Chinese idioms about patience and perseverance

A set of proverbs to help you cope stoically with life's ups and downs. Perseverance and restraint are the common themes from this large collection.

Bái shǒu qǐ jiā [bai shou qi jia]
clear hand make house
Empty hand make house
To build up something from nothing
[雨過天晴]
guò tiān qíng [yu guo tian qing]
rain past heaven bright
The rain has gone, the sky brightens
Things are improving. Hope for the future
宴席 [天下沒有不散的宴席]
Tiān xià méi yǒu bù sàn de yàn xí [tian xia mei you bu san de yan xi]
world does not have no break up of banquet
No banquet in the world goes on forever
Good fortune can not last for ever
All good things must come to an end
苛政猛 [苛政猛於虎]
Kē zhèng měng yú hǔ [ke zheng meng yu hu]
severe government fierce tiger
Tyranny is more terrible than tigers
The story is that Confucius met a woman near mount Taishan who was weeping bitterly. When asked, she said she had lost father-in-law, husband and son to marauding tigers. When Confucius asked why then she did not move to a safer village she replied that she was sheltering from a despotic government and would rather risk tigers than oppression. Evil government is the worst of evils.
[程門立雪]
Chéng mén xuě [cheng men li xue]
Cheng door stand snow
Standing at Cheng?s door in the snow
Showing great respect for someone - usually a teacher or scholar. The story is that a great scholar accidentally left two students waiting for him for hours out in the snow.
Nǐ sǐ wǒ huó [ni si wo huo]
you die I live
Fight to the death
To fight to the bitter end
[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.
循序渐 [循序漸進]
Xún xù jiàn jìn [xun xu jian jin]
follow order gradually enter
Make gradual progress one step at a time
To make steady step by step progress towards an end
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
[一絲不苟]
sī bù gǒu [yi si bu gou]
one thread not careless
To take care of every thread in a cloth
To be meticulous. To pay atttention to every detail
If a job is worth doing it is worth doing well
揠苗助 [揠苗助長]
Yà miáo zhù zhǎng [ya miao zhu zhang]
pull up seedling help lengthen
Stretching young plants to make them grow
Be patient and let nature run its course
Patience is a virtue. A watched pot never boils
尺, [冰凍三尺非一日之寒]
Bīng dòng sān chǐ, fēi zhī hán [bing dong san chi, fei yi ri zhi han]
ice freeze three foot, wrong one day single cold
Three feet of ice is not formed in a single day
It takes time to achieve satisfactory results
Rome was not built in a day
, [常將有日思無日莫將無旹想有旹]
Cháng jiāng yǒu sī wú rì, mò jiāng wú shí xiǎng yǒu shí [chang jiang you ri si wu ri, mo jiang wu shi xiang you shi]
normal support has day think nothing day, noone support nothing time think has time
When rich there is time to think all day, when poor there is no time to think
When rich, you have time to dream, but do not dream of riches when you are poor
漏偏 [屋漏偏逢連夜雨]
Wū lòu piān féng lián yè [wu lou pian feng lian ye yu]
house leak slanting happen upon continuous night rain
When the roof is leaking, there will be continuous nights of rain
Misfortunes tend to come all at once
When it rains, it pours
Jì wǎng bù jiù [ji wang bu jiu]
already past not to blame
It is pointless to blame past events
What is done is done. It is pointless to live a life of regret for things that can't be changed.
Forgive and forget
[樹欲靜而風不止]
Shù yù jìng ěr fēng bù zhǐ [shu yu jing er feng bu zhi]
tree desire quiet but wind not still
The trees prefer calm, but the wind does not stop
In spite of a wish for peace, trouble is brewing. Things develop regardless of how you might wish. Powerless to influence outcome
[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
[樂極生悲]
Lè jí shēng bēi [le ji sheng bei]
joy extreme produce sorrow
After pleasure comes sorrow
Wallowing in pleasure will lead to regrets afterwards. Restrain yourself or you'll regret it
,[留得青山在不怕沒柴燒]
Liú dé qīng shān zài, bù pà méi chái shāo [liu de qing shan zai, bu pa mei chai shao]
remain get green mountain exist, no fear have no firewood
So long as the green mountains are preserved, there will be no shortage of firewood
Do not despair, there is plenty of time and opportunity
Everything comes to him who waits
补, [小洞不補大洞吃苦]
Xiǎo dòng bù bǔ, dòng chī kǔ [xiao dong bu bu, da dong chi ku]
small hole no mend big hole eat bitter
A small hole not mended in time will soon become a larger hole more difficult to mend
Do not put off taking action to put things right
A stitch in time saves nine
Henan, Kaifeng, garden, bridge, pagoda
Classical garden at Qingming Riverside, Kaifeng, Henan
[覆水難收]
Fù shuǐ nán shōu [fu shui nan shou]
spilled water difficult collect
Spilled water can not be recovered
What is done is done. The situation can not be restored to how it once was
There's no use crying over spilt milk
[夜長夢多]
Yè cháng mèng duō [ye chang meng duo]
night long dream many
The longer the night, the more dreams there will be
When in hard times it is foolish to merely dream of better things
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride
[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
Mù yǐ chéng zhōu [mu yi cheng zhou]
tree cease make boat
The tree has been made into a boat
Too late to change anything
What's done is done
[粗茶淡飯]
Cū chá dàn fàn [cu cha dan fan]
coarse tea bland food
On a starvation diet
Eat simple home-made food and yet be healthy
因噎废 [因噎廢食]
Yīn yè fèi shí [yin ye fei shi]
because choke abandon eat
If is foolish to refuse to eat just because of the chance of choking
Life does not come without risks. Risk of failure is not an argument for not trying
[山不轉路轉]
Shān bù zhuǎn lù zhuǎn [shan bu zhuan lu zhuan]
mountain no turn road turn
A mountain cannot turn, but a road can
