List of Old Chinese Proverbs, Idioms (chengyu), and Sayings with Chinese Characters, pin yin, English Translation and Audio

Chinese Idioms - Chinese sayings can be divided into two categories: proverbs (yan yu, see information on proverbs below), and idioms, (cheng yu). Chinese chengyu are very compact, generally consisting of four Chinese characters. Mostly they come from ancient stories, folklore, and history. Much like English idioms, unless you know the context of background and history, they can be difficult to impossible to understand. Students in China are required to study these old Chinese idioms, but find the task overwhelming as Plum Blossom Chinese Proverb ScrollChinese idiom dictionaries list between 5,000 and 20,000 cheng yu. Most Chinese people today don't know nearly all of the idioms that are listed in the dictionary. In the Chinese idioms list below we have some of the most common Chinese idioms used today.

Chinese calligraphy artists often make use of old Chinese proverbs in their paintings. It is common to see paintings with a beautiful landscape background with mountains, pine trees, bamboo, flowers, or water and a Chinese idiom or proverb in calligraphy in the foreground. This kind of Oriental art is an excellent way to add beauty and wisdom to your home. The words of wisdom can be a reminder to be virtuous, honest, and diligent, and the attractive calligraphy paintings is a way to take this wisdom into your heart. After you study the idioms on this page, be sure to view our calligraphy proverb scrolls. You can choose your favorite proverb from the Chinese proverbs list below for a custom scroll.

Whether you just want to have a look at some of the more famous sayings, or are serious about learning them, you have come to the right place! If you are a foreigner and want to impress your Chinese friends with your language skills, speak a few idioms and they will be awed. 

Below we have Chinese idiom characters, pin yin, English translation, and audio of the pronunciation so you can learn how to to speak them yourself! The Chinese symbols were saved in picture format because many computers have not been set to read Chinese.

Chinese Idioms

Chinese Characters Pin Yin Letters English Translation and Explanation Listen to Idiom
1. Chinese Idiom 1

Gong(1) Shi(4) Gong(1) Ban(4)

Business is business.

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2.

Hai(3) Di(3) Lao(1) Yue(4)

Get the moon from the bottom of the sea. (This is spoken in a situation when someone wants to do something impossible.)

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3. Chinese Proverb about contentment

Zhi(1) Zu(2) Chang(2) Le(4)

Content people are happy all the time.

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4. Chinese Idiom about wise planning

Xun(2) Xu(4) Jian(4) Jin(4)

Crawl before you walk.

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5. Chinese idiom about relationships

Xie(4) Nong(2) Yu(1) Shui(3)

Blood is thicker than water.

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6. Chinese Idiom about Perseverance

Shui(3) Di(1) Shi(2) Chuan(1)

Constant dripping wears away a stone. (If you persevere, even things go slowly you can achieve your goal.)

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7. Chinese Idiom about endurance

Sheng(2) Ju(4) Mu(4) Duan(4)

If you keep using a small string you can cut down a whole tree. (If you persevere, you can finish a great task.)

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8. Chinese Idiom about love

Ai(4) Bu(4) Shi(4) Shou(3)

Love and won't let go.

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9. Chinese Idiom about loving pets

Ai(4) Wu(1) Ji(2) Wu(1)

If you love me, you have to love my dog too.

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10. Chinese idiom about hating pets

Hen(4) Wu(1) Ji(2) Wu(1)

If you hate me, you hate my dog.

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11. Chinese idiom about contentment and harmony

An(1) Ju(1) Le(4) Ye(4)

Live and work in peace and contentment (A good wish given to someone who has moved into a new house)

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12. Chinese good wish for success

Bai(2) Shou(3) Qi(3) Jia(1)

To build something from nothing. (A good wish given to young people starting out in life)

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13. Chinese Idiom about being outstanding

Bai(3) Li(3) Tiao(1) Yi(1)

One in a hundred. (Can tell others they are one in a hundred. It means very outstanding.)

