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Chinese aphorisms

Chinese hieroglyphs

The people in old time didn’t speak much. They considered it a shame not to be able to keep up with their own words

The proverbs and sayings popular in this country or another help learning the national traditions. China is known to be the country of severe etiquette and ceremony. The Chinese culture is one of the most ancient in the world. Chinese proverbs and sayings were passed down from generation to generation. The Chinese literature unlike that of the Western Europe is less concerned about artistic and aesthetic perception of a reader. It was initiated by the philosophy of Ancient China and historic peculiarities of the country development. That is why China features historiographic and etiquette and philosophic trends.

The Chinese parables have always occupied a special place in literature. For instance, the Parable of Two Vases:

Well, let us suppose that one emperor had two flower vases made of fine china. Both are intricately carved and of comparable value, elegance, and beauty. Then the wind blows and one of them falls from its stand, and is broken into pieces. Painstakingly, step by step, the expert glues the pieces back together. Soon the broken vase in intact again, can hold water without leaking, is unblemished to all who see it. Yet this vase is now different from the other one. The lines along which it had broken, a subtle reminder of yesterday, will always remain discernable to an experienced eye. However, it will have a certain wisdom since it knows something that the vase that has never been broken does not: it knows what it is to break and what it is to come together.

In Chinese there are a lot of popular expression, proverbs, sayings which accumulated the tradition and entire wisdom of China. The Chinese aphorisms are supposed to attribute certain emotional colouring to speech.

In Chinese they are called “chengyu” and usually consist of four syllables. The expressions of the ancient Chinese writing language known as “wenyan” lie in the basis of chengyu. Wenyan is difficult to understand, for it differs considerably from the contemporary language. It is quite natural that knowledge of wenyan proverbs is the indication of cultural development and proper education; they have to be learnt additionally.

Nevertheless, a lot of Chinese quotes have appeared recently, and have a clear meaning.

Who’s riding a tiger, is difficult to get off

qí hǔ nán xià

Literal translation (L): Who’s riding a tiger, is difficult to get off

English analogue (E): If you pledge, don’t hedge

Old horse knows the road

lǎo mǎ shí tú

L: Old horse knows the road

E: An old ox makes a straight furrow

Jackals from one hill

yī qiū zhī háo

L: Jackals from one hill

E: Birds of feather flock together

Officials care for each other

guān guān xiāng hù

L: Officials care for each other

E: Crow will not pick out crow’s eye  

Get off horse to look on flowers

xiàmǎ kān huā

L: Get off horse to look on flowers

E: To reach out

Friendship is priceless

qíng yì wújià

L: Friendship is priceless

E: A friend in court is better than a penny in purse  

Look on the fire from the opposite shore

gé àn guān huǒ

L: Look on the fire from the opposite shore

E:  I am not my brother’s keeper

Troubles and ruins from the grown up tiger

yǎng hǔ yí huàn

L: Troubles and ruins from the grown up tiger

E: Cherish a viper in bosom  

Buying a treasure, return pearles

mǎi dú hái zhū

L: Buying a treasure, return pearles

E: To throw out baby with the bathwater

Acquiring Long, wish Sichuan

dé lǒng wàng shǔ

L: Acquiring Long, wish Sichuan

E: If you agree to carry the calf, they'll make you carry the cow

  • One image replaces thousand words
  • Education is often a mask to cover dissipation but it doesn’t give another face
  • High towers are measured with length of their shades, great people- with number of envies
  • If you wait on the shore enough you will see your dead enemy flowing along the river 
  • If you don’s mile, don’t start commerce
  • Too many helmsmen –ship sinks
  • A wise man demands everything from himself, a miserable one – only from others
  • One who moves softly will advance very far in his way
  • Give a fish and you’ll feed him once. Teach him fishing and he will have for the whole life
  • Constantly testing those whom we gave a mission, we are like one who pulls sprouts from the ground to check if the roots are growing
  • Student is an oarsman floating against the stream. He rises oars and thus moves back
  • Maybe the stream won’t get you to your destination. What you can do it know; who knows will you able to do it later
  • Even if knowledge are given away freely  come with your bag 
  • Even a small mistake makes a fuss
  • Young girl gets married to please her parents; widow does it to please herself
  • Human soul is in three places: head, heart and groin
  • If people tried to self-improve instead of saving universe, if they wanted to achieve internal freedom instead of freeing whole humanity that would make up for a real liberation of humanity!
  • If teacher lives opposite his lessons, leave him-since he’s a would-be teacher
  • If studying is not efficient from the very beginning, it’s false give it up
  • Even the most perfect teaching not practiced with enough effort and zeal can be more dangerous than the false one
  • When you were born you were crying while others were happy. Make it that when you leave the world  everybody will cry with  only you  smiling
  • Cat must catch mice, peasant- work in field, manager- manage, but all do it professionally
  • Less important do it quick to leave time on important things
  • Optimist sees an option in every danger, pessimist sees a danger in every option
  • Hurry slowly
  • Only big troubles give great chances
  • Don’t use word “problem” in your lexicon  and it will erase
  • Over-courtesy encourages enquiry
  • To win over an enemy don’t try to become stronger, make him weaker.
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