33 Proverbs that Translate Well Between English and Mandarin

by carlgene

1. There’s no use crying over spilt milk.
覆水难收 fù shuǐ nán shōu (“Spilt water is hard to recover.”)

2. The early bird gets the worm.
捷足先登 jié zú xiān dēng (“A fast foot is first to climb.”)

3. Misery loves company.
同病相怜 tóngbìngxiānglián (“Patients with similar conditions empathise with each other.”)

4. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
船到桥头自然直 chuán dào qiáotóu zì rán zhí (“The ship will reach the end of the bridge in due course.”)

5. What goes around, comes around.
善有善报,恶有恶报 shànyǒushànbào, èyǒu’èbào (“Kind deeds pay rich dividends, evil is repaid with evil.”)
种瓜得瓜 zhòngguādéguā (“As you sow a melon, so you shall reap one.”)
种豆得豆zhòngdòudédòu (“As you sow a bean, so you shall reap one.”)
媳妇熬成婆 xífù áo chéng pó (“A daughter-in-law who suffers will one day become a mother-in-law.”)

6. Like father, like son.
有其父必有其子 yǒu qí fù bì yǒu qí zǐ (“The son is like his father.”)
虎父无犬子 hǔ fù wú quǎn zǐ (“A tiger does not father a dog.”)

7. A friend in need is a friend indeed.
患难见真情 huànnàn jiàn zhēnqíng (“In adversity, true feelings are revealed.”)

8. No pain, no gain; nothing ventured, nothing gained.
不入虎穴,焉得虎子 bù rù hǔxuè, yāndé hǔ zǐ (“If you don’t enter the tiger’s den, how will you get the tiger’s cub?”)

9. Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today.
今日事,今日毕 jīnrì shì, jīnrì bì (“Today’s task, today’s job to complete.”)

10. If you want something done well, do it yourself.
求人不如求己 qiúrén bùrú qiújǐ (“It’s better to rely on yourself than on the help of others.”)

11. Once bitten, twice shy.
一朝被蛇咬,十年怕井绳 yī zhāo bèi shé yǎo, shí nián pà jǐng shéng (“Bitten by a snake on one morning, afraid of the rope by the well for ten years.”)

12. All good things come to an end.
人无千日好,花无百日红 rén wú qiān rì hǎo, huā wú bǎi rì hóng (“There is no person that has 1000 good days in a row, and no flower that stays red for 100 days.”)

13. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
入乡随俗 rù xiāng suí sú (“When entering a village, follow its customs.”)

14. When it rains, it pours.
屋漏偏逢连夜雨 wū lòu piān féng lián yè yǔ (“When the roof is leaking, that’s when you get several continuous nights of rain.”)
一波未平,一波又起 yī bō wèi píng yī bō yòu qǐ (“Just as one wave subsides, another one comes.”)
喝口凉水都能塞牙缝 hē kǒu liángshuǐ dōu neng sài yáfèng (“Even water gets stuck in your teeth.”)

15. Two heads are better than one.
三个臭皮匠,胜过诸葛亮 sān ge chòupíjiàng, shèng guò Zhūgé Liàng (“Three unskilled cobblers are superior to one Zhuge Liang.”)

16. Easy come, easy go.
三十年河东,三十年河西 sān shí nián hé dōng, sān shí nián hé xī (“Thirty years on the east side of the river, thirty years on the west side of the river.”)

17. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.
山不转路转 shān bù zhuǎn lù zhuǎn (“A mountain cannot turn, but a road can.”)

18. Practice makes perfect.
熟能生巧 shú néng shēng qiǎo (“Experience can give way to skill.”)

19. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
冰冻三尺,非一日之寒 bīng dòng sān chǐ, fēi yī rì zhī hán (“Three feet of ice is not the result of one cold day.”)
罗马不是一日建成的 Luómǎ bù shì yī rì jiàn chéng de (literal translation)

20. Heaven helps those who help themselves.
皇天不负苦心人 huángtiān bù fù kǔxīn rén (“Heaven won’t betray people who try their best.”)

21. Beggars can’t be choosers.
饥不择食 jībùzéshí (“The starving can’t choose their meals.”)

22. Speak of the devil and he shall appear.
说曹操,曹操到 shuō Cáo Cāo, Cáo Cāo dào (“Speak of Cao Cao and he arrives.”)

23. The first step is the hardest.
万事起头难 wànshì qǐtóu nán (“The first step in a thousand different matters is always difficult.”)

