Chinese Proverbs

There’s a good chance you heard or read a Chinese proverb in your day-to-day life. Chinese Proverbs are classic sayings taken from literature, history, famous people, or even stories. Traditional Chinese proverbs are called 谚语 (yànyŭ) in Chinese but today there many other Chinese proverbs taken from oral culture that provide advice and wisdom.

ThinkFives researched Chinese proverbs and found these Top 5 that we think provide wisdom for teachers.

Teachers open the door, but you must enter yourself.


As teachers we know this to be true. Much like the American expression, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink,” the proverb highlights personal responsibility. But perhaps sometimes we might be able to provide a little nudge or two through the doorway.

Teaching by example is more important than teaching by mouth.


Whether it’s specifically in our job descriptions or not, teachers are role models. Period. Students may learn as much from us on how we present ourselves, support them and care for them as compared to what we actually teach them.

Learn no matter how old you grow.


If you’re reading this post, we’re sure you must be a lifelong learner. And what a great endeavor that is. Whether you are 12 or 22 or 62, there is so much more to learn and experience. Why not get your money’s worth?

Reading ten thousand books is not as good as walking ten thousand miles.


Chinese scholar-walker Gu Yanwu (1613-1682) once said this, summing up his approach to living.  Teachers may take issue with demeaning books, however they would openly embrace the need to discover and explore. The only slight change we might make today is to allow for some trains, planes, and automobiles.

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.


Credited to the Chinese philosopher and founder of Taoism, Lao Tzu, this proverb has been translated into almost every language. For teachers we may interpret this as the clarion to teach students how to learn and not what to memorize.

Learn More

What are Chinese Proverbs?

Chinese Proverbs are sayings that counsel all aspects of traditional Chinese society but are very applicable to today’s world. They provide guidance on important aspects of life including education, work, relationships, and happiness.

Chinese proverbs are common in everyday speech, in contrast to the decline of the use of proverbs in Western cultures. Many Chinese proverbs are credited to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, but in reality they are mostly from anonymous sources and have been shared over the many years. 

Where did Chinese Proverbs originate?

The majority of Chinese Proverbs are distinct from high literary forms such as xiehouyu (longer form) and chengyu (4 characters long) and are common sayings of usually anonymous authorship. Modern scholars generally agree that there are over 20,000 Chinese proverbs.

Sources of such proverbs are found in many collections including the Yu-hsio (“Youth’s Instructor”), the 1859 Chieh-jen-i, the 1707 Chia-pao-chulan-ci (“Complete Collection of Family Treasures”), the 聖語Sheng-yu (“Sacred Edict”), the Kan-ying p’ien (“Book of Rewards and Punishments”), and 主子家言Chutzu-chia-yen (“The Household Rules of the Philosopher Chu”).

What is your Favorite Proverb? Share it below.



What do you THINK?

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