Chinese Proverbs

Many of the popular Chinese proverbs express distilled wisdom. They are as much in use today as when they were first coined. They are not only a key part of the Chinese language learning, but are also priceless in understanding the Chinese culture. A lot of native Chinese proverbs have become conspicuous in English where they are quoted in their English translation, or through a description of a fable behind the proverb. Let’s see a few of them!

对牛弹琴 (duìniú tánqín)

对(duì): towards, to  牛(niú): cow  弹琴( tánqín): to play a string instrument.  This proverb is used by the Chinese people to describe someone who is explaining something complicated to a fool, alternatively to describe a person who is trying to say something to the wrong audience. English equivalent: To play a harp to a cow.

倾盆大雨(qīngpén dàyǔ)

倾(qīng): pour  盆(pén): bowl  大雨(dàyǔ): heavy rain. People use this proverb to describe an extreme amount of rain in a short period of time, which is also known as a downpour – a sudden and unexpected heavy rain. The English equivalent is “Raining cats and dogs”.

说曹操, 曹操到 (shuō Cáo cāo, Cáo cāo dào)

说(shuō): to speak, to talk 曹操 (Cáo cāo):  Cáo cāo is the general of the Wei Kingdom in one of the Chinese classical literature 《三国演义》 (sānguó yǎnyì) “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, written in the 14th century. 到 (dào): to arrive. This proverb describes where a person appears unexpectedly upon being mentioned. In English, people say: “speak of the devil, and he shall appear”.

一石二鸟 (yīshí èrniǎo)

一(yī): one 石(shí): stone  二(èr): two  鸟(niǎo): bird. “Kill two birds with one stone” means to complete two actions in one go. We could manage to do two things at the same time instead of just one, and it is convenient to do both. In western countries, it is often shortened to “Kill two birds”.

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