Chinese Proverbs: 13 Inspirational Quotes For Mandarin Learners

In Chinese Culture, Chinese Idioms 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)

为时不晚 wéi shí bù wǎn

It's never too late.

为 wéi: to do / to be
时 shí: time
不 bù: not
晚 wǎn: late

道山学海 dào shān xué hǎi

Learning is as high as the mountains, as wide as the seas.

道山 dào shān:  mountain of Dao

学海 xué hǎi: sea of learning

This expression means that learning is a journey that never ends.

学以致用 xué yǐ zhì yòng

Study something in order to apply it.

学 xué: study

以 yǐ:  in order to

致 zhì: to cause

用 yòng: use / apply

活到老,学到老。huó dào lǎo, xué dào lǎo.

Never stop learning / Life-long learning.

活 huó: live

到 dào: till

老 lǎo: old

学 xué: learn

到 dào: till

老 lǎo: old

三人行,必有我师。sān rén xíng, bì yǒu wǒ shī.

"When three people walk together, I am sure to find teachers among them."

三 sān: three

人 rén: people

行 xíng: walk

必有 bì yǒu: there must be

我 wǒ: my

师  shī: teacher

This expression means there is always someone  you can learn from.

学然后知不足。xué rán hòu zhī bù zú.

The more you learn, the more you realize what you don't know

学 xué: learn

然后  rán hòu: then

知  zhī: know

不足 bù zú: ignorance

悬梁刺骨 xuán liáng cì gǔ

This is used to describe somebody who persistently works or studies very hard.

悬 xuán: to hang 

梁 liáng: house beam

刺 cì:  sting / thrust

骨 gǔ: bone

This expression originates from two ancient Chinese stories:


Durning the Western Han Dynasty there was a statesman named Sun Jing who studied very hard. He often studied from morning till evening. Since he studied for so long, it was easy to doze off. To not impede his study, he used a rope to tie his hair to the house beam so that if he fell asleep it would pull on his hair and he would immediately wake up.

During the Warring States period there was another statesman called Su Qin. He often studied until very late, and in order not to fall asleep he would poke himself in the leg with an awl.

学如登山 xué rú dēng shān

Learning is like climbing a mountain.

学 xué: learn/ study

如 rú: like

登 dēng: climb

山 shān: mountain

学如逆水行舟,不进则退。xué rú nì shuǐ xíng zhōu, bù jìn zé tuì. 

Learning is like sailing against the current.If you don't advance, you will retreat.

学 xué: learn/ study

如 rú: like 

逆水行舟 nì shuǐ xíng zhōu: navigating a boat against the current

不 bù:  not

进 jìn: advance

则 zé:  then

退 tuì: retreat


 玉不琢,不成器。yù bù zhuó, bù chéng qì.

A jade that is never carved will never be of use.

玉 yù: jade

不 bù: not

琢 zhuó: carve

不成 bù chéng: won't do 

器 qì: tool / utensil

This expression means people can not succeed without overcoming difficulties. 


 好书如挚友。hǎo shū rú zhì yǒu.

A good book is like a good friend.

好 hǎo: good

书 shū:  book

如 rú:  like

挚 zhì:  good

友 yǒu: friend


 好记性不如烂笔头。hǎo jì xìng bù rú làn bǐ tóu.

The best memory is not as good as the faintest ink.

好 hǎo: good

记性 jì xìng: memory

不 bù: not

如 rú: like

烂 làn: bad

笔头 bǐ tóu: nib (pen)

This expression highlights the value of writing down things that you don't want to forget. 


 严师出高徒。yán shī chū gāo tú.

Strict teachers produce brilliant students.

严 yán: strict

师 shī:  teachers

出 chū: produce

高 gāo: brilliant

徒 tú: students