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14. Chinese idiom about strength and the indominable spirit

Bai(3) Ze(2) Bu(4) Rao(2)

Be indomitable.

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15. Chinese Proverb about what makes a good relationship

Qu(4) Wei(4) Xiang(1) Tou(2)

Similar people will make good friends.

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16. Chinese idiom about one's outlook towards society

Zhong(4) Kou(3) Nan(2) Tiao(2)

You can’t please everyone.

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17. Chinese idiom about practicing

Shu(2) Neng(2) Sheng(1) Qiao(3)

Practice makes perfect.

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18. Chinese Idiom about the proper speed

Yu(4) Su(4) Bu(4) Da(2)

If you rush you will never reach the destination.

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19. Chinese Idiom about War

Bing(1) Bu(2) Yan(4) Za(4)

All is fair in war.

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20. Chinese Idiom about looks being deceiving

Xiao(4) Li(3) Cang(2) Dao(1)

A man may smile and smile, but still be a villain.

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21. Chinese Idiom about adjusting to others

Ru(4) Xiang(1) Sui(2) Su(2)

When in Rome do as the Romans do.

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22. Chinese Idiom about a deceitful person

Dian(1) Dao(3) Hei(1) Bai(2)

Call black white, white black (Used as an adjective for a dishonest person).

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23. Chinese Idiom about bad reputation lasting

Yi(2) Chou(4) Wan(4) Nian(2)

A bad reputation lasts for ten thousand years.

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24. Chinese Idiom about a good relationship lasting

Liu(2) Fang(1) Bai(3) Shi(4)

A good reputation lasts a hundred generations.

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25. Chinese Idiom about the dangers of the tongue

Huo(4) Cong(2) Kou(3) Chu(1)

A man may dig his grave with his teeth. (One's words can lead him into disaster.)

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26. Chinese Idiom about adversity

Qiong(2) Ze(2) Si(1) Bian(4)

Adversity leads to prosperity.

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27. Chinese Idiom about people can't change

Ji(1) Xi(2) Nan(2) Gai(3)

A leopard cannot change it’s spots.

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28. Chinese Idiom about the Ocean

Hai(3) Na(4) Bai(3) Chuan(1)

All rivers run into sea.

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29. Chinese Idiom about asking questions

Bu(4) Chi(3) Xia(4) Wen(4)

It’s not a shame to ask questions.

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30. Chinese Idiom about preparing and being dilligent

Ben(4) Niao(3) Xian(1) Fei(1)

The slow bird has to start early.

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31. Chinese Idiom about a wise person

Bo(2) Gu(3) Tong(1) Jin(1)

Has a broad knowledge about the past and present (Can be used to describe someone who is very wise.)

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32. Chinese Idiom about silence

Bu(4) Yan(2) Er(2) Yu(4)

There is no need to speak out what everyone already knows.

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33. Chinese Idiom about Happiness

Bu(4) Yi(4) Le(4) Hu(1)

Extremely happy and excited. (Used as an adjective for someone who is feeling especially happy.)

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34. Chinese Idiom about one's dream

Chen(1) Xin(1) Ru(2) Yi(4)

My dream come true. (Used as an adjective. This is my dream come true house or husband, etc.)

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35. Chinese Idiom about Sincerity

Cheng(2) Xin(1) Cheng(2) Yi(4)

Do something very sincerely. (Used as an adjective for someone who has pure motives.)

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36. Chinese Idiom about right timing

Chen(4) Er(4) Da(3) Tie(3)

Strike while the iron is hot

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37. Chinese Idiom about Dilligence

Chi(1) Ku(3) Nai(4) Lao(2)

Hard-working, diligent

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38. Chinese Idiom about Accuracy

Bai(3) Fa(1) Bai(3) Zhong(4)

Shoot one hundred shots, hit one hundred bulls eyes.

