Over 175 Inspirational Chinese Proverbs On Life And Living

Chinese proverbs

Chinese proverbs are a short saying that gives us inspirational words of wisdom. These bits of wisdom help to instruct or teach us about life and living.

My grandparents Arthur and Ruth Hummel lived in China in the early 1900s. During this time they started to collect and translate Chinese proverbs. Below we have over 175 of their Chinese proverbs categorize by the subjects they set for them.

Arthur W and Ruth Hummel
Arthur W and Ruth Hummel

Dr. Arthur W and Ruth Hummel, And Their Proverb Collection

Dr. Arthur W. and Ruth Hummel, my grandparents, lived in China from 1915 to 1927. During their time in China, they started to collect and translate many Chinese proverbs. They saw this as a way for them to improve their Chinese language skills.

The list of inspirational Chinese proverbs is from their personal papers. They categorized the proverbs into individual subjects like family, individuals, optimism, or other traits and characteristics. I have left the proverbs in the way they categorized them. In some of their notes, they listed a reference of where they found the proverb. Where the reference was noted, I have also included it.

If you would like to read more about Dr. Hummel and his work with the Library of Congress on the reference book Eminent Chinese of the Ching Period, you can read our blog Eminent Chinese Of The Ch’ing (Qing) Period (1943), Arthur W. Hummel by clicking here.

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About The Family

“Bring up children and you will know the kindness of your parents.” – Chinese Proverb

“Nobody’s family can hang up the sign: Nothing the matter here.” – Chinese Proverb

“Every family has a sutra that’s hard to read.: – Chinese Proverb

“If you don’t know your son, look at his friends.” – Chinese Proverb

“When a child goes out, it carries the impress of its mother’s hand.” – Chinese Proverb

“When there is happiness, let’s enjoy it together; when there’s sadness let’s bear it together.” – Chinese Proverb

“A near neighbor is better than a distant relative.” – Chinese Proverb

“Unless a man is stupid and deaf, he should not be the head of a family.” – Chinese Proverb

“All the world is an inn, seek not especially for an abode of peace.” – Chinese Proverb

“All people are your relatives; expect, therefore trouble from them.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Individuals

“Better one good man on earth, than an extra angel in Heaven.” – Chinese Proverb

“He who offends against Heaven has nowhere left for prayers.” – Analects – Chinese Proverb

“In winter’s cold, the true characters of the pine and cypress are revealed.” – Chinese Proverb

“Tall trees invite the wind.” – Chinese Proverb

“The princely man does not murmur against Heaven, nor grumble against fate.” Analects I.16 – – Chinese Proverb

“I do not grieve that men do not know me, I grieve that I do not know men.” Analects I 16 – Chinese Proverb

“The petty man is always miserable.” – Chinese Proverb

“Only when the coffin-lid is down can a man’s reputation be fixed.” – Chinese Proverb

“I teach my students, one corner of a subject, and if they cannot infer the other three, I do not teach them anymore.” – Confucius VII 8 – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Optimism

“Every blade of grass has is own drop of dew.” – Chinese Proverb

Heaven never puts a man on a dead-end road.” – Chinese Proverb

“Heaven never sends a man into the world without his allotted share of happiness.” – Chinese Proverb

“No effort is ever in vain.” – Chinese Proverb

“Things gather around those who like them.” – Chinese Proverb

“At the end of all things we shall come out all right.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Fate

“The beautiful bird gets caged.” – Chinese Proverb

“When things have become bad to the limit they will get better again.” – Classics of Change

“There is no feast that doesn’t have an end.” – Chinese Proverb

“Although the sea is wide, ships sometimes meet.” – Chinese Proverb

“If the heavens fall, a giant will come along to prop them up.” – Chinese Proverb

“It’s easy to deal with Yen Wang (Lord of the Underworld); it is the little devils that are hard to hold down.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Modesty

“He who can look at a game of chess and make no comments is a true gentleman.” – Chinese Proverb

“Is he not a true gentleman who feels no irritation when others misunderstand him.” Analects I. 1.3

“I’m not a poet; but I can rub the ink stone for you.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs On Truth Will Out

“When the waves die down, the rocks show up.” – Chinese Proverb

“A white-washed crow will not long remain white.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs on Changeableness

“When fortune smiles, who doesn’t; when fortune doesn’t who does.” – Chinese Proverb