24. Birds of a feather, flock together.
物以类聚 wù yǐ lèijù (“Similar things are categorised together.”)

25. You get what you pay for.
一分钱,一分货 yī fēn qián, yī fēn huò (“Ten yuan of money, ten yuan of goods.”)

26. Great minds think alike.
英雄所见略同 yīngxióng suǒjiànlüètóng (“The views of heroes are roughly alike.”)

27. One can’t have one’s cake and eat it too.
鱼与熊掌不可兼得 yú yǔ xióng zhǎng bù kě jiān dé (“One cannot get fish and bear’s paw at the same time.”)
又要马儿好,又要马儿不吃草 (“You want a good horse, but won’t give it grass to eat.”)

28. Haste makes waste.
欲速则不达 yùsù zé bùdá (“You desire speed but cannot reach your destination.”)

29. How time flies!
光阴似箭 guāngyīn sì jiàn (“Time is like an arrow.”)

30. Seeing is believing.
百闻不如一见 bǎi wén bùrú yī jiàn (“Hearing something one hundred times is not as good as seeing it once.”)

31. Every cloud has a silver lining.
塞翁失马,焉知非福 sàiwēngshīmǎ, yān zhī fēi fú (“When the old man from the frontier lost his horse, how could one have known that it would not be fortuitous?”)

32. Money talks.
钱可通神 qiánkětōngshén or 钱能通神 qiánnéngtōngshén (“Money is divine.”)
金钱万能 jīnqián wànnéng (“Money is almighty.”)
有钱能使鬼推磨 yǒu qián néng shǐ guǐ tuīmó (“If you have money you can ask for favours.”)

33. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
情人眼里出西施 qíngrén yǎnlǐ chū Xī Shī (“In the eyes of a lover, Xi Shi [one of the renowned Four Beauties of ancient China] appears.”

Top Sites In China

Most websites linked to on this blog are language learning sites. If you already speak the language, or, since some have an English version, are interested in properly immersing yourself in the culture, you can visit some of the most popular websites among Chinese nationals themselves. Alexa.com shows website ranking by country. Be patient, some of them take time to lead. Happy reading!

Your Questions

★ When you have a question about China or about the language, do not hesitate to ask me (post a comment at the bottom of this page or write to [Loading, please wait]). I can answer from personal experience or help you quickly find the most relevant information online.
If you want to get more answers, you can also try one of these websites:
StackExchange is where many people go when they have a question. It started with IT and soon other areas were added, like Chinese. By now they have a large number of questions already replied to, so you can search for the answer to yours before posting, they might already have it!
★ After a free registration on Lang8 you can post any text in Chinese you have written and get help with corrections from native speakers. You can also help by correcting other people's mistakes in your native language.

Street life

Outdoor gyms
This article presents the outdoor exercise equipment that is now all over the capital. It is widely popular, and gives the elderly one more thing to do in their free time, and one more way to stay in good shape. A little more on the subject here.

Table tennis
Needless to say, table tennis is for China what football is for Brazil. You find tables everywhere, and people play all the time. They are sometimes places in the outdoor gyms, sometimes stand on their own. Wherever they are, they enjoy lots of attention from the locals.

Popular with all ages, you will see people playing this anywhere there is space available - in parks, schoolyards, in front of apartment buildings. It is played with what resembles a large plastic shuttlecock.

Tai Chi
You would see people exercise in parks in the mornings. The slow movements are usually accompanied by music. Luckily for all those who haven't had the chance to go to China yet, some nice people make videos like these and these of such events.

Flying kites
Chinese people like to fly kites everywhere: in parks, on squares, on bridges. Sometimes there are so many people flying kites at the same time that it is amazing how they manage to stay out of each other's way.

Ballroom dancing Beijing style
Not that Chinese people do not have proper ballroom dancing, but they also like to dance like that in the streets, in parks, in university gyms and basically wherever they can. I was invited once to one of these regular happenings at a university gym, where everything had been put away and with an average age of 50, people danced away happily the entire evening.

In the morning and in the evening you would often see people dancing in parks (video, video). They would all repeat certain steps and everyone is welcome to join.

Yang ge
Middle-aged ladies enjoy dancing with huge fans in bright colours (called yang ge). It is another activity you can observe in parks.

The popular online game has very little in common with the actual game of Mahjong. This Wikipedia entry has quite a lot to say about it.
Typically a gambling game, it has lost some of its charm, as gambling is outlawed in China. Friends would play with small stakes, and there would be places where you can play properly, and completely illegally. In this video you can see it explained well (audio is not too good).
They say that it is hard to learn, easy to play. Here is a guide to the rules of mahjong.

