Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Northern Chinese Proverbs & Folk Sayings

Those who wish to be wealthy, wear clothing of rough cloth; those who are destined to be poor wear expensive silks. (from Shandong. People who scrimp and save and who deny themselves the finest things in life while working hard shall end up being rich, while those who love to splurge will end up in the poor house.)

Those who live south of the river think everything north of the river is great; those who suffer from leprosy or dysentery think ulcers are great. (from Northeastern China. "The grass is always greener on the other side," some say. Perspective is everything.)

Thirty percent is the medicine; seventy percent is the recuperation. (from Shandong. Medicine alone can't do it all; the lion's share depends on rest and positive attitude.)

Like a camel surprised to see a horse's heavy load. (from Beijing. Mocking bumpkins who are easily amazed by everyday sights.)

Like one who, without pants on, chases a thief out the door--there is a time to be valiant but also a time to recognize shame. (from Shandong. Said of those who act on impulse and who never take consequences into consideration.)

Like a child flying a kite in the forest--an entanglement is sure to come. (from Beijing. Said of outcomes that are far from certain.)

Like a headless fly, flying into things. (from Beijing. Said of people who end up making themselves busier in various matters due to their not planning earlier; for things, events to become hectic due to poor or no planning. To go around "like a chicken with its head cut off.")

Trying to borrow a pig from a tiger. (from Shandong. To engage in an impossible, pointless activity. Mandarin speakers also say, "To look up a tree for a fish.")

When one carries poison in the heart, ghosts soon knock on the door. (from Shandong. The end result of living a life of sin is not pleasant.)

A blind person singing the praises of flowers in bloom. (from Northeastern China. A somewhat convoluted and contrary way of mocking a person who pretends for one reason or another not to know about something. "Out of sight, out of mind.")

A tile shard can still be used as a table leg pad. (from Shandong. Everything under the sun has a purpose, a value; nothing is totally useless.)

Like a dog's tail that's been in a bottle--it's both stinky and slimy. (from Beijing. Said of people who seem disreputable, who "give off bad vibes.")

In times of plenty, belongings are counted; in times of need, they are gone and missed. (from Shandong. What a difference an unfortunate season can make!)

Like the chicken that doesn't urinate everywhere but rather saves up its one big dropping for a particular moment. (from Beijing. Said of those who don't exhibit much promise but surprise us all later with their talents and accomplishments.)

Like a married couple quarreling--don't make anything out of it. (from Shandong. Describing any temporary difficulty that will almost always resolve itself, something that requires no panicking.)

Like a cobbler who doesn't even have a workbench; like a sorcerer who has ghosts singing at the front gate. (from Northeastern China. Said of those who are too busy in their work to see to the necessities in their own lives, just as we might remark about gardeners who allow weeds to appear in their own yards, or the carpenter not having a coffin of his own.)


from Shang Yingshi, ed. Zhongguorende suhua. (See 6/9/07 for full citation.)

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