Ancient Chinese Proverbs

The proverbs of China form an embodied philosophy; they transmit a common-sense approach to life mixed with a deep sense of humor, and compassion for failure. The origins of most these sayings and quotes are lost in the mists of time; some appear to be related to comments by Confucius and other ancient sages. Some also appear elsewhere, for instance in the Zen sayings from Japan. You can fond many sources of Chinese proverbs; Amazon has many books dedicated to Chinese proverbs. Here is a small collection:

  1. A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
  2. A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.
  3. A fool judges people by the presents they give him.
  4. Outside noisy; inside empty.
  5. When you say one thing, the clever person understands three.
  6. No coincidence, no story.
  7. The mountains are high, and the emperor is far.
  8. A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man perfected without trials.
  9. Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.
  10. Deep doubts, deep wisdom; small doubts, little wisdom.
  11. A nation’s treasure is in its scholars.
  12. The swiftest horse can’t overtake a word once spoken.
  13. Before telling secrets on the road, look in the bushes.
  14. A bad word whispered echoes a hundred miles.
  15. In a flood of words, surely some mistakes.
  16. A sharp tongue or pen can kill without a knife.
  17. If the first words fail, ten thousand will then not avail.
  18. Watching chess games in silence. . .a superior person.
  19. The judge with seven reasons states only one in court.
  20. If you want no one to know, don’t do it.
  21. If you want your dinner, don’t insult the cook.
  22. Honest scales and full measure hurt no one.
  23. Divide an orange–it tastes just as good.
  24. If you always give you will always have.
  25. Better lean and good than fat and evil.
  26. To build it took one hundred years; to destroy it one day.
  27. To know the road ahead, ask those returning.
  28. Touch black paint, have black fingers.
  29. To succeed, consult three old people.
  30. If you hurry through long days, you will hurry through short years.
  31. The ripest fruit falls by itself.
  32. Simple to open a shop; another thing to keep it open.
  33. What you don’t see, you don’t desire.
  34. Neither fortunes nor flowers last forever.
  35. An inch of gold can’t buy an inch of time.
  36. Don’t waste your hour–the sun sets soon.
  37. My life–a candle in the wind. . . frost on the leaves.
  38. Nurture the plant one year–ten days of flowers.
  39. Slow work–fine work.
  40. At birth we bring our nothing; at death we leave with the same.
  41. A king’s riches cannot buy an extra year.
  42. Beat the drum inside the house to spare the neighbors.
  43. Climb the mountains to see lowlands.
  44. Laws control a lesser person; right conduct controls a greater one.
  45. Forget the favors given; remember those received.
  46. A careful foot can step anywhere.
  47. Stare at the profit and step in the pitfall.
  48. In bed be wife and husband, in the hall each other’s honored guest.
  49. To stop drinking, study a drunkard while you are sober.
  50. If Heaven made someone, earth can find some use for them.
  51. Without sorrows no one becomes a saint.
  52. The pine stays green in winter. . . wisdom in hardship.
  53. Three feet of ice were not frozen in a day.
  54. With virtue you can’t be completely poor; without it you can’t be truly rich.
  55. Determination tempers the sword of your character.
  56. Strong men, not strong walls, make the strong city.
  57. To be heard afar, bang your gong on a hilltop.
  58. Great doubts, deep wisdom. . . small doubts, little wisdom.
  59. To know others, know yourself first.
  60. His virtues exceed his talents–a superior man.
  61. When the waters drop, the rocks appear.
  62. O eggs, don’t fight with rocks.
  63. Easier to rule a nation than a child.
  64. To have principles first have courage.
  65. Blame yourself as you blame others; forgive others as you forgive yourself.
  66. The wise listens to her mind, the foolish to the mob.
  67. A whitewashed crow soon shows black again.
  68. Watch over workers at their labors, not their meals.
  69. Many a good face under a ragged hat.
  70. Dogs have no prejudice against the poor.
  71. Tile tossed over the wall. . . who knows where it will fall?
  72. No horse can wear two saddles.
  73. While you are bargaining, conceal your coin.
  74. No guests at home, no hosts abroad.
  75. “I heard” is good; “I saw” is better.
  76. We can study until old age. . . and still not finish.
  77. A good teacher. . . better than a container full of books
  78. Teachers open the door; you enter by yourself.