What are some of the best Chinese proverbs?
There are hundreds of different Chinese proverbs which mean many different things. These were sayings which have developed over time and been used by all people from different walks of life.
Chinese people still use these proverbs frequently in normal conversations with friends, family members, and co-workers. In the west, using proverbs all the time is weird. You’d soundlike a geek if you were to try to use them all the time.
In Chinese society, someone who uses proverbs is seen as educated and intelligent. If you are learning Mandarin Chinese, you’ll surely impress your Chinese teachers and friends if you use them when you practice your newly learned language.
Here are some of the most popular Chinese proverbs I’ve heard over the years.
1- Let it flow naturally
Same meaning as “Let it be!”
2- A drop of water shall be returned with a burst of spring
This means that even if other people only helped you a little bit then you should still offer a large amount of help in return when needed.
3- A person is blessed once but troubles come many at once
This means that nobody can have enough blessings, but everyone has too many troubles.
4- One day below 0 is not enough to make 3 feet of ice
This is the same as Rome was not built in a Day. It means that it takes time to accomplish great things.
5- If the wind comes from an empty cave, there is a reason
This can be compared with There’s no smoke without fire. It means that there is a reason for everything.
6- A person needs a face, trees need bark
This means that a person’s reputation is very important (means face as in reputation).
7- If the tree falls, the monkeys will run away
This means that if the leader falls out of power the followers will scatter. This can be compared to fair weather friends.
8- Try to save a dead horse as if it was still living
Attempt the impossible; you ever know what will work.
9- Luck changes every 10 years
Every 10 years your luck will change
10- Poor people can change and succeed
This means that if a person is poor and seeks change then they will encounter opportunities
11- One mouse dropping will ruin the whole pot of rice
This means the same as one bad apple can spoil the bunch
12- Ride a mule while you’re looking for a horse
This means that it’s better to settle for what you have now while looking for something better at the same time, rather than giving what you currently have up then waiting for something better to come long. This is normally used when people are searching for jobs.
13- Water can help a boat float, but it can also sink it
Nature can be a help and danger.
14- Want the horse to be hard working, but also don’t want it to eat hay
This means that nothing is perfect. For example your boss might want you to do more work, but is unwilling to pay you any extra money.
15- When weeding, if the roots aren’t removed then the weed will simply be able to grow again.
This can be compared with if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. It means that you need to finish the task completely otherwise you will just end up wasting your effort.
16- There’s no shame to ask questions, even to people below your status
You should ask questions if you don’t understand. This will be the only way that you can learn and improve.
A note about these 16 “best” Chinese proverbs
Actually, there is no such thing as “best” Chinese proverbs. The list above is simply a compilation of the ones I like the most, or that I’m more familiar with. I am sure that if you start studying Chinese or if you travel or live in a Chinese country, you’ll hear more of them, and hopefully understand what they mean.