Chinese proverbs and four-plus character idioms are developed from the formulaic or social dialect/saying/expression (??? in pinyin: xi?hòuy?) and historical story in Chinese.
Some proverbs are literary; that is, from a written source. (See the historical written language or the more modern written language.) Others originated among families, street vendors, and other commoners–all walks of life.
In their 4,000-year civilized history, the Chinese have generated innumerable proverbs. There can be a proverb for almost any situation. Judicious use of proverbs in Chinese writing is regarded as a sign of good education rather than pedantry or showing off one’s knowledge of clichés.
Chinese proverbs can be split into chengyu (accepted phrases), yanyu (familiar sayings), suyu (popular sayings), and xiehouyu (two-part allegorical sayings). Unique to the Chinese language, xiehouyu proverbs are vivid with images and dramatic results.” (Haiwang Yuan, The Magic Lotus Lantern and Other Tales from the Han Chinese.
Structurally, all proverbs can be further grouped into established phrases, proverbial sayings, admired sayings and two-part symbolic sayings. These are all incomparable to each other in the Chinese language, and are all vibrant with metaphors and layered meanings. While most Chinese proverbs consist of only a few characters (words), when joined together they represent a tremendous amount of cultural depth and history.
Based on puns of similair sounding words, the majority of xiehouyu is simply not translatable. Therefore only a few such sayings will be included in this small sample of the unfathomable reservoir of Chinese proverbs.
Proverbs on Philosophies
All proverbs contain philosophies. “Proverbs on Philosophies” reflect people’s basic way of thinking and experiences, and represent the unfocused, unoriented and universal philosophies through abstract generalization and integration of diverse phenomena.
Some of proverbs convey explicit ideas, such as “With justice on your side, you can go anywhere; without it, you can’t take a step”. Whereas some of them signify implicit ideas such as “If there is an entrance, there must be an exit.”
There are Proverbs on Proverbs on Self-Cultivation, Proverbs on Sociality, Proverbs on Politics, Proverbs on Life, Proverbs on Household, Proverbs on Social Customs, Proverbs on Nature, Proverbs on Farming and Pastoral Labor, Proverbs on Trades and Business, and Proverbs on Culture and Education. The Chinese often use these “Proverbs” to teach their children a colorful lesson. In a similar way, for example, when Warren Buffet says, “I tap dance my way to work every day,” he is using a metaphor to illustrate his passion for his work! 🙂
Warren Buffett and Carol Loomis (Tap Dancing to Work) interview by Charlie Rose