It is not necessary to continue in the same direction, there are other alternatives to avoid an obstacle
There's more than one way to skin a cat
碎, [宁為玉碎不為瓦全]
Nìng wéi yù suì, bù wéi wǎ quán [ning wei yu sui, bu wei wa quan]
stand pride jade broken, no pride tile complete
Don't be a proud piece of broken jade, be a complete tile
Stand up against enemies do not give in. Keep your integrity and stand firm
Fall on your sword
[騎虎難下]
Qí hǔ nán xià [qi hu nan xia]
ride tiger difficult down
When on a tiger's back, it is hard to dismount
When taking risks you have to live with the consequences, it is difficult to back out
He who sups with the Devil should have a long spoon
,祸 [福無重至旤不單行]
Fú wú chóng zhì, huò bú dān xíng [fu wu chong zhi, huo bu dan xing]
good fortune not double arrive, misfortune not single walk
Blessings come along alone; troubles often come together
Bad fortune is more frequent than good
Ill fortune comes in threes
xiào jiě qiān chóu [yi xiao jie qian chou]
one smile separate ten thousand worries
One smile can erase a myriad worries
Keep cheerful against all the odds
Keep your chin up
[侯門似海]
Hóu mén sì hǎi [hou men si hai]
nobleman house appear sea
A noble?s house is as vast as the sea
A very tough task. A nobleman in ancient China would have a courtyard house with high walls and no easy entry. It was also hard to get any way to get an invite to visit such a noble. And so represents a high physical and social barrier.
Beyond your wildest dreams
否极泰 [否極泰來]
Pǐ jí tài lái [pi ji tai lai]
evil extreme good arrive
At the extreme point of misfortune, good will surely arrive
Things at the worst will mend
The darkest hour is just before the dawn
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
[水滿則溢]
Shuǐ mǎn zé yì [shui man ze yi]
water full level overflow
Water rises only to overflow
At the point of a crisis. Things are about to turn around
The tide is on the turn
暮途 [日暮途窮]
mù tú qióng [ri mu tu qiong]
sunset road exhausted
The day is ending and the road narrows
The end game is upon us.
On last legs
[飢不擇食]
Jī bù zé shí [ji bu ze shi]
hunger not choose eat
When hungry don't care what you eat
The starving aren't fussy over their food - take whatever is available
Beggars can't be choosers
[捲土重來]
Juǎn tǔ chóng lái [juan tu chong lai]
sweep dust again come
Sweeping off the dust and trying again
Making a comeback after a setback - determined to have another go. Like getting back on a horse after being thrown off.
Dust yourself off and start all over again
脚印 [一步一個腳印兒]
gè jiǎo yìnr [yi bu yi ge jiao yinr]
one stride one footprint
Every step leaves a footprint
Work steadily one step at a time in order to make solid progress
Rome was not built in a day
Forbidden City, Beijing, roof, pavilion
Ceiling of a Pavilion in the Forbidden City, Bejing
[旤不單行]
Huò bù dān xíng [huo bu dan xing]
disaster not alone walk
Disasters do not walk alone
Misfortunes tend to come all at once
When it rains, it pours
[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
Jié zú xiān dēng [jie zu xian deng]
victory foot first climb
The winning foot is the first to climb
To succeed need to start off first
The early bird gets the worm
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
Niàn niàn bù wàng [nian nian bu wang]
study study not neglect
Do not neglect your studies. Ponder on problems
Study hard. Keep thinking about a problem
Where there's a will there's a way
塞翁, [塞翁失馬安知非福]
Sài wēng shī mǎ, ān zhī fēi fú [sai weng shi ma, an zhi fei fu]
frontier old man lose horse, peace know wrong blessing
When the old man from the frontier lost his horse; how could he have known that it would not be fortuitous?
The story is that a man lost his horse but actually it went over the Great Wall and brought back several horses with it. A setback may turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Every cloud has a silver lining
[節外生枝]
Jié wài shēng zhī [jie wai sheng zhi]
joint outside produce branch
Leaves emerge from where they should not
New problems pop up unexpectedly
[苦儘甘來]
Kǔ jìn gān lái [ku jin gan lai]
bitter exhuast sweet arrive
Bitterness over, happiness arrives. At the end of suffering comes relief
After troubles comes happiness
The darkest hour is just before the dawn
堑,[吃一塹長一智]
Chī qiàn, cháng zhì [chi yi qian, chang yi zhi]
eat one chasm long one wise
Fall into a pit but learn from the experience
Gain wisdom from experience of set backs
Learn from your mistakes
[別無長物]
Bié wú cháng wù [bie wu chang wu]
leave nothing surplus
Having nothing to spare
In great poverty, possessing nothing other than the bare essentials.
The cupboard is bare
[生米煮成熟飯]
Shēng mǐ zhǔ chéng shú fàn [sheng mi zhu cheng shu fan]
produce rice cook accomplish well-cooked food
The rice has already been cooked
What has been done can not be undone
What's done is done
[來日方長]
Lái fāng cháng [lai ri fang chang]
arrive day region long
Long time ahead
There is adequate time to achieve your desires
All things come to those who wait
[物極必反]
Wù jí bì fǎn [wu ji bi fan]
thing extreme certainly turn around
Extreme conditions will surely calm down
Things will turn around in the opposite direction when they reach the highest point
The tide is on the turn
China motif
Our proverbs come with full information. The modern Chinese characters are given first with links that give information on the character. If the phrase uses traditional characters these are shown in brackets and gray text. As proverbs are so old you will often see them written in the old form. 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 included at the end.

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.

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