhong qiu fen wai ming, mei feng jia jie bei si qin]
moon arrive mid-autumn divide outside bright every occurrence fetival joyous times think parent
The moon is brightest at the Mid-Autumn Festival, and the feeling of homesickness will be strongest during the festival
Longing to see family from far away
There's no place like home
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
丈叶落[樹高千丈叶落歸根]
Shù gāo qiān zhàng yè luò guī gēn [shu gao qian zhang ye luo gui gen]
tree tall 1000 length leaf fall return root
A tree may grow high, but its leaves always fall on its roots
People living far away will eventually comes back home
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
[兒行千里母擔憂]
Ér xíng qiān lǐ mǔ dān yōu [er xing qian li mu dan you]
child travel 1000 mile mother undertake worry
When children travel far away the mother worries
Mothers will always worry about their children
[香消玉損]
Xiāng xiāo yù sǔn [xiang xiao yu sun]
fragrant vanish jade broken
Fragrance is dissipated; jade is broken
Spoken of on the death of a beautiful young woman
Whom the Gods love die young
wedding, marriage, dress
Traditional Chinese wedding dress with phoenix crown () headpiece, Qing Dynasty style. Still used in many parts of southeast Asia, including Taiwan. 26th December 2011. Image by Kelidimari available under a Creative Commons license .
[千金買笑]
Qiān jīn mǎi xiào [qian jin mai xiao]
thousand gold buy smile
A smile costing a thousand ounces of gold
A target that is very hard to attain. Spending lavishly to attract an alluring woman, A variant of the proverb uses ''horses bones' instead of a smile but the meaning is the same - needless extravagance.
感恩图 [感恩圖報]
Gǎn ēn tú bào [gan en tu bao]
feeling kindness plan recompense
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.
One good turn deserves another
举案齐眉 [舉案齊眉]
Jǔ àn qí méi [ju an qi mei]
lift table level with eyebrow
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
[百聞不如一見]
Bǎi wén bù rú jiàn [bai wen bu ru yi jian]
hundred hear not like one see
Hearing a hundred times is not as good as seeing once
Delighted to meet you in person at last. Seeing at first hand gives valuable information. The story is of a Han dynasty veteran general Zhao Chongguo who went to see the situation for himself at the frontier rather than relying on secondhand reports. His wise analysis quickly solved the problem with the incursions of northern tribes
Seeing is believing
[愛屋及烏]
Ài wū jí wū [ai wu ji wu]
love house reach crow
Strong love that encompasses all, including the crow sitting on the roof
In love with everything in the world
Love is blind
[度日如年]
nián [du ri ru nian]
pass day as year
Each day passes as a year
Time seems to pass very slowly
Time drags on
[一見鍾情]
jiàn zhōng qíng [yi jian zhong qing]
once see deep affection
Upon first seeing fall madly in love
To fall in love at first sight
送鹅 [千里送鵝毛]
Qiān lǐ sòng é máo [qian li song e mao]
thousand Chinese mile deliver swan feather
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 the feather was all that was left from a swan when he arrived. So this is a rejoinder when someone receives a gift that is seemingly of low value.
Don't look a gift horse in the mouth
Xīn ruò sǐ huī [xin ruo si hui]
heart like dead ash
Heart reduced to ashes
Desperately unhappy
sān qiū [yi ri san qiu]
one day three years
One day seems like three years
To miss somebody very much
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
,愚蠢 [生活有愛幸福為愛生活愚蠢]
Shēng huó yǒu ài xìngfú, wèi ài shēng huó yú chǔn [sheng huo you ai xingfu, wei ai sheng huo yu chun]
produce live have love good fortune, pride love produce live foolish
A life of love is happy; a life for love is foolish
Love is not the most important thing
指桑骂槐 [指桑罵槐]
Zhǐ sāng mà huái [zhi sang ma huai]
finger mulberry blame locust tree
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
Bù zhī ròu wèi [bu zhi rou wei]
not know meat smell
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).
Lost touch with reality
Beijing, Beihai Park
The Beihai Park, imperial garden in Beijing. December 2007. Image by storyvillegirl available under a Creative Commons License
西
Qíng ren yǎn lǐ chū xī shī [qing ren yan li chu xi shi]
lover eye inside produce Xi Shi
The lover's eye sees the legendary beauty of Xi Shi in his plain mistress
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Love is blind
Dào xǐ xiāng yíng [dao xi xiang ying]
backwards slippers mutually welcome
Putting on shoes the wrong way aroung when greeting a guest
So keen to meet a guest that shoes are put on the wrong way around. Excitement about meeting someone idolized.
Go weak at the knees
琴瑟 [琴瑟咊鳴]
Qín sè hé míng [qin se he ming]
guqin harp harmony song
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.
A match made in heaven
破镜[破鏡重圓]
Pò jìng chóng yuán [po jing chong yuan]
broken mirror again round
A broken mirror remade
A reunion after a couple are separated or patching up after a quarrel. There are several legends in China about a couple who on separation each took one half of a mirror (which used to be of bronze) and when they eventually they are reunited they found each other by matching up the two pieces of mirror.
背井 [离鄉背井]
Lí xiāng bèi jǐng [li xiang bei jing]
leave village behind well
Leave one's own village
A stranger away from home
Gāo shān liú shuǐ [gao shan liu shui]
high mountain flow water
High mountains and flowing water
A description of beautiful music and by analogy a deep friendship.
Boon companion
hú zhī yè [yi hu zhi ye]
single fox's underfur
The underfur of a fox
The underfur of a fox is so soft that is highly valued. Something of great value to someone
Jiǔ ròu péng yǒu [jiu rou peng you]
wine meat friends
Friends only for the food and drink
Cupboard love
Fair weather friends
Tiān zuò zhī hé [tian zuo zhi he]
heaven make someone close
Heaven made intimacy
Blissful affection
Marriage made in heaven
[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.
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.