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Chinese Proverbs – The second category of sayings are proverbs. These are mostly ancient Chinese sayings that date back hundreds or thousands of years, many to the time of Confucius. Some of these old Chinese proverbs were popularized by scholars, but many were born in the rural areas by common farmers or workers. Others came out of China's classical literature. Often times they are composed of two sentences. As soon as you speak the first sentence, people will know the second. Chinese proverb dictionaries list roughly 4000 proverbs.

Chinese Proverbs

 

Chinese Characters Pin Yin Letters English Translation and Explanation Listen to Idiom
39. Chinese Proverb about initiative

Tian(1) Zhu(4) Zi(4) Zhu(4) Zhe(3)

God helps those who help themselves.

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40. Chinese Proverb about persevering

Shuo(1) Qi(3) Lai(2) Rong(2) Yi(4), Zuo(4) Qi(3) Lai(2) Nan(2)

Easier said than done.

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41. Chinese Proverb about being careful

Shi(1) Zhi(1) Hao(2) Li(2), Miu(4) Zhi(1) Qian(1) Li(3)

One false step could be disastrous.

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42. about steadiness

Wen(3) Za(1) Wen(3) Da(3) Wu(2) Wang(3) Er(2) Bu(4) Sheng(4)

Slow and steady wins the race.

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43. Chinese Proverb about experience

Shi(2) Jian(4) Chu(1) Zhen(1) Zhi(1)

Experience is the mother of wisdom.

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44. about learning

Huo(2) Dao(4) Lao(3) Xue(2) Dao() Lao(3)

It’s never too old to learn

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45. about a long journey

Qian(1) Li(3) Zhi(1) Xing(2) Shi(3) Yu(1) Zu(2) Xia(4)

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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46. Chinese Proverb about carefulness

San(1) Si(1) Er(2) Hou(4) Xing(1)

Look before you leap.

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47. Chinese Proverb about endurance

Wei(3) Ye(4) Fei(1) Yi(1) Ri(4) Zhi(1) Gong(1)

Rome was not built in a day.

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48. Chinese Proverb about finishing what you start

Ying(1) Xiong(2) Suo(3) Jian(4) Lue(4) Tong(2)

Great minds thinks alike.

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49. Chinese Proverb about finishing

Hao(3) De(1) Kai(1) Shi(2) Deng(3) Yu(1) Cheng(2) Gong(1) De(1)

Well begun half done.

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50. Chinese Proverb about forgetting

Yan(3) Bu(2) Jian(4) Xin(1) Bu(2) Nian(4)

Out of sight out of mind.

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51. Chinese Proverb about finding out the facts

Shi(4) Shi(2) Sheng(4) Yu(1) Xiong(2) Bian(4)

Facts speak louder than words.

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52. Chinese Proverb about finishing first things first

Fan(2) Shi(4) You(3) Qin(1) Zhong(4) Huan(3) Ji(2)

First things first.

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53. Chinese Proverb about bad news

Hao(3) Shi(4) Bu(4) Chu(1) Men(2), Hua(4) Shi(4) Chuan(2) Qian(1) Li(3)

Good news stays home, ill news travels fast.

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54. Chinese Proverb about friendship

Huan(4) Nan(4) Jian(4) Zhen(1) Qing(2)

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

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55. Chinese Proverb about home

Jing(1) Wo(1) Ying(2) Wo(1) Bu(4) Ru(2) Zi(1) Ji(3) Jia(1) Cao(3) Wo(1)

East or west, home is best.

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56. Chinese Proverb about character

Jun(1) Zi(1) Zai(4) De(2) Bu(2) Zai(4) Yi(1)

It’s not the gay coat that makes the gentleman.

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57. Chinese Proverb about fishing

Shou(4) Zhi(1) Yi(3) Yu(2) Bu(4) Ru(2) Shou(4) Zhi(1) Yi(3) Yu(2)

Teach him how to fish is better than just giving him a fish.

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58. Chinese Proverb about wisdom coming with age

Jiang(1) Shi(4) Lao(3) De(1) La(4)

The older you get the wiser you get.

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59. Chinese Proverb about idleness

Shao(4) Zhuang(4) Bu(4) Nu(3) Li(4) Lao(3) Da (4) Tu(3) Shang(1) Bei(2)

Idle when a youth, needy when an elder.

