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Linguaholic

Chinese Proverbs


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Chinese proverbs (諺語, yànyŭ) are famous sayings taken from literature, history, and famous philosophers.  I love quotations a lot, I have a collection that includes a lot of Chinese proverbs. 

For me Chinese sayings are very unique and I even find some of it funny and weird. But I think it's understandable since Chinese proverbs are originally written in the Chinese language. Maybe some of the English version were not translated well OR maybe you need to understand the culture first before you can get the meaning. :grin:

Anyway, here are some of the Chinese proverbs that I find very interesting, some are funny, some will really make you think and some - I just don't get. 

:smile: Some of my favorites:

  • "A book is like a garden carried in the pocket."
  • “He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever.”
  • “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ~ Confucius
  • “Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.” ~ Lao Tzu
  • "A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows public opinion."

:tongue:I find these funny but somehow true:

  • "If a son is uneducated, his dad is to blame."
  • "When you are poor, neighbors close by will not come; once you become rich, you'll be surprised by visits from (alleged) relatives afar."
  • "Without rice, even the cleverest housewife cannot cook."

and here,  :confused: some that I don't get:

  • "Add legs to the snake after you have finished drawing it."
  • "Mend the pen only after the sheep are all gone."
  • "Kill a chicken before a monkey."

Feel free to add your favorite Chinese proverbs and maybe help me find the meaning of the last 3 above.  :smile:

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Great post, Eppie!

Just as Miya, I would be really grateful if you could provide the Chinese equivalents  :wacky:

I will think about the meaning of the last three ones.

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  • "Mend the pen only after the sheep are all gone."

This means that it's not to late to fix things. Sure, the sheeps might be gone, but you can still fix the pen so that your next batch of sheeps can't escape.

  • "Kill a chicken before a monkey."

This means that we should scared the monkey (the bigger enemy) by killing the chicken (the smaller enemy).

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This means that it's not to late to fix things. Sure, the sheeps might be gone, but you can still fix the pen so that your next batch of sheeps can't escape.

Still don't get the relationship of a pen with sheeps? Or is this a different pen (not for writing)?  :tongue:

"Kill a chicken before a monkey."

This means that we should scared the monkey (the bigger enemy) by killing the chicken (the smaller enemy).

Thanks, now that makes sense (I think...) :grin:  But how about "Add legs to the snake after you have finished drawing it."?

@Miya and @Linguaholic, sorry I don't have the Chinese character equivalent but I'll try to look for it.  :smile:

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Pen in that case doesn't refer to a writing utensil.

A pen is like a fence that surrounds the sheeps. So if you don't fix the pen (fence), the sheeps will run away.

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Okay, now it makes sense (pen as in a pig pen). Thanks Miya  :grin:

Anyway, I've found three of above proverbs - Chinese characters equivalent:

1. 书是随身携带的花园  ("A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.")

2. 善问者是五分钟的傻瓜,怕问者永远是个傻瓜 (“He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever.”)

3. 他的座右銘是孔子的名言 (“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”)

However, I'm not very sure if they are the correct/exact translation for the proverbs.  :shy:

I'll try and look for the remaining ones some more.  :smile:

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Great Eppie, thank you!

I am pretty positive about the Chinese version of the first two ones.

However, the third one doesn't make sense to me. I am pretty sure that  他的座右銘是孔子的名言 can't be the equivalent of "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life".  :smile: I will have a look for the translation of this one, right now.

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After doing some research about this 'quote' I doubt that Confucius ever said (has written) something like this. It seems like nobody really knows whether this quote can be attributed to him or not. However, a possible translation of this this nice saying could be:

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”)  ||  如果你找到了一份你热爱的工作,你一生中的任何一天都不是在工作中度过的.

This translation does use modern vocabulary and is therefore definitely not from the era when Confucius lived. However, it is an OK-Translation as far as Modern Chinese goes :=)

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I think it's just a copy and paste error.

And I agree with you that "如果你找到了一份你热爱的工作,你一生中的任何一天都不是在工作中度过的" sounds too modern to be a saying from Confucious.

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Actually It's really hard to look for the Chinese character equivalent on the internet. :cry:  Since some of the translators are not actually translating the phrase word by word, sometimes they're just providing an English counterpart that's also written in Chinese characters hence very confusing, especially to people like me who's not very knowledgeable in Chinese.  :shy:  (Maybe that's what happened to the Chinese proverb that's allegedly from Confucius. :confused:)

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It doesn't matter Eppie. It was my pleasure to search on the internet for the Chinese "counterpart" of that Chinese proverb! It is just really interesting to see the proverbs in different languages (translations). The meaning they convey is just never really exactly the same  :grin:

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It's also interesting how we can never get a "correct" translation of a proverb. Even if it's a direct translation, the feeling and the message conveyed is just different.