Weiqi (Go)
This game, as opposed to mahjong, is easy to learn, hard to play. It is a game of strategy and you need a lot more than a knowledge of the rules to win. 
This video has a short presentation of the rules.

Chinese chess

Opera singing in the parks
Chinese people do not feel that singing is something that should be done in enclosed areas or when performing at a concert. They would sing anywhere they please, anywhere they find appropriate, like in this video.

Water calligraphy
People would use huge brushes to write on the ground in parks (video, video, article) Once dry, the characters disappear.

Cricket fighting
This video and this article offer an insight into this popular pastime for the elderly.

Bird - walking
Often where there are cricket fights, you will also see the bird owners, sitting under a tree with a cage hanging from the branches. Eventually another old man will show up, hang his cage next to the other one and then the birds will keep each other company while the men chat about this and that.
I once watched a man who had let two birds out of their cages and would occasionally call out to them if they wandered off too far away from him.

Beijing opera

Beijing opera (Peking opera)
Strictly speaking, it is not opera. This art combines singing, acrobatics, dance, music. It is not exactly from Beijing, also. It originated in the south of China but became popular after it reached the imperial court in Beijing.
There are people who enjoy the performances. I personally think that the mewing which occurs on stage (and is supposed to be called singing), is completely unlistenable. That is, if you approach it without any prior knowledge to what, in the world, is going on up there.
What I do enjoy about it is pretty much everything else, really: the costumes, the heavy make-up, and all the other prerequisites to a good performance. Everything which occurs on stage has its significance. For instance, the performers are obliged to walk in a certain way and if the male  character takes one step too many, this could be a tragedy for the real fan.

Here I offer a list of websites with articles, shedding light on what Peking opera is and what it is which makes it so special:
★ Start off  by watching a short video by UNESCO website, which features parts of performances and general information on the art of Peking opera..
Chinavine gives a short introduction. Make sure you check the categories on the left for more on the subject.

Superstitions in China

The Chinese are highly superstitious people. Up to this day the average business person would get an almanac calendar at the beginning of the year and consult it every day, to make sure that it is a good day to do one thing or other. A fortune teller is a respected profession, and taoists have devoted centuries to studying and developing the art of looking into the future.



Stroke order:
Learnchineseez: learn low to write the 4000 most common Chinese characters.
Arch Chinese: animated stroke order with translation and words containing the character.
On the main page you can also find worksheets, flashcards and other learning tools
Mandarinstrokes helps you with stroke order. You can search for the characters by number of strokes, pinyin or character.
★ The MDBG dictionary includes stroke order animation.

Typing Chinese online:
★ If you need to type Chinese but cannot use a computer where it is installed, you can use quite a few websites. Most of them use the same software, some examples are: chinesetools, purpleculture, inputking, chinesebay. i2pinyin comes with a virtual keyboard.
★ I like this website because there you can type slightly longer phrases and select the characters afterwards.
★ If you know how the characters looks but have no idea how it is pronounced, then you need a dictionary with a handwriting recognition. Here are some choices, available online: hippodict (for iPhone), pleco (only downloadable).

Instant messaging

WeChat, the Chinese superapp. One of the things you can do with it is find friends, and leave audio messages that they will listen and respond to.
QQ, still a very popular instant messaging service in China

Find a language partner

The Beijinger: personal classifieds posted by people normally living in China, looking for a language partner
Meetup: you can join different meetings or write to members. Organize a Chinese language meeting wherever you are, and practice the language with others.
Couchsurfing is another way to meet other people, whether those who live near you, or travellers. Use the website to contact Chinese speakers all over the world.
Skype Community: find people looking to exchange Chinese for a language you speak well or post that you are looking.
Conversation Exchange
The Mixxer


Online dictionaries:
MDBG Chinese-English dictionary, also downloadable
Kingsoft online dictionary

Chinese-Chinese online dictionaries

Offline dictionaries:
Offline dictionary for Android. Download the app and then select the language combinations you need.
Pleco - recommended. It has phrases with the word, meanings of individual characters, pronunciation, etc. Pretty much everything I've ever needed in a dictionary.


This post contains links to:
1. Online radio sites
2. Online television
3. Chinese newspapers in English

Online radio:
Tunein lists a number of radio stations from all over the world, including China
China Radio International: online radio in English, news, lessons in Chinese and a lot more from China
CNR: When you open the link, the radio will start automatically. For another radio, choose from the choices to the left of the player.
Multilingualbooks: I am adding this link because of the long list of radio stations available. However, many of them do not work, so be patient, give them sufficient time to load and if something does not start, try the next one.

