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Words of Wisdom: Chinese Proverbs I

Many of the short sayings that come into the average conversation may involve a proverb that has been passed down from generation to the next. Every culture has proverbs and the Chinese have a reputation for producing memorable sayings that have a global reach. In this article, you will encounter a variety of Chinese proverbs, as well as their meanings.

“A drop of water shall be returned with a burst of spring.”

Meaning: Even if you have received a little help from another, you should return the favor with all you are able to when the time arises.

“If one person is not hungry, the whole family is not hungry.”

The true meaning of this proverb is that families will make sacrifices for individual members of their family, which is often misunderstood as meaning that if one person is happy in a family, then the whole family is happy.

“A single day of sub-zero temperature is not enough to create three feet of ice.”

The moral learned in this proverb is that great things are not accomplished in a short period of time. This proverb is similar to the ancient Italian proverb of “Rome was not built in a day.”

“If the wind comes from an empty cave, it’s not without a reason.”

This proverb refers to the moral that there is no smoke without fire.

“The old horse in the stable still yearns to run 1,000 miles.”

The moral behind this proverb is that every one (no matter how old or inexperienced) wishes to accomplish great deeds. A similar saying include “The older the ginger, the hotter the spice”.

“Over a long distance, you learn about the strength of your horse; over a long period of time, you get to know what’s in a person’s heart.”

The meaning of this proverb is that in time, character can be revealed. Some people use this proverb to refer to a true friend that is deserving of praise. Others will use this moral to criticize friends who have not stood the test of time and loyalty.

“A person needs a face; a tree needs bark.”

The meaning of this proverb is that reputation is very important. This saying dates back to ancient times in China when having a good reputation was highly sought after. The use of ‘face’ does not refer to the physical body part, but instead the social custom of ‘face.’ The proverb is used to refer to someone that has behaved in a dishonorable manner (either once or more than once). It is not uncommon for a parent to say this phrase to a child.

“To hit a dog with a meat-bun.”

This proverb means that combining punishment and a reward does not work out. Basically, you shouldn’t choose the wrong way to approach a problem if you want to see results.