“One wave has not died down before another comes up.” – Chinese Proverb

“No year that has springtime can be without an autumn.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs On Trifles

“Even the tiger has his naps.” – Chinese Proverb

One dog barks at nothing, the rest bark at him.” – Chinese Proverb

“Though the left hand conquers the right hand, no advantage is gained. – Chinese Proverb

“Cocks crow and dogs bark everywhere alike.” – Chinese Proverb

‘Black birds are black everywhere.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs on Cooperation

“You can’t clap palms with one hand.” – Chinese Proverb

“One man’s plan is short; two men’s plan is long.” – Chinese Proverb

“When two men are of one mind, yellow earth turns into gold.” – Chinese Proverb

“If the main support of the house is broken, the rafters will tumble down.” – Tao Chuan 560 BC

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs on Illness

“A healthy poor man is half a rich man.” – Chinese Proverb

“A long illness makes one acquainted with the doctor.” – Chinese Proverb

“Nature is better than a middling doctor.” – Chinese Proverb

“One should not miss the flavor of being ill or the experience of being destitute.” – Chinese Proverb

“Sellers of drugs have two eyes; prescribers of drugs have one eye; takers of drugs have no eyes.” – Chinese Proverb

“A little illness that gives you leisure is not at all bad.” – Chinese Proverb

“Men of intelligent virtue and prudence in affairs will generally be found to have been in sickness and trouble.” Mencius – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Extremes

“Those are good at archery never draw the bow out to the limit of its capacity.” Mo-ti – Chinese Proverb

“The highest towers start from the ground.” – Chinese Proverb

“Its better to be without a book than to believe all that’s in it.” Mencius – Chinese Proverb

“We bend a crooked stick to make it straight; but if we carry this too far, it becomes crooked again.” – Chinese Proverb

“Distant water will not quench a near fire.” – Chinese Proverb

“A poor man living at the head of the street has none to inquire after him. A rich man living in the farthest valley has relatives to come to see him.” – Chinese Proverb

“As for clothes, new clothes are best; as for friends, old ones are best.” – Chinese Proverb

“To have peace of mind not quite perfect is to deepen the awareness of peace. To enjoy pleasure not quite to the limit is to the prolong the flavor of those pleasures.” – Chinese Proverb

” When a man eats other people’s food he eats till the perspiration flows. When he eats his own food, he eats till the tears fall.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs On The Economy

“An inch of time is an inch of gold.” – Chinese Proverb

“An empty bag cannot stand upright.” – Chinese Proverb

“Free sitters at the play grumble most.” – Chinese Proverb

“It’s better to have after not having, than to have not after having.” – Chinese Proverb

“If you can afford to buy a horse, you surely can afford a saddle.” – Chinese Proverb

“Ill-gotten gains will not be enjoyed long.” – Chinese Proverb

“The only way to keep a family line going long is to think cabbage-stalks nice.” – Chinese Proverb

“If you have money, you can hire a demon to push the mill-stone for you.” – Chinese Proverb

“One man will carry two buckets of water, two men will carry one bucket of water, three men will buy water.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs On Fame

“He who sees through fame and wealth gets a little rest; he who sees through life and death gets a big rest.” – Chinese Proverb

“A first- principle man forgets about fame; a middling man makes a name for himself; a low-class man steals it.” – Chinese Proverb

Iron ships, paper men; paper ships, iron men.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverb On Travel

“On entering a country, ask what the customs are; on entering a neighborhood ask what is forbidden.” -Record of Rites.

“You can build a cart indoors, but when you take it out on the road, it will have to follow the ruts.” – Chinese Proverb

“The less a man has seen, the more he has to wonder at.” – Chinese Proverb

“If you do not scale the mountain, you cannot view the plain.” – Chinese Proverb

“One who has seen the sea cannot think much of other waters.” – Chinese Proverb

“The Szechuan dog barks at the moon, the Canton dog barks at snow.” – Chinese Proverb

“You can’ talk of the ocean to a well-frog.” – Chinese Proverb

“You have to go abroad to get news of home.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs On Debts

“The priest may abscond, but the temple is still there.” – Chinese Proverb

“When you owe people money you tongue is shortened.” – Chinese Proverb

“The strongest memory is not equal to the palest ink.” – Chinese Proverb

Arthur W and Ruth Hummel

Proverbs On Integrity

“The superior man has lifelong anxiety, but not one morning’s calamity.” Mencius IV. II, 28.7

