Learn Chinese Vocabulary with 10 Famous Chinese Proverbs

Learn Chinese Vocabulary with famous Chinese proverbs - an effective way to learn Chinese characters #Chinese4kids #learnChinese #mandarinChinese #Chineseforchildren #Chineseproverb #Chinesecharacter #Chinesevocabulary

Chinese proverbs are full of wisdom from famous Chinese philosophers and writers. There are wise sayings on pretty much all aspects of our society: personal life, love & friendship, books, time, teaching & learning… You name it. 

成语 vs 谚语

There are two types of proverbs (or idioms) in Chinese: 成语 (chéngyǔ) and 谚语 (yányǔ). 成语 are the proverbs that are fixed sayings with four (occasionally 6)characters. 谚语 are the proverbs that are longer. 成语 are more used by educated people while 谚语 are popular among folks. 

We often know the meaning of Chinese proverbs, but seldom pay attention to the individual characters in them. It’s actually a great learning opportunity to dig into proverbs and learn the meaning of each character and therefore better understand the proverbs too. 

Below you’ll find 10 famous Chinese proverbs. Let’s study them one by one. 



qiān lǐ zhī xíng, shǐ yú zú xià
A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.

千 qiān thousand
里 lǐ a unit of distance in China. 2 里 is one km.
之 zhī marks preceding phrase as a modifier of the following phrase. It doesn’t have a specific meaning. 
行 xíng journey, travel
始 shǐ begin, start
于 yú in, as, on
足 zú foot
下 xià under, underneath

If we translate it word by word, the translation would look like this

“A thousand-mile journey starts at under the feet. “

Well, the first step is right at your foot. Only by taking the first step, you can make a journey of 1000 miles. 


bú pà màn, jiù pà zhàn
Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid of standing still.

不 bù no, not
怕 pà be afraid of, to fear
慢 màn be slow
就 jiù just
怕 pà be afraid of, to fear
站 zhàn to stand

If we translate it word by word, it can be

Be not afraid of being slow, just be afraid of standing. 

It’s OK to make slow progress, but you don’t want to make any move. A wise saying, isn’t it?


shī bài shì chéng gōng zhī mǔ
Failure is the mother of success.

失 shī to lose, make a mistake
败 bài be defeated
是 shì to be
成 chéng completed, finished
功 gōng achievement, merit, a good result
之 zhī marks preceding phrase as a modifier of the following phrase
母 mǔ mother

In this sentence, 失败 is one word, meaning failure and 成功 is another word, meaning success. 


chī yī qiàn, zhǎng yī zhì
One only learns from one’s mistakes.

吃 chī to eat
一 yī one
堑 qiàn moat, pit
长 zhǎng excel in, grow
一 yī one
智 zhì wisdom, intelligence

This saying literally means “fall into the pit, gain in your wit” or “fall into the moat and you’ll be wiser next time”.


yù sù zé bù dá
Haste makes waste.

欲 yù desire, want, long for
速 sù speedy, quick
则 zé (conjunction used to express contrast with a previous clause) but / then
不 bù no, not
达 dá arrive, reach

If we translate it word by word, we can get the following sentence: 

Desire speed but not attain.

This proverb tells the truth that those who try to do things too quickly (by cutting corners) will not reach the desired results. 


jī bù kě shī, shí bú zài lái
Opportunity knocks but once.

机 jī opportunity
不 bù no, not
可 kě may, can
失 shī lose
时 shí time
不 bú no, not
再 zài again
来 lái come

It literally means “Opportunity can’t lose, time not again come”, that is, do not lose an opportunity because the time won’t come round again. 


yī rì zhī jì zài yú chén
Early morning is the golden time of the day.

一 yī one
日 rì day, daytime
之 zhī marks preceding phrase as a modifier of the following phrase
计 jì plan, strategy
在 zài be at, in
于 yú in, on, at
晨 chén dawn, early morning

It literally means “make your day’s plan early in the morning”. The reason is that it will affect the whole day. 


wàn shì kāi tóu nán
Getting started is always the hardest part.

万 wàn ten thousand; innumerable
事 shì affair, matter
开 kāi start, begin; open
头 tóu head; top; first
难 nán hard, difficult

There are two words in this proverb: 

  • 万事 ten thousand things, meaning all the things
  • 开头 beginning

If we translate this proverb word by word, it becomes “All the things have a difficult beginning. “

However, things always get easier if we persevere, aren’t they?


yī kǒu chī bù chéng pàng zi
Learn to walk before you run.

一 yī one
口 kǒu mouth
吃 chī to eat
不 bù no, not
成 chéng to become, to turn into
胖 pàng fat
子 zi noun suffix

This proverb literally means “you cannot get fat with only one mouthful“. It implies that take things slowly, don’t overwhelm yourself from the beginning. 


shī fu lǐng jìn mén, xiū xíng zài gè rén
The master teaches the trade, but apprentice cultivates his skills.

师 shī teacher, master
fu tutor, teacher
领 lǐng lead, guide
进 jìn advance, make progress, enter
门 mén gate, door
修 xiū study; repair; cultivate
行 xíng go; walk; move, travel; circulate
在 zài be at, in, on
个 gè piece; single
人 rén person

The three words in this proverbs are

  • 师父 master
  • 修行 to devote oneself to perfecting one’s art or craft
  • 个人 individual

After having studied all these famous Chinese proverbs, do you feel you understand them better?

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Learn Chinese Vocabulary with famous Chinese proverbs - an effective way to learn Chinese characters #Chinese4kids #learnChinese #mandarinChinese #Chineseforchildren #Chineseproverb #Chinesecharacter #Chinesevocabulary

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