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It's also interesting how we can never get a "correct" translation of a proverb. Even if it's a direct translation, the feeling and the message conveyed is just different.

This is actually what I meant Miya :=) Maybe I did not get the messages across  :grin:

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Hahaha, I came from a Chinese family and some of the proverbs from our culture that I think do not exist in their English equivalent would be:

1) 师傅领进门,修行在个人

Shī fu lǐng jìn mén, xiū xíng zài gè rén

Translation: A teacher can open the door, but you yourself choose whether to enter

2) 树倒猢狲散

Shù dǎo húsūn sàn

Translation: When the tree falls, monkeys run

3) 人算不如天算

Rén suàn bùrú tiān suàn

Translation: Men's calculations cannot compare to heaven's calculations

4)  良药苦口

Liángyào kǔkǒu

Translation: Good medicine taste bitter

5) 读万卷书不如行万里路

Dú wàn juǎn shū bùrú xíng wànlǐ lù

Reading ten thousand books cannot compare to travelling one thousand miles

Those are a few of the many good Chinese proverbs I can think of. :grin:

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Oh, by the way, I noticed "Add legs to the snake after you have finished drawing it." hasn't been explained yet.

Hahaha that proverb actually came from a story where a teacher ask two of his students to draw snakes in a time limit to measure their talent.

The first student was a very talented drawer so he finished the drawing of the snake in record time while the second student was slower.

However, the first student, after seeing how much extra time he had, decided to show off by adding legs to the snake.

In the end, the teacher gave the win to the second slower student because the first student's drawing does not resemble a snake anymore.

Hahahha so I guess the lesson from that proverb is: Don't be a smartass and overdo what you are told to do.

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3) 人算不如天算

Rén suàn bùrú tiān suàn

Translation: Men's calculations cannot compare to heaven's calculations

5) 读万卷书不如行万里路

Dú wàn juǎn shū bùrú xíng wànlǐ lù

These two are two of my favorite proverbs. It hurts because it's so true xD

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Hahahaha thanks! Like the English proverb 'fox calling the grapes sour', Chinese is also full of proverbs that doesn't make sense unless you know the story behind them.

Another interesting one would be 'Three people makes a tiger' - 三人成虎] / 三人成虎 - Sān Rén Chéng Hǔ

On first look, someone might think that it is a proverb about how 3 people can make a formidable opponent, but it is actually about the nature of how rumors tend to spread and be believed by other people.

To put it simply, it's about a story where an adviser asked his emperor

'if one person told you that he saw a tiger walking in a busy street, would you believe him?

the emperor said 'no'

and the adviser said 'what about two people?'

the emperor still said 'no' then the advisor asked further 'what about when three people claims it?'

the emperor replied 'as much as it is improbable that a tiger might appear in a busy street, if three people claims it, then i would be likely to believe it.

The actual story is much longer but from this story we can see that the more people talk about something, even if it is not true, the more likely we are to believe it.

三人成虎] / 三人成虎 - Sān Rén Chéng Hǔ. Three people create a tiger. This expression is said to express doubt about a widely-held idea.

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That's an interesting story! I'm actually watching a drama right now and it's about 3 women who always spreads rumors about people. And people seem to believe whatever they say. I never thought of the connection between my drama and "三人成虎" until I read the story you posted :D

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Oh, by the way, I noticed "Add legs to the snake after you have finished drawing it." hasn't been explained yet.

Hahaha that proverb actually came from a story where a teacher ask two of his students to draw snakes in a time limit to measure their talent.

The first student was a very talented drawer so he finished the drawing of the snake in record time while the second student was slower.

However, the first student, after seeing how much extra time he had, decided to show off by adding legs to the snake.

In the end, the teacher gave the win to the second slower student because the first student's drawing does not resemble a snake anymore.

Hahahha so I guess the lesson from that proverb is: Don't be a smartass and overdo what you are told to do.

Hi Leeroy and thank you for explaining this and also thanks for sharing all the other interesting (and funny) proverbs, including the back stories.  Keep 'em coming please.  :grin:

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and here,  :confused: some that I don't get:

  • "Add legs to the snake after you have finished drawing it."
  • "Mend the pen only after the sheep are all gone."
  • "Kill a chicken before a monkey."

Haha  :laugh:

It sounds like it was meant to be left in it's original language. I do see the context in the first one. Adding legs to a snake probably means something like: "thinking out of the box" - you know, like not drawing what others will likely do. I might be partially right.

EDIT: OOPS! Sorry, should have kept reading to see Leeroys post on this.

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  • 5 years later...

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