“If a man is commonplace, he cannot be cured.” – Chinese Proverb

“A man must insult himself before others will.” Mencius

“The benevolent has no enemies.” – Chinese Proverb

“Men who are dominated by things reap trouble in their hearts.” – Chinese Proverb

“It’s impossible to please everybody; all I ask is that my own conscience be clear.” – Chinese Proverb

“if you have a conscience void of offense, you need not fear a midnight knock at the door.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs On Mutual Aid

“The bee finds the flower and summons others; the deer finds grass and calls the herd; the cock see food and clucks.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs On Sympathy

“Virtue is bound to have neighbors.” Analects IV.25

“Looking at a man who carries a load will not help you to know his burden.” – Chinese Proverb

“Never injure friendly feelings face-to-face.” – Chinese Proverb

“In everything let there be standing room.” – Chinese Proverb

“He who teaches me for a day is my father for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb

“Even a hamlet of ten houses there must be men as conscientious and sincere as myself, but none as fond of learning as I am.” Analects V. 27.

“if you keep a green bough in your heart, the singing bird will come.” – Chinese Proverb

“The morning-glory was twined about the well-bucket, so I borrowed water from my neighbor.” Haiku

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Relatively

“The east side of my house is the west side of my neighbor’s house.” – Chinese Proverb

“Last years calendar is not good for this year.” – Chinese Proverb

“When the guest has gone, the host is at ease.” – Chinese Proverb

“If your host bids you say, it’s three-tenths false; if rain makes you stay, it’s one-hundred percent true.” – Chinese Proverb

“Farmers look for rain; hosts (expecting guests) look for clear weather.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs On Social Democracy

“Heaven covers no man in particular, and earth supports no man in particular.” – Chinese Proverb

“When it’s hot we’re all hot together; when it’s cold each one must bear the cold for himself.” – Chinese Proverb

“The commander-in-chief of an army may be taken captive, but the will of the commonest man cannot be taken from him.” Analects IX.25

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs on People and Government

“The tail is large and will not be wagged.” – Tao-chuan

“The people are like water that can support a boat, but can also capsize it.” – Chinese Proverb

“No matter who rules the country, China is always China.” – Chinese Proverb

“No matter who rules the country, there’s no such thing as the people not being there.” – Chinese Proverb

“In our country’s prosperity and adversity, the common man bears a responsibility.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs On Forethought

“if you don’t want anybody to know it, do not even do it.” – Chinese Proverb

“Don’t take off your shoes till you get to the river.” – Chinese Proverb

“The clever hare has three holes.” – Chinese Proverb

“If you want to stop slander, the best thing is to reform yourself.” – Chinese Proverb

“Your teacher can lead you to the gateway of knowledge, but the builder of character is up to you.” – Chinese Proverb

“If you don’t read anything for three days, your conversation will have no flavor.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Caution

“Don’t lace your shoes in a melon patch and don’t straighten your hat under a pear tree.” – Chinese Proverb

“If you suspect a worker don’t hire him; if you hire him don’t suspect him.” – Chinese Proverb

“Trees are not shaken when there is no wind.” – Chinese Proverb

“A bottle-nosed man may be a teetotaler, but none will believe him.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Pride

“Falling hurts least those who fly low.” – Chinese Proverb

“The highest towers start from the ground.” – Chinese Proverb

“It is dark at the foot of the lighthouse.” – Chinese Proverb

“Crabs walk sideways, but call it straight.” – Chinese Proverb

“Who will acknowledge his own melons bitter?” – Chinese Proverb

“The curse of mankind is the desire to teach others.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Dilemmas

“He who rides a tiger cannot dismount.” – Chinese Proverb

“Only fools catch flies on a tiger’s head.” – Chinese Proverb

“Scratching an itch through one’s boots.” – Chinese Proverb

“Painting a cake to appease hunger.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Good And Bad Men

“Rotten wood cannot be carved.” Analects V.9

“Bad men suffer rubs from other men as bad as themselves.” – Chinese Proverb

“The crooked log doesn’t like a straight measuring-line.” – Chinese Proverb

“No man is a saint in dog-days.” – Chinese Proverb

Men who are dominated by things reap trouble in their hearts.” A.D. 1728, – Chinese Proverb

