Chinese Proverbs: 13 Famous Quotes and Their Meanings

In Chinese Culture, Practical Chinese Phrases by Angel Huang

Chinese proverbs can be a fascinating source of cultural insight. 

They are short and clever sayings that contain life-advice and reflect shared values and attitudes. 

And if you’re learning the language, proverbs can be a fun way to pick up new vocabulary.

In this video we cover 13 common proverbs that can be used in both spoken and written Mandarin.

13 Chinese Proverbs (A summary  of the video above)

wàn shì kāi tóu nán. 

Everything is difficult in the beginning.

万事 wàn shì: everything

开头 kāi tóu: beginning

难 nán: difficult

This expression is used to encourage someone to take action. Things often get easier if you persevere!

人不可貌相。rén bù kě mào xiàng.

Never judge people by their appearance.

人 rén: people/person

不可 bù kě: should not

貌相 mào xiàng: to judge (people) by appearance

失败是成功之母。shī bài shì chéng gōng zhī mǔ.

Failure is the mother of success.

失败 shī bài: failure

是 shì: is 

成功 chéng gōng: success

之 zhī: particle

母 mǔ: mother

一口吃不成胖子。yī kǒu chī bù chéng pàng zi.

You can't get fat with only one mouthful.

一口 yī kǒu: one bite

吃 chī: eat

不成 bù chéng: won't

胖子 pàng zi: fat man

This expression is used to state that results (positive or negative) come from what you do regularly/habitually.

衣不如新,人不如故。yī bù rú xīn, rén bù rú gù.

Clothes are more cherishable when new, but relationships with people are more cherishable when old.

衣 yī: clothes

不如 bù rú: not as good as 

新 xīn: new

人 rén: people

不如 bù rú: not as good as 

故 gù: old

This expression reminds us to nurture and appreciate long lasting friendships & relationships

只要功夫深,铁杵磨成针。zhǐ yào gōng fū shēn, tiě chǔ mó chéng zhēn.

If you work hard enough at it, you can grind even an iron rod down to a needle.

只要 zhǐ yào: as long as

功夫 gōng fū: work hard 

深 shēn: deep

铁杵 tiě chǔ: iron rod

磨成 mó chéng: to grind

针 zhēn: needle

This conveys the idea that almost anything is possible if you're willing to put in the work.

冰冻三尺,非一日之寒。bīng dòng sān chǐ, fēi yī rì zhī hán.

It takes more than one cold day for the river to freeze three feet deep.

冰冻 bīng dòng:  to freeze

三尺 sān chǐ: three feet

非 fēi: not

一日之寒 yī rì zhī hán: one cold day

This expression is the Chinese equivalent of the expression "Rome was not built in a day".

一日之计在于晨。yī rì zhī jì zài yú chén.

A day's planning is done at dawn.

一日 yī rì: a day

之 zhī: particle

计 jì: planning

在于 zài yú: at 

晨 chén: dawn

This proverb reminds us of the benefits of making plans in advance.

姜还是老的辣。jiāng hái shì lǎo de là.

Aged ginger is spicier.

姜 jiāng: ginger

还是 hái shì: still

老的 lǎo de: old

辣 là: spicy

This proverb is a way of saying that people gain wisdom with age and it's a good idea to listen to what older/more experienced people have to say.


 耳听为虚,眼见为实。ěr tīng wéi xū, yǎn jiàn wéi shí.

What you hear may be false, what you see is true.

耳 ěr: ear

听 tīng: hear

为 wéi: to be 

虚 xū: false

眼 yǎn: eye

见 jiàn: see

为 wéi: to be   

实 shí: true

Don't blindly trust that a rumour is true. See for yourself!


 路遥知马力,日久见人心。lù yáo zhī mǎ lì, rì jiǔ jiàn rén xīn.

As distance tests a horse’s strength, time can reveal a person’s heart.

路遥 lù yáo: long way

知 zhī: know

马力 mǎ lì: horse's strength

日久 rì jiǔ: long time

见 jiàn: see

人心 rén xīn: people's heart


 吃得苦中苦,方为人上人。chī de kǔ zhōng kǔ, fāng wèi rén shàng rén.

By enduring deep pain, people can ascend. (No pain, no gain.)

吃 chī: eat

得 de: particle

苦 kǔ: pain

中 zhōng: in

苦 kǔ: pain

方 fāng: only

为 wéi: to

人 rén: person

上 shàng: on top

人 rén: person


 守得云开见月明。shǒu de yún kāi jiàn yuè míng. 

Watch till the clouds part to see the moonlight.

守 shǒu: to keep watch

得 de: particle

云 yún: clouds  

开 kāi: open

见 jiàn: see

月 yuè: moon  

明 míng: bright

Things may seem bad or uncertain at the moment but it will get better eventually.