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60. Chinese Proverb about sowing and reaping

Zhong(4) Gua(1) De(2) Gua(1) Zhong(4) Dou(4) De(2) Dou(4)

You reap what you sow.

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61. Chinese Proverb about cats

Hei(1) Mao(1) Bai(2) Mao(1) Zhua(1) Dao(4) Lao(2) Shu(3) Jiu(4) Shi(4) Hao(3) Mao(1)

No matter black or white cat, whoever can catch mice is good cat.

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62.Chinese Proverb about being careful with words

Yi(4) Yan(2) Ji(4) Chu(1) Si(4) Ma(3) Nan(2) Zui(1)

Once you’ve said something, you can’t take it back.

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63. Chinese Proverb about relationships

Cha(2) Qi(2) You(3) Zhi(1) Qi(2) Ren(2)

A man is known by the company he keeps.

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64. Chinese Proverb about respect

Lao(3) Wu(2) Lao(3) Yi(3) Ji(2) Ren(2) Zhi(1) Lao(3)

While we respect and take care of our older members, don’t forget to do the same to the olds of others’.

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65. Chinese Proverb about the young

You(4) Wu(2) You(4) Yi(3) Ji(2) Ren(2) Zhi(1) You(4)

While we teach and take care of our young members, don’t forget to do the same to young of others.

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66. Chinese Proverb about fishing

Yi (1)Xin(1) Bu(4) Neng(2) Er(4) Yong(4)

A man can not spin and reel at the same time.

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67. Chinese Proverb about about serving two masters

Yi(1) Pu(2) Bu(4) Neng(2) Shi(4) Er(4) Zhu(3)

A man can not serve two masters.

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68. Chinese Proverb about good things

Tian(1) Xia(4) Mei(2) You(3) Bu(4) San(4) De(1) Yan(2) Xi(2)

All good things come to an end.

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69. Chinese Proverb about planning

Tiao(3) Tiao(3) Da(4) Lu(4) Tong(1) Luo(2) Ma(3)

All roads lead to Rome.

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70. Chinese Proverb about directions

Yi(1) Ri(2) Zhi(1) Ji(4) Zai(4) Yu(1) Chen(2)

A day’s plan starts with the morning.

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71. Chinese Proverb about wise planning for the day

Yi(1) Nian(2) Zhi(1) Ji(4) Zai(4) Yu(1) Chun(1)

A year’s plan starts with spring.

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72. Chinese Proverb about planning for the year

Qing(2) Ren(2) Yan(3) Li(3) Chu(1) Xi(1) Shi(1)

Beauty lies in the love’s eyes.

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73. Chinese Proverb about beauty and love

Xiao(3) Xin(1) Shi(3) De(2) Wan(4) Nian(2) Chuan(2)

Caution can help you to drive for ten thousandyears.

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74. Chinese Proverb about caution

Lai(2) Er(2) Bu(4) Wang(3) Fei(2) Li(3) Ye(1)

It’s not polite just receive gifts but not return any.

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75. Chinese Proverb about gift giving

Qiang(2) Zhong(1) Zi(4) You(3) Qiang(2) Zhong(1) Shou(3)

There is always someone better than the good.

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76. Chinese Proverb about doing good to others

Zi(2) Suo(3) Bu(2) Yu(4) Wu(4) Shi(1) Yu(1) Ren(2)

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77. Chinese Proverb about doing things quickly

Ji(1) Bu(4) Ke(3) Shi(1) Shi(2) Bu(4) Zai(4) Lai(2)

Do it now, or you would lose the good chance.

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78. Chinese Proverb about solving problems

Che(1) Dao(4) Shan(1) Qian(2) Zi(4) You(3) Lu(4)

There is always a solution for the problem.

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If you like any of the above idioms or proverbs, choose one, write down the number, and visit our Chinese calligraphy proverb scrolls page to choose a custom scroll with your proverb.  

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