“When a great man dies, the Chinese say: Away goes a corner of the city wall.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Words

“If in the morning you hear a great truth, in the evening you can die without regret.” Analects IV. 8

“One word not to point makes a thousand words of no effect.” – Chinese Proverb

“It takes but little time to administer a rebuke, but it takes a longer time to forget it.” – Chinese Proverb

“When a word has once been spoken a team of four horses cannot bring it back.” – Chinese Proverb

“Words spoken on earth sound like thunder in heaven.” – Chinese Proverb

“One kind word will keep you warm for three winters.” – Chinese Proverb

“What proceeds from you returns to you.” – Chinese Proverb

“Those who know don’t speak, and those who speak don’t know.” – Lao-tzu

“If a man keeps his mouth shut, his words become proverbial.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs On Daily Experiences

“The old horse knows the road.” – Chinese Proverb

“A hundred hearings are not worth one seeing.” – Chinese Proverb

“A cracked bowl serves longest.” – Chinese Proverb

“Everyone gives a shove to the falling wall.” – Chinese Proverb

“If you don’t know how then a thing is hard; if it is hard then you don’t know how.” – Chinese Proverb

“Those who are accustomed to ride are accustomed to fall.” – Chinese Proverb

“Worldly affairs are like a game of chess; every move presents a new situation.” – Chinese Proverb

“Of the thirty-six moves in chess, the best move is to move.” – Chinese Proverb

“If a man is really a man, the mills of heaven and earth will grind him to perfection.” – Chinese Proverb

“Those close to a problem are blinded, but by-standers see clearly.” – Chinese Proverb

“Old Sai lost his horse, but it turned out well after all.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Anger

“An angry man can always be outwitted.” – Chinese Proverb

“In a quarrel, both parties are defeated.” – Chinese Proverb

“An angry fist cannot strike a smiling face.” – Chinese Proverb

“Anger penetrates the bone and the marrow.” – Chinese Proverb

“If you are in the right, you need not speak in a loud voice.” – Chinese Proverb

“The elephant’s tusks are its own undoing.” – Chinese Proverb

“A man without a smiling face should not open a shop.” – Chinese Proverb

“A good drum does not need a heavy stick.” – Chinese Proverb

Chinese proverbs

Proverbs About Forbearance

“Forgiveness is a rule good enough for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb

“In a lifetime of yielding, you never lose one step.” – Chinese Proverb

“To yield does not mean that I am weak, but that I am under self-restraint and leave blustering to others.” – Chinese Proverb

“If you bow at all, bow low.” – Chinese Proverb

“Draw the bow, but don’t shoot.” – Chinese Proverb

“The taller the bamboo grows, the lower it bends.” – Chinese Proverb

“When the near are pleased, those from a distance will come.” Analects

“The good horse needs only a gentle tap, of the superior man only a hint (to do the right thing). – Chinese Proverb

“Be round in disposition but square in action.” – Chinese Proverb

We love this collection of inspirational Chinese proverbs that Dr. Arthur W. and Ruth Hummel put together so many years ago. They are bits of wisdom that help inspire us about life and living.

Related Questions

What is the book Eminent Chinese of the Ching Period?

My grandfather, Dr. Arthur W. Hummel edited the biographical dictionary called Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period. This landmark book drew together scholars from all over the world to collaborate on this important work about important people who lived during the Chinese Ching Dynasty.

My grandfather did not work alone but had the help of two very accomplished Chinese scholars, Dr. Chao Ying Fang and Dr. Tu Lein Che Fang. Together, as a team, they spent over 9 years and thousands of hours to compile this very important work about eminent people during the Chinese Qing (Ch’ing) dynasty. This book continues to be used and remains an important Chinese scholarly work. There is also an online version available.

To find out more you can read our blog Eminent Chinese Of The Ch’ing (Qing) Period (1943), Arthur W. Hummel by clicking here.

What Are Things You Can Discover By Doing Your Family History?

By doing your family history you can learn about new family members you did not know about. You will learn about the history of the place where your family once lived. And finally, you can discover about the traditions and culture of the country your ancestors once lived.

You can read more by reading our blog 3 Things You Discover By Doing Your Family History by clicking here.

Anita Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Hummel. I live in Hanoi, Vietnam. I love to share with you about my family history and the many parts of the world our ancestors have lived.

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