Online television:
CCTV, China Network Television: scroll down to see all the available channels

Chinese newspapers in English:
    China Daily: the online version of the most popular English-language newspaper on the mainland.
    Global Times: an English-language Chinese newspaper under the People's Daily
    People's Daily: a website built by People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China
    Shanghai Daily: the only English-language newspaper that publishes seven days a week on the Chinese mainland
    ★ For a rather lengthy list of newspapers, you can always count on Wikipedia.

    Free Chinese Courses

    Lessons complete with audio (and/or video), new vocabulary, dialogues, focus on characters and pronunciation
    Busuu: a website and an app for learning languages, a mixture between premium and free. You canlearn Chinese by topic, practising vocabulary, speaking, listening and writing. You can go step by step through the different levels.
    FSI Mandarin Chinese lessons: a complete course with textbooks and audio
    Practical Chinese Reader with vocabulary lists for it. 
    China Radio International
    BBC Chinese
    Clear Chinese: 15 lessons with basic phrases, audio and practice section.(!The listening is a bit clumsy)
    Confucius Institutes Online offer the opportunity to learn about China and its language online. Browse through the website to find interesting articles and online lessons.
    I Love Learning Chinese - for beginners
    ★ Study Chinese with real world video content
    Rudgers University: 80 units in 4 levels; lessons in Chinese with English translation and pinyin for the lower levels, grammar and vocabulary explanations for all.
    Zhongwen Red: lessons centered around a vocabulary unit that is presented in the context of several example sentences, then expanded upon by a short dialogue, complete with audio.
    Overseas Chinese Language and Culture Education: entire levels, complete with a book for the teacher and an exercise book


    Digital Dialects: learn common words and phrases by playing games
    ★ On quia.com you will find over 500 Chinese language games


    Learn and practice pinyin:
    ★ A thorough guide to pinyin
    Quick Mandarin: pinyin tables, tests and games. The content you need is at the very top of the page.
    Arch Chinese: a pinyin table with all possible tones of each syllable, and pronunciation explained for English language speakers

    Pinyin convertion:
    If you need to type pinyin, here are some tools which can help you convert to it:
    ★ with Learnchineseez you can type pinyin, using numbers to indicate the tones after the vowel which carries the tone. For example for guō you type guo1, for táng - ta2ng, for líu - li2u.
    ★ with Google Translate you can achieve the same by typing characters. Simply type your text in Chinese, then click on the Ä (capital A with an umlaut) in the bottom right corner and you will see the pinyin below the box.
    !Sometimes there might be mistakes in the syllables or tones, so use with caution!
    Chinese Tools: here you type the syllable followed by the tone. For example, for "Wǒ huìshuō hànyǔ", type "Wo3 hui4shuo1 han4yu3".
    ★ On this one you can proceed in the same way. I personally type the entire text and then go back and mark the tones. You will find that if you make a mistake with the tone, all you need to do is click anywhere in the syllable and write the new one. It changes automatically.


    Anki is a free app where you can download and create your own flashcards to learn Chinese vocabulary
    Memrise: after a registration you have access to loads of materials for vocabulary learning. Choose Chinese and give it a try.
    Prepare for HSK (level 1 to 6) with lots of exercise. Unfortunately they just made this website paid. I am keeping it in the list because it had very good resources but I will keep hunting for useful things online free of charge.
    LINE: vocabulary by topic with pinyin, audio and translation
    Chinese i Lab
    Digital Dialects: learn common words and phrases by playing games
    LearnChineseEZ: listen to the words and phrases and imitate the pronunciation. It can be displayed either in standard pinyin, or a particular favourite of mine, what the author calls "natural language pinyin".
    On the same website, here you can study words visually, with pictures by category.
    ★ On LingoHut you can learn vocabulary by category, listen to the words and phrases and play games to help you memorize
    Quizlet - lots of exercise on various topics
    China.org.cn: you find dialogues, idioms, reading materials, etc. All with pinyin, translation and audio.

    Audio and Video

    Audio lessons:
    Clear Chinese:
    Popup Chinese: the podcasts are available on the website free of charge.
    Chinese iLab

    Video lessons:
    Yoyochinese: after a free registration you gain access to demo video lessons, which are presented nicely and are easy to follow and remember. 
    (! You will be getting regular emails from them unless you unsubscribe from the mailing list)
    If you want to watch some of the videos, you can also go to their Youtube channel.
    Easy Chinese (CCTV): easy to use; simple, useful phrases; listen to the lessons and repeat.
    Growing up with Chinese (CCTV): teachers a lot of vocabulary, I recommend it for Lower Intermediate users.
    Chinese iLab
    Fluent U: Study Chinese with real world video content